Refrigerator Compressor Failure [How to Fix]

A refrigerator compressor failure is not common. But when it happens, it can be frustrating. Therefore, it is vital to find a solution to the problem.

Refrigerator Compressor Failure
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What Causes a Refrigerator Compressor to Fail?

The following are factors that cause the failure of a refrigerator compressor:

1. Voltage Surge

Little else destroys electrical appliances like a voltage surge. A surge is a sudden increase in the amount of current flowing to and through the wiring to the appliances, including the refrigerator.

When the voltage is more than the refrigerator needs, it creates heat and overcharges the unit. As a result, it burns different refrigerator components. Lightning is a known cause of voltage surges but not the only one.

Most times, you cannot control voltage surges. But you can help by unplugging electrical appliances whenever there is a storm and turn off the breaker if you are traveling. You can also use protective equipment when connecting the refrigerator to electric power.

2. Issues with Refrigerant

Refrigerant is the gas that flows through the coils into the compressor. From there, the compressor compresses and circulates the gas throughout the refrigerator. If the refrigerant level is too high or too low, the compressor won’t work normally. It will have a hard time running and, over time, fail. The same applies if the refrigerant is somehow contaminated.

In such a case, you cannot verify the refrigerant level or check whether or not it is contaminated. Only a licensed technician can verify it. If it is too low, the technician can add refrigerant. And if it is too high, the technician will know how to reduce it.

However, if the refrigerant is contaminated, it is crucial to empty the compressor, clean it, and refill it with a new refrigerant. It is the job of a qualified technician and not something for a DIYer.

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3. Dusty Condenser Coils

The condenser coils are in a location that makes it difficult to remember them. As a result, you will most condenser coils coated with dust and other debris. With time, the dust on the coils inhibits their capacity to dissipate heat from the refrigerant and refrigerator.

What you will find is a compressor that never stops running. The compressor picks up and constantly runs in a bid to lower the internal temperature of the refrigerator. This process wears it out too quickly, and it fails.

To fix this issue, clean the condenser coils. If you have never cleaned them before, follow the instructions in the refrigerator’s user manual. But if there is none, simply use a vacuum cleaner to clean the dust and dirt off.

Using a condenser coil cleaning brush is more effective because the brush is small enough to reach crevices that the vacuum missed. Afterward, clean the floor around the refrigerator and coils so that dirt does not adhere quickly to the coils.

4. Refrigerator Compressor Failure – Long Usage

As with most things, a refrigerator wears out over time with extended usage. If your refrigerator is up to 10 years and has been in use constantly, the compressor may start giving signs of failure. Most refrigerators have an average lifespan of 10 to 15 years. Some last longer, up to 20 years, but they may require constant servicing and repairs.

If your refrigerator has been long in use and the compressor starts giving strange signs, it may be time to buy a new refrigerator. For older refrigerator models, it is more cost-effective to replace the entire refrigerator than to buy a new compressor. But let a qualified technician advise you accordingly.

What Happens When a Refrigerator Compressor Fails?

When the compressor of a refrigerator fails, the first thing that happens is a rising internal temperature. Food will go bad, and there will be no cold water. This is even though the lights of the refrigerator are working. Sometimes, you may even hear the compressor running, but it is not working.

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Another thing that happens when the compressor of a refrigerator fails is unusual noise, sometimes loud. Typically, a compressor hums or buzzes in low, quiet tones. From time to time, it will cycle off, so you don’t hear the soft sound.

However, when the compressor begins to fail, the sound may change to a loud hum or buzz, loud enough to interrupt a conversation. It may also sound like a vibration or clicking within short intervals. Other times, there is no sound from the compressor.

When you hear the compressor running longer than it should, it may indicate that it is failing. And if you find a frost accumulation in the refrigerator, it may point to too little or too much freon. It stresses the compressor and leads to quick failure.

Be aware that during the summer months, the compressor tends to run longer. This process is normal, and it is a design meant to keep the refrigerator from losing cool air. If that is the case with your refrigerator, the compressor is not failing.

The compressor is the center of the refrigerator’s cooling system and makes sure the jobs of the fans and condenser coils are easy. Since it is built to last for many years, the compressor tends to pick up the slack if one of the other cooling system components fails. Consequently, it runs more than it should and wears out too quickly.

Check out these other articles…

Refrigerator Compressor Leaking [How to Fix]

Refrigerator Compressor Turning On and Off [Issues Solved]

Refrigerator Compressor Hums [Solutions]

Refrigerator Compressor Making a Knocking Noise [How to Fix]

How to Make a Refrigerator Compressor Quiet [Quick Guide]

Refrigerator Compressor Is Rattling [How to Fix]

Refrigerator Compressor Locked Up [How to Fix]

Prolonging a Refrigerator Compressor Lifespan

Regularly maintaining the refrigerator prolongs its life as well as that of the compressor. Keep the refrigerator clean, internally and externally. Check the condenser coils twice every year, and clean them as regularly.

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Also, inspect the door gasket from time to time; you will catch cracks quickly that way. Replace the gasket if it is worn or broken. A leaky door gasket compromises the internal temperature of the refrigerator and makes the compressor work harder. This article has an example of how you can replace the door gasket.

Additionally, an overfilled refrigerator blocks air vents and restricts air circulation. As a result, the cooling system becomes strained. Therefore, keep the refrigerator only ½ or ¾ full.

Create space behind the refrigerator and around for a proper flow of air. Poor spacing cause overheating on the coils and the compressor, eventually causing the compressor to fail. Finally, make sure the fans, which are part of the cooling system, are clean and running smoothly.

How Does a Failing Refrigerator Compressor Sound?

A failing refrigerator compressor makes a loud buzzing sound. Sometimes, it sounds like a loud humming sound. The sound may be continuous, so if you hear it from your compressor, it is failing.

Also, a clunking, knocking, or rattling sound from the refrigerator indicates a failure. If the compressor vibrates loudly or rattles each time it is cycling off, it may have loose screws or springs.

Typically, a compressor makes a low sound and quietly cycles on and off. But if the sound becomes louder and the compressor rattles, have a qualified technician check it. Sometimes, simply tightening the springs or screws lessens the sound it makes.


If you have a refrigerator compressor failure issue on your hands, this article will guide you to fix it. Refrigerator compressors are technical components and tend to be expensive. But if you compare the cost of replacing it with that of a new refrigerator, it may be better to buy a new refrigerator.

However, contact the manufacturing brand for further assistance on fixing a failed refrigerator compressor. Alternatively, use the chatbox to your right to reach us. We will connect you to a qualified appliance technician for quick assistance.

Remember to disconnect the refrigerator from electric power before troubleshooting the compressor or any other refrigerator part. It is the first step to safety from electrocution.

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