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Test a Refrigerator Compressor Motor [2011-12-13]

Refrigerators are our chilly friends, so chilly and complex in fact that we rarely give them any mind while they chug away, keeping our food unspoiled. Fixing a refrigerator can be tricky business, and is usually best left handled by a professional. However, if you are one of those handy types who love to get your fingers dirty doing a bit of DIY around the house, troubleshooting a Reciprocating Compressor can be an enjoyable challenge.


1 Unplug the refrigerator or turn off the breaker that powers it. Since you will have to get to the backside of the refrigerator anyway, unplugging it is easier.
2 At the back of the refrigerator, near the bottom, you will see a large cylindrical object. This is the compressor. On the right side -- in most cases -- you will see a box with wires coming out of it. Remove the cover over this box. The cover will be held in place by either screws or retaining clips.
3 Now you should see the relay, the overload protector and the terminals for the compressor motor. The relay can be removed simply by pulling it straight off of the Portable Compressor.
4 Use needlenose pliers to pull the wire connector off the relay. Pull it off by gripping the connector, NOT the wire. Inspect both the connector and the relay for any signs of corrosion. If there are any, replace the corroded part.
5 On the compressor motor you will see three terminals. Set your multitester, available at any home improvement store, to read ohms, usually the RX1 or X1 setting, depending on the model.
6 Touch one of the tester's probes to one of the terminals and leave it there. Then, use the other probe to touch first one of the other terminals and then the last one. The tester should display a reading of "zero" ohms for each test.
7 Move the probe you held on the first terminal and hold it in place on the second terminal. Use the other probe to touch each of the other terminals. The tester should continue reading "zero" ohms with each test.
8 Hold the probe on the last terminal and touch the other two terminals individually with the other probe. Again, the readings should all be "zero" ohms. If the compressor motor fails any of these tests, it will need to be serviced by a professional refrigerator repair person.
9 While you are testing the compressor motor, you might as well test the compressor for ground. Keep your multitester setting on ohms and touch one probe to the side of the metal box that houses the relay. With the other probe, touch each of the three terminals, one at a time. The tester should read "infinity" every time. If it doesn't, the Freezer Compressor motor will need to be serviced by a professional.