Refrigerator Troubleshooting Chart

There are many reasons why a refrigerator or freezer might malfunction. For a complete guide to refrigerator problems and possible causes, click here.

Discharing a Capacitor

To discharge the capacitor:

Step 1: Unplug the refrigerator or freezer.

Step 2: To gain access to the capacitor, remove the service panel over the back rear portion of the unit or the service panel on the front of the unit below the door, as detailed later for disassembly. The capacitor is located in a housing on the top of the motor/compressor unit; it looks like a large dry cell battery.

Step 3: To discharge the capacitor, use a 20,000-ohm, 2-watt resistor -- an inexpensive wire unit available at most electrical supply stores. Fasten the probes of the resistor to the terminals of the capacitor; this discharges the capacitor. If the capacitor has three terminal posts, connect the resistor to one outer terminal and the center terminal, then to the other outside terminal and the center terminal. After discharging the capacitor, you can proceed with the repairs.

Disassembling the Refrigerator

The control components of a refrigerator are usually located in the top or upper section of the unit. The motor, compressor, condenser coil, and condenser fan are located in the bottom section.

To gain access to the components in the upper section of the unit, remove the retaining screws or pry out the clips that hold plastic or metal panels over the parts. These fasteners may be hidden by trim or molding; in this case, pry off the trim or molding with a stiff-bladed putty knife. Protruding controls may also serve as retainers for the various panel sections. In most refrigerators, the shelves can be removed to allow access to some of the panels.

To gain access to the lower section of the refrigerator, remove a service panel held by retaining screws at the back of the unit below the condenser coils. The unit may also have a front access panel below the door. This panel may be held by retaining screws, or it may slip up and off two side brackets. On some models, you can tip the refrigerator over and test and service parts from the bottom. In this case, the refrigerator must be defrosted, unplugged, and emptied before any servicing can be done.

The condenser and evaporator coils and the compressor are sealed units on most refrigerators. If a malfunction occurs within these parts, call a professional service person. Other parts can usually be unscrewed or pried loose from mounting brackets.

Testing the Power Cord

If the cord of the unit looks frayed, or if you see burn marks on the prongs of the plug or at the terminal screws -- on the terminal block, under the rear access panel of the unit -- the cord may be faulty. Test the cord with a VOM set to the RX1 scale (instructions for using the VOM can be found here).

An enormous number of refrigerator problems can stem from the simple opening and closing of the door. From improper temperature to an abundance of frost, door maintenance could solve all your problems. To learn how to service your refrigerator door, move on to the next section.