Refrigerator Repair and Troubleshoot

Is your refrigerator acting strange and you don't know why? Cold food compartment warm? Leaking water? Maybe I can help.

I just fixed mine for about $30 for two parts, and no repair call. I thought I'd share some of what I learned. I don't consider myself all that handy so this is written from a novice point of view - if this is you, don't be afraid!

Note: If your refrigerator is one of those newer models with a computer board, you'll likely have to call someone and replace the board. The same seems to be true for all those newer washers, dryers, etc. that are all computerized - they don't make many parts that can be fixed individually by the average person.

Ok, so I have a typical self-defrost model with the freezer on top. If yours is like this, you'll likely have a fan, defrost heater, and condenser behind the back wall of your freezer. (Some models, typically older ones, have the "guts" under the freezer floor.) The cold is produced here and circulated throughout the fridge compartment.

When the refrigerator goes into defrost cycle (typically for 6-20 min. every 6-8 hrs. depending on the model), the heater heats the coils and melts the ice. There is a hole in the tray underneath the coils where the water goes down into a hose and down to an evaporator tray. Often, this hole gets clogged with ice which gets worse with time over repeated cycles of melting and cooling. Then the water has nowhere to go and ice will build up on the coils, and/or water will leak from inside the refrigerator and you will see puddles on the floor, or the air cannot circulate well enough to cool the refrigerator.

Now that you have a basic understanding of how it works, why not take it apart and see if you can find the problem? If you can put the food in another refrigerator or a cooler you might be able to save it.

Reminder: Remember to UNPLUG the refrigerator or shut the breaker off before you start working on it!

You should be able to take the bolts out with a socket/screwdriver, and the shelf if you have one. Be careful with the pieces as they are plastic and will crack or break. If you take the back off and see lots of ice/frost build-up you can assume this is where to start. You'll want to melt the ice and clear the tube so an easy way to do this is to use a hairdryer to gently melt the ice (again, be careful you're not standing in water or set it down in water!). You can see in my pictures how my freezer coils looked. After I melted the ice I poured water down the tube and checked in the back to make sure it was moving freely. On mine I could turn the plastic piece at the top maybe a quarter turn and it easily came out so I could see if it was clear.

After the ice melted on the coils I could see the defrost thermostat. It's a little metal piece attached to the coils and the inside looks a bit like blue wax to me. If the inside looks like it's coming out, it means it is bad and needs to be replaced! You can see mine in the picture, it's obvious that it's bad, likely from water getting inside I believe.

freezer repair - iced coils
freezer repair-defrost thermostat

You can order a thermostat (or other parts) from a local appliance repair shop or go online (great place is from You will splice the 2 wires together (I wasn't comfortable welding; I put these little wire sleeves on and put silicone in the ends to waterproof and crimped; there are also heat shrink tubes available). If the defrost thermostat looks ok, the problem might be the timer. That is in the cold food section. But since you're in the freezer, you should look at the heater. If you have black metal-looking rods, they are probably fine as they don't break often. If you have glass rods, they do break and you might see broken glass or black spots where the coils have burned. If that's the case, obviously you'll replace these.

If the thermostat and heater look fine, next go to the timer. These, I'm told, have a lifespan approximately the same as the defrost thermostat and repairmen often will replace both. Knowing that, I did replace my timer as well. Even if it wasn't bad, I figured I didn't want to be taking it apart again a week later so I might as well do it now and be done with it. However after seeing how easy it was, I would say you could wait if you're not sure because you don't need to take the freezer apart to do it. It's usually located in the back of the refrigerator behind a cover, where the dials are. Usually the new one will plug in just like the old one.

refrigerator repair timer
diy refrigerator wire sleeves

Of course other things can be wrong with the refrigerator (these are the most common 3 things), especially if it's more than say, ten years old. Things like the fan motor are probably worth repairing, but if the condenser itself is bad or there is a sealed system leak (often apparent by an uneven frost pattern on coils), you will be better off getting a new one.

One great site I found, with helpful people (with a sense of humor too-I never met anyone so funny that worked on appliances!)- you should definitely check this out. You can ask questions, order parts, join or not join...even to be a member, if you choose, is so cheap, especially if you save lots of money on repairs:

This is the forum section of the Fixitnow website I mentioned earlier. Really, I wouldn't have even tried to fix my refrigerator if not for the confidence I got from their help. So here is my way of paying it forward!

So now I say...go for it!