Tips from a Sears Home Services Tech: DIY Troubleshooting for 6 Common Refrigerator Problems

By Lyle Weischwill | May. 23, 2023 6:51 am PST

There can be many reasons why your refrigerator stops working properly. Some common fridge problems are simple to solve by using proven DIY tactics while some failures need to be diagnosed and repaired by an appliance repair technician.

Sears Technician Hector Ramirez offers this advice regarding DIY appliance repair:

“Appliance and refrigerator repairs can be a little difficult. It is not recommended to perform appliance repair if you can’t safely and confidently do so, which can be dangerous. Always follow safety guidelines like disconnecting appliances before any disassembly and repairs. Properly reassemble the appliance after the diagnosis and repairs. Some repairs should only be performed by certified technicians. This is where Sears’ knowledgeable technicians can help. Allow Sears – with the most qualified technicians in the industry – to help complete your repair.”

If you’re confident in your abilities to carefully work on your fridge, use these easy-to-follow DIY tips to fix 6 common refrigerator failures.

1. No Power

When your fridge is completely dead – the interior light won’t even turn on – try these easy DIY tips to fix the problem.

  • Check the power cord. Make sure that the fridge is plugged in. You may be surprised to hear that many refrigerator service calls occur because the power cord somehow worked its way out of the electrical outlet. You can sometimes save yourself a service call by checking this issue first when your fridge is completely dead.
  • Check the house circuit breaker. When the fridge is plugged in but it’s completely dead, reset the house circuit breaker for the refrigerator by shutting the breaker off and then switching it back on. A tripped circuit breaker can sometimes look like it’s still on – that’s why we recommend cycling the breaker off and on. This may restore power to the fridge.
  • Test the electrical outlet. If the refrigerator still won’t power up after cycling the house circuit breaker, plug a night light or small appliance into the electrical outlet to see if the outlet has power. If the electrical outlet is dead, then you’ll likely need to have an electrician repair the outlet.

If the electric outlet has power and the fridge won’t power up, then you may need to have a service technician diagnose and repair the refrigerator.

2. Refrigerator and Freezer Cooling Poorly

Check for dirty condenser coils when the freezer and fridge compartments aren’t cooling well. The condenser coils at the bottom of the refrigerator collect dust during normal use. When dust coats the condenser coils, the coils can’t release heat into the surrounding air, so the refrigerator has to work harder to stay cold. The result is decreased efficiency and poor cooling performance in the refrigerator. Clean the coils at least twice a year—more often if you have pets that shed.

Sears Technician Tom Charland shows how to clean the refrigerator condenser coils in this short video:

3. Refrigerator Section Not Cooling

The evaporator fan circulates cool air throughout the refrigerator. If it’s not working, the fridge may not cool properly. Check if the fan is running by listening for its sound or feeling for airflow near the vents. If it’s not working, you may need to replace the fan motor.

When you want to fix this problem yourself, you’ll need to perform some diagnostic checks as shown in this video:

If you verify that the evaporator fan is bad and needs replacing, install a new fan as shown in our How to Replace the Evaporator Fan in a Refrigerator repair guide/video.

Diagnosing and replacing the evaporator fan in your refrigerator may differ from the procedures provided above. If you’re not confident that you can safely and accurately troubleshoot and fix this problem on your own, have a Sears Technician visit your home and repair the refrigerator.

4. Excessive Frost in the Freezer

Inspect the door gaskets for any cracks, tears, or gaps. Damaged gaskets can allow warm air to enter the refrigerator, causing frost to form in the freezer. Excessive frost can cover the evaporator fins and prevent the fridge from cooling properly because air can’t flow freely through the evaporator and into the refrigerator section.

When you find a damaged door gasket on your fridge, order the replacement part from Sears PartsDirect. Use the model number of your fridge to look up the replacement part so that you get the right door gasket for your refrigerator.

Follow the steps in the video/repair guide for the type of refrigerator door gasket that you have.

Although many fridge door gaskets are easy to replace, a few types are more complicated to install. Have a Sears Technician replace the refrigerator door gasket if you’re unable to install it yourself.

5. Refrigerator Temperatures Aren’t Right

Sometimes, refrigerator and/or freezer temperature settings can get accidentally changed without you noticing. Busy little hands of children playing with buttons and dials can quickly send your temperature setting out of whack. A carton brushing against a dial can also change the refrigerator temperature setting inadvertently. Reset controls to their normal settings when you discover unintended changes occurred.

Check the temperature settings when items are freezing inside the refrigerator or thawing in the freezer. You’ll also want to check temperature settings when milk and other dairy products spoil quickly because the fridge temperature is too high. Dairy products must be kept below 40 degrees or they spoil quickly.

In many models, the temperature setting in one section can affect the actual temperature in the opposing compartment. For example, if you adjust freezer temperature to a colder setting, the refrigerator compartment actual temperature will often get colder as well – even if you don’t change the fridge compartment temperature setting.

We recommend that you adjust fresh food or freezer compartment temperatures only 1 degree at a time and allow time for the temperatures to equalize in the compartments before making further adjustments if necessary. That will help prevent food spoilage and frustration when adjusting temperature settings.

When your model has a setting on the ice maker that accelerates ice production, the freezer temperature will often be automatically set much lower by the control system. Items at the back of shelves in the refrigerator compartment can sometimes freeze when rapid ice production is activated. Keep this in mind when you find items freezing in the fresh food section. Minimize the use of the rapid ice feature when you notice this scenario occurring.

6. Ice Maker Won’t Work

Fixing the ice maker in your fridge can be as simple as turning it off for a few minutes and then turning it back on. Many ice makers in modern refrigerators are controlled by electronics that occasionally need to be reset. If the ice maker doesn’t start producing ice after cycling it on and off, try unplugging the refrigerator for a few minutes then restoring power. If the outlet plug is hard to get to (which most are), you can shut off the house circuit breaker for the fridge for a few minutes then turn it back on to restore power. This may also fix an inoperative ice maker.

If these initial tips don’t help, check for ice cubes jamming the ejection arms. Carefully clearing jammed ice cubes may fix the ice maker.

If the ice maker won’t work after clearing jammed ice cube, the gears may be stripped. You’ll likely need to replace the ice maker when that occurs. Some ice makers are easy to replace while others are way too complicated to repair on your own. Have a Sears Technician repair the ice maker if you’re not completely confident that you can safely fix it yourself.

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