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Testing Refrigerator Compressor

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I came home one night and the house reeked like old cigarette butts. My wife claimed she heard some weird fizzling, popping noise come from the kitchen, and I got scared that some electrical fire was started in the walls. Nice, just finished renovating the house and now got to break open the walls. That was my worst case scenario kicking in. However, after some searching finally pin pointed this smell coming from underneath the fridge. Pulled the fridge out and opened the back and was confident I found the source of the smell. The compressor (black tank) was really hot to the touch and somewhere in that vicinity was where this weird burning smell was coming from. I don't think its good to touch this thing, but whatever. I disconnected the fridge to stop the smell and maybe avoid any other further damage.

I don't know anything about refrigerators other than if you open it and its not cold enough something is wrong. Also they are supposed to last a long time, this fridge was barely 6 years old, whats up with that? I hit my trusty computer and after some quick google searches I found what seemed to be my problem, the starter relay got fried...whatever that is. Seems like this is a pretty common occurrence and can happen every 5 years or so, depending on certain factors. They post those measurements for how much clearance you should have around the sides and on top of your fridge, and recommend to take off the toe kick or the back panel and clean out the condensor coils each year for a reason. If you don't follow this, or if you just have bad luck this can easily happen to you. One guy told me that it can even depend on your electrical situation in your house as well, could have had one to many surges go thru that start relay. Whatever. Bottom line I needed to replace that part.

First I had to test if the compressor was still good, if not than game was over. I guess there is a chance the compressor can short out when the starter goes like this (Again I don't know anything about refrigerators, I am just following instructions from others). First I had to go in the back and remove the fried starter. This was pretty annoying as there are delicate tubing and wires in the way. The starter is plugged directly into the compressor (Side note, my dads GE is a cinch to get to the starter. Not sure why Frigidaire made this so annoying).

First had to pinch that clip (Bale Wire) off the capacitor. The capacitor is that black rectangular cartridge, this is then plugged directly into the starter relay. I removed the clip and the cable connected just below and with some wrestling I was able to remove both the capacitor with the relay in 1 shot. This exposes the 3 prongs mounted out of the compressor. Warning, you are actually supposed to discharge the capacitor when handling. Supposedly it internally stores a good amount of charge that can actually electrocute you, but since I have little value for my life I just didn't touch the leads and moved on.

  

With the exposed prongs I could now test the compressor. While my multimeter dial was set to the Ohms X1K setting, I first took one lead (black or red don't matter) and put on 1 of the 3 prongs from the compressor while the other lead was placed on a grounded metal. I just scratched some paint off the compressor and used that exposed metal like in the video I linked to above. With each prong I got no reading, this means the compressor was not "grounded". This was good and I moved on to the next test. Now to test for continuity. I placed both leads on any 2 of the 3 compressor prongs at the same time for a total of 3 combinations (doesn't matter black or red). So 1 lead on the left prong other lead on the right prong, than 1 lead on the left other on the bottom and finally 1 lead on the right and other on the bottom. You got that right? Good, each reading gave my multimeter a reading of 0 ohms. This sounds like no reading was returned, but is indeed the opposite as you can see the needle move all the way to the right.

This meant compressor windings were not stuck open and more importantly was all set. I did read in some places that you are supposed to add up the 2 smaller readings and they should equal the 3rd? Not sure what that is all about and if measuring something else, feel free to explain if you know. But for now all I had to do was get the replacement parts and re-install.

Replacing Refrigerator Relay & Capacitor

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For my model refrigerator Frigidaire GLHS36EEW0 the starter (part #241524605) was a pain to find in stock and I was forced to next day air it from Sears. The cost in cleanup and lost food would be WAY more than the shipping cost. The next day I simply re-installed everything back in the opposite order. I also thought I read somewhere to wait for 10 minutes before plugging in the refrigerator to give the capacitor time to charge or something. I am more than convinced this is a witch's tale, and to be honest can't really even prove if I did read this or not. Whatever, after 10 minutes I plugged in and voila compressor went on and fridge was back in business.

Hard Start Relay??

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Since I did not want to wait another night with the fridge off I did call a guy to see if he could come that same day to do the repair, but he couldn't. He did tell me that he would have done exactly everything I did in the same order I did. He also said that he likes to replace the capacitor the same time he replaces the starter so I ordered a new $20 capacitor as well. I thought this was interesting because when I called another parts/repair place and they told me they didn't stock my part I actually asked her can I just buy the part off one of your repair guys? I am sure they have the damn part. She told me that her guys used another part that serves the same purpose but I would not be able to install myself. I think this is known as a Hard Start Relay or something, I did briefly read about this in my travels along the web. This part is only like $15 and requires no capacitor, but it will work in any fridge. The specific starter I needed was $55 and requires the additional $20 capacitor. I am assuming from its cheap price and its name it just provides a hard constant direct source of electricity to the compressor as where the more expensive starter w/ capacitor throttles somehow intelligently the amount of electricity and juice required to start and/or keep the compressor running? The capacitor stores a charge internally acting like a small battery so this has to be doing something interesting and has to be a more efficient design than the hard start relay. So should be well worth the few extra dollars for such a hi draw appliance that is kept running for well over 10 years. If not I guess I risked electrocution for no reason whatsoever. Anyways my fridge works so I don't really care that much, but if anyone has any insight please feel free to explain.

Misc

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I never realized that the more your freezer is packed the longer you can go without power. A fully packed freezer will stay cold enough for 48 hours as opposed to a half packed freezer which remains cold for only 24 hours. Like anything else, if you think about it makes sense. So pack it in I guess. I tried to be smart by removing all the ice from the ice tray to avoid leaks, but instead of dumping it I could have put it in a cooler and kept outside and kept a bunch of stuff cold. If it were summer I could have just filled some pots with ice and thrown in the refrigerator and/or freezer to help keep cool inside. In addition, would have been smart if we put some towels underneath the fridge since something gooey leaked out onto the floor overnight.

Finally I am scared what the internet is doing. As soon as I knew the fridge was the culprit I immediatelly figured on calling someone, but after a quick search online I saw how easy this fix was and it even looked pretty cool. If not for the internet no way I waste any time on this and a repair man would have been called and got paid $200-$300 for this job. I wonder what the effects of this type of pattern will be over time?



Comments

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