As the old joke goes, "Is your refrigerator running? Better go catch it!" However, if your refrigerator's constant running isn't enough to keep it at the proper coolness, you may not be in much of a joking mood. Fortunately, this problem is often caused by one of a few common issues that can be fixed relatively easily. Read on to learn more about what might be the problem with your refrigerator, as well as what you can do to repair it.
What issues can cause your refrigerator to run "warm"?
If both your refrigerator and freezer appear to be warmer than normal, the issue probably involves the evaporator fan or evaporator. The evaporator creates cold, while the evaporator fan blows over the evaporator and circulates cold air through the refrigerator and freezer. If either one of these parts isn't working properly, your refrigerator and freezer will be unable to create and circulate cold air and will eventually warm up enough to thaw or spoil your food.
However, if your freezer is at a normal temperature and only your refrigerator feels warm, the problem likely has a different cause. A couple of possibilities are:
- Broken thermostat
Because your refrigerator and freezer are kept at different temperatures, they run from different thermostats to ensure that the correct air temperature is being routed to each discrete enclosed area. The thermostat in your fridge is usually located near the top rear -- because warm air rises, placing the thermostat in a relatively high location can ensure that the entire refrigerator is at or below the target temperature.
If your thermostat breaks or begins to malfunction, it may "tell" the evaporator or fan to stop running, even if the fridge's temperature is beginning to warm.
- Defroster problems
The evaporator is located in the back of the refrigerator. As it produces cold (and the evaporator fan disperses this cold air), frost is also formed. This frost must periodically be melted to avoid ice build-up. Generally, your refrigerator will "cycle" the defroster once or twice a day -- but when this doesn't happen on schedule, or if the defroster malfunctions, ice buildup can quickly render your evaporator and fan immobile.
You'll often be able to spot this problem by looking at the back wall of your freezer. If it's covered with a thick layer of ice, or if the back of your refrigerator looks frosty, it's possible that your evaporator is locked in ice and unable to disperse cold air through your fridge.
How are these issues fixed?
Both of these problems can be solved with a few tools and parts easily purchased at your local home supply store (or through your refrigerator manufacturer's website).
To fix a broken or malfunctioning thermostat, you'll first need to consult the wiring diagram on the back of your refrigerator (it may be inside the outer panel). This will let you know which wires are connected to the thermostat and where the thermostat is located.
Once you've disconnected the thermostat wiring harness from the main switchboard, you'll use a multimeter to test the connection. If the multimeter display does not change when you move the thermostat from "off" to "cold," the thermostat is defective. Fortunately, you should be able to purchase a new thermostat from the manufacturer and install it easily simply by removing a few screws.
To solve a defroster problem, you'll first need to replace the defrost timer. Consult your owner's manual for the exact location of the timer. Once you've located the timer, unplug your refrigerator and move the timer forward to the next cycle, then plug the fridge back in. If you hear the defroster kick on, your problem may just be a sticky timer -- wiping it carefully with a damp cloth should do the trick.
If this doesn't work, you'll need to remove and replace the timer and wiring harness. This should be a fairly simple procedure -- you'll just need to unscrew the screws holding in the current wiring harness (with the refrigerator unplugged, of course) and replace it with another wiring harness and timer.
If you're not sure which component is the culprit behind your warmer-than-normal refrigerator, you may want to consult a refrigerator repair professional. It's almost always less expensive to get an expert opinion (and the know-how to perform a quick replacement or repair) than to purchase parts without truly knowing whether the original part is responsible for your refrigerator malfunction.