Refrigerator Warming Up and Makes an Occasional Clicking Noise

by Samurai Appliance Repair Man on December 1, 2005

in Refrigerator Repair

This is usually a burned out start relay on the compressor. The function of the start relay is to momentarily energize the start winding in the compressor motor and then cut power to the start winding as soon as the motor is running. In the good ol’ days, these relays were mechanical: heavy copper wire wound around a plunger that would open and close in response to current… and they almost never failed.

Most of the start relays on modern compressors are solid state and use a special material whose resistance increases with temperature. So, as current flows through the relay and the relay heats up, its resistance increases to the point that the start winding is isolated from the rest of the circuit, accomplishing the same thing as the old relays. A common failure of these relays is that the solid state material “cooks” and breaks up, staying open and thus never allowing the start winding in the compressor motor to energize. The end result is that the compressor tries to start, usually you’ll hear a humming noise, and then, after a few seconds, the compressor’s overload protector takes the compressor offline with a loud CLICK!

Easy way to tell if the start relay is bad is by simply removing it from the compressor’s control pod and shaking it. If you hear any rattling, it’s fried.

The most common start relays are shown below. Match ‘em up to yours by sight. If you don’t see yours, you can use the 3-in-1 start kit or look it up here using your model number.

The other, more ominous possibility is that the compressor itself is FUBAR. You can check this with your ohm meter. Set it on the lowest setting and then measure the resistance between each of the three pegs sticking out from the compressor in the control pod– the same ones that the start relay and overload connect to. Should read something in the low ohms. If the reading between any two pegs is infinite resistance, then one of the windings in the compressor motor is burned out. You should also measure from one of the compressor pegs to ground with your ohm meter on the highest setting. If you read anything, the compressor has developed a path to ground and is bad.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

drake April 5, 2006 at 1:03 pm

If the problem is caused by a faulty start relay does this problem usually happen suddenly? Or is there a degradation over time? I have a fridge/freezer that has been making dull clicking noises for a few months now, but only in the last 1-2 days it has warmed up to room temperature and refuses to do anything. Any ideas?

Anyway, great informative site!

Samurai Appliance Repair Man April 5, 2006 at 1:29 pm

Hi, Drake. Have you checked the compressor relay? If not, do that now. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Back already? Boy, that was fast! Anyway, these solid-state, PTC relays usually fail all at once. But, hey, no need to guess about it since it’s so easy to verify.

Other things can cause a fridge to warm up, too. Read all about that ratcheer.

drake April 9, 2006 at 9:06 am

Ok, the problem initially was that I couldn’t get the compressor relay out to check whether it rattled or not. Eventually I got it out and it did indeed rattle noisily. Next problem was getting a replacement – I’m in Japan and don’t speak Japanese. I had a Japanese friend come with me to check out a repair shop – the translation was that these comporessor relays don’t break!! Instead they could come out and try to fix it for ~US$100+parts, or I could just buy a new one!! (Then the Japanese recycling laws needed to be considered, which dictate that there is a fee of ~US$80 for disposal of an old fridge) Wanting a second opinion, I got my friend to call the manufacturer who confirmed that these relays do break, and so we got them to send out a replacement. Cost US$6 (plus US$7 postage)… plugged it in and its been working like new ever since.

Thanks for your suggestion and your great site.

Samurai Appliance Repair Man April 9, 2006 at 2:08 pm

Wow, great story, Drake, thanks for posting it. It’s interesting that people are the same everywhere in the world– even Japan has ripoff artists and hustlers in the appliance repair trade.

And thanks for your generous love-offering to the United Samurai Beer Fund! :D

tonybeth103 April 16, 2006 at 4:44 am

Hello Love the site!!!!
With my Frigaire PLHs69eess1
I have the same problem. I took out what I think is the Relay and it does rattle a little. but it does not look like the relay you hav ein the picture . Can you confirm for me I have the right part out. according to the Frigaire website the part I have in my hand is the ????Starter-TSD 241527803????

Samurai Appliance Repair Man April 16, 2006 at 6:56 am

Tony, this is the start relay you need for your refrigerator’s compressor: click here. Buy it through that link and help support this website! :)

tonybeth103 April 17, 2006 at 8:22 am

Thanks for your help. I just ordered the part via phone from Repair Clinic .com

Samurai Appliance Repair Man April 17, 2006 at 11:52 am

We do not get credit for phone orders, so that doesn’t help support the site. :(
However, your love-offering to the United Samurai Beer Fund does help keep the magic alive. :)

27mts July 19, 2006 at 5:41 pm

My refrigerator has the click-buzz-click syndrome. I ordered an overload/relay and capacitor, but got just the relay since the capacitor is on back order. I installed the new relay with the old capacitor and got the same click-buzz-click; though, the compressor did come on once. (I also tested the compressor for continutity and current flows through.) Do you think the capacitor is the culprit?

-Mike

speedbump April 7, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Refrigerator is warm, freezer thawed out. click-buzz. Compressor is hot to the touch. Looks like someone had replaced the start relay years ago–the capacitor is disconnected and a 3-in-1 start is installed. Is there any way to tell if this thing is bad? The coil resistance on the compressor seems good (~3-4 ohms). I assume I should just try plugging in a new 3-in-1? I’m a little concerned that the compressor is so hot.

BTW, the ‘fridge is a Whirlpool GD25SFXHS03.

Samurai Appliance Repair Man April 10, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I would never use 3-in-1′s unless it was an antique model and an OEM start relay was no longer available for the compressor.

You can test the compressor: ohm out the windings, start, run, and main. Should all have low ohm readings. A definitive Samurai test would include using a megger to check for conductance (leakage) from windings to ground.

If the compressor checks good this way, then you could risk installing an OEM start relay.

But the risk remains that the compressor is FUBAR, in which case, installing the new OEM relay will not result in joy and mirth.

carlsez September 23, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Thanks for the info, Samurai. I wish I had discovered this forum weeks ago rather than days. You have described my own refrigerator problem exactly, and I have since been able to replace its relay/overload module with no further complications.

I have one ongoing concern. When I tested the leads on my compressor the resistance difference between the start-up and run windings was around .8 to .9 ohms rather than .5, or half-an-ohm as suggested to be normal. The compressor is running and the unit is cooling/freezing normally. Do you or anyone else think there may still be damage to the compressor and it would only be a matter of time before it prematurely fails? Thanks.

Samurai Appliance Repair Man September 23, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Konnichiwa, Carlsez,

The marginally higher resistance you’re seeing in the compressor windings is probably within the error of measurement. Takes a mighty fine meter to measure low resistance accurately. If things are running fine right now, don’t mess it! :)

carlsez September 28, 2010 at 11:36 am

I’ll go with that explanation. The numbers on my meter tend to jump around a lot when taking a reading. I assumed the half-ohm difference between windings was more of an estimate.

Anyway, the good news is that it’s still running well. Thanks for your quick response and info!

kjw January 15, 2011 at 11:14 am

I have just fixed my 11 year old Ariston (Indesit) OK-RF 2100 L fridge with the help of this article. Arigatou!

My component looks like the brown one in bottom left one from the diagram, part number SR273102. I eventually found one in the UK from http://www.ransomspares.co.uk/parts/160816.htm – took longer than expected to arrive but they warned me about that and in winter you can almost live wihtout a fridge. The new one is actually marked SR273104 but looks identical bar cream colour.

mtodd February 7, 2012 at 2:20 pm

i have a kenmore fridge model #106.354616300, having same issue click and little weeze and blowing warm air, i’m ready to order the part but i’m not sure if its the start device or the relay and overload kit…..any ideas???

sidglimmer60 July 2, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Hi Samurai, I have the same problem described thoughout this thread with the clicking/buzzing and refrigerator/freezer warming. Everything I have read including the interesting article I found on Akom’s Tech Ruminations site regarding Getting your refrigerator to run without a start relay while you wait for the part (where I found your comment and link to your site) along with the same symptoms I have points to the Start Relay. The question I have is can this part become intermittent or slowly degrade over time vs. a typical quick and complete failure? I know this sounds like a dumb question and for a guy with an old 1981 degree in electronics I feel kinda dumb asking but I saw some weird things with electronic parts back in the day when I was a bench tech many years ago. The reason I ask is because when I unplug the refrigerator as advised by Maytag over the phone and wait for a good long period of time the clicking/buzzing/warming up problem goes away and the refrigerator runs normal, quiet and cools/freezes properly for a period of time. This has been going on for over a year now. It used to run for months or when I first noticed the problem and followed the unpug the fridge reset step, then I’d get a several weeks, then a couple of days and now I have to do it every day. Yes, I have been doing this like a fool because I am disabled and living on a low budget. I’m ready to order the Start Relay but I’m confused as to why the refrigerator works after resetting it unless the relay is not fully open yet but has degraded to almost open over time?

sidglimmer60 July 3, 2012 at 1:17 am

Update: I forgot to include my reference information. My refrigerator is a Maytag Model MBL2256KES. I just ordered the Start Relay from RepairClinic because they offer an unconditional return policy. I figure its either this part or the compressor and I’m crossing my fingers it is just this inferior part….!!

Samurai Appliance Repair Man July 16, 2012 at 7:38 am

I have seen new, OEM relays fail two weeks after installation without finding another other problem with the compressor or condenser fan motor. OTOH, I have seen start relays fail in a short time because the first tech failed to diagnose a lazy condenser fan motor. See this page for more details and a couple of illustrative videos ==> http://appliantology.org/topic/38530-fixing-a-refrigerator-compressor-that-wont-start-compressor-relay-condenser-fan-motor/

broke freezer December 11, 2012 at 2:32 am

Problem with Frigidaire commercial Freezer, FFU17FC4AW2. After trying to diagnose, I still have questions. I have power to the PTC and to the lowest part of the 3 terminals on the compressor, and the freezer runs the evap fan and sometimes the compressor, but it never gets cold, the compressor just gets warm to the touch… Am I Iow on R134a? I guess i should replace the PTC as well.

Samurai Appliance Repair Man December 11, 2012 at 9:44 am

Without putting gauges on the sealed system, the only non-invasive way to tell is by looking at the frost pattern on the evaporator coil. See this post for details:

http://fixitnow.com/wp/2011/02/25/how-to-troubleshoot-warm-refrigerator-problems-by-reading-the-evaporator-frost-pattern/

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