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Dave's Repair Service
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Testing Refrigerator and Freezer Compressors

Note: This tip appeared first in the free DRSNews email newsletter 
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Here’s something else I get a lot of questions about: testing refrigerator and freezer compressors. Here's the simple procedure I use whenever I run into one that’s ‘short-cycling’ (trying to start, clicking on/off every few seconds, or in some cases, every minute or two).

Basically, using a digital ohmmeter, you pull the compressor's relay and overload off its three terminals, then check the resistance between each of these three pins. Older relays looked a bit different than the solid state one below, but pulled off pretty much the same way.

Refrig SS Relay/Overload 

First note the two pins that read the highest resistance. The one that remains is the 'common', to which one end of both the start and main windings connect. (The common's not always the top pin, so you'll want to do this test to be sure)

Reading from that common to each of the other two, carefully note each reading. Then measure back across the two with the highest resistance, ignoring the common. That reading should be the exact total of the two individual coil readings, because you're reading through both coils in series now. 

Refrig Compressor Wiring

If those two sets of readings aren't within about 1/2 ohm of each other, then one of the compressor windings is shorted, and if it runs at all, it'll run hot and usually end up short-cycling on its overload protector.

The only solution, if that’s the case, is compressor replacement - a major job, and one I usually don’t recommend any more due to the expense.

If the windings test OK, but it still won’t run, then I connect a test cord and try to run it manually. If I can’t start it that way, it’s most likely a mechanical problem, most often binding bearings, and the ‘bottom line’s the same: either the compressor or refrigerator will have to be replaced (I’ll be discussing test cord procedures, and how to make your own, in a future article).

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