Refrigerators, in some ways, have changed quite a bit since 1835, when the “father of the refrigerator” (Jacob Perkins) received a patent for a vapor-compression cycle. While modern refrigerators certainly have more features and capabilities, many of the essential components and functions have amazingly stayed the same.
Main Working Parts of a Refrigerator
The essential function of refrigerators is to use the evaporation of a liquid (refrigerant) to absorb heat. The main working parts of a refrigerator include a compressor, a condenser, an evaporator, an expansion valve, and a refrigerant.
Refrigerant is truly the lifeblood of a refrigerator. It starts in the form of a gas, then a liquid, and back to a gas as it cycles through the refrigerator’s parts. This is the process that cools the refrigerator. In the early stages of refrigerator technology, toxic gases such as ammonia were used as refrigerants. That changed in the 1930’s, when manufacturers began using freon instead. Freon was used for many decades until recent discoveries by scientists found it was harmful to the Earth’s environment. Most modern refrigerators now use a compound called HFC 134a.
The refrigerator cooling process begins in the compressor. A motor powers the compressor, which increases the temperature and pressure of the gas (refrigerant) and sends it along to the condenser. The compressor is typically found along the bottom of the refrigerator, towards the back. The exception is built-in refrigerators, which usually place the compressor(s) on top.
The condenser is where the refrigerant liquefies. The condenser receives the hot vapors, which are cooled down into a liquid. It’s distinguishable by its large copper coils, and you can find them along the bottom or at the back of your unit.
Expansion Valve (Or Capillary Tube)
This cooling process then shifts to the expansion valve, which is a thin set of copper tubes. The expansion valve lowers the liquid refrigerant’s temperature and pressure dramatically, causing about half of it to evaporate. This refrigerant repeatedly evaporating at extremely low temperatures is what creates the cool temperatures inside your refrigerator and/or freezer.
The evaporator is where the cooling process ends and begins the process of the next cycle. It takes the remaining refrigerant liquid and turns it back into a vapor, which the compressor takes to start it all over again.
Most Common Refrigerator Replacement Parts
Having trouble with your refrigerator? There are some common causes of refrigerators not working properly. If you notice your refrigerator not cooling, your ice maker not working, or perhaps just an unusually noisy appliance, some DIY troubleshooting may give you enough information to identify a broken part that needs replacement.
Top 5 Common Refrigerator Replacement Parts
It’s always best to call a licensed service technician to service and repair your appliance, and knowing what refrigerator replacement parts may be needed will help you understand the charges. However, if you’re handy and up to the task, you may figure out the problem and find an inexpensive replacement part to get the job done.
Problem: Loud refrigerator or refrigerator not cooling
Troubleshooting: The thermistor is responsible for monitoring the temperature inside your refrigerator. The thermistor then sends this temperature reading to the control board, initiating the system cooling your refrigerator. When the thermistor is defective, the cooling system won’t work properly. This is among the most common refrigerator replacement parts.
Solution: You can use a multimeter to check the continuity of the thermistor. If the thermistor is failing or not operating consistently, you’ll need to replace it.
#2 Evaporator Fan Motor
Problem: Freezer cold, refrigerator warm
Troubleshooting: The evaporator fan motor powers the fan that circulates cold air throughout the freezer and refrigerator compartments. If you notice your freezer working fine, but the refrigerator feels warm, a likely cause is a faulty fan motor. Another clue that your evaporator fan motor isn’t working properly is if your refrigerator sounds unusually loud.
Solution: Test your evaporator fan motor with a multimeter. If it does not show continuity, it should be replaced.
#3 Condenser Fan Motor
Problem: Refrigerator not cooling
Troubleshooting: Refrigerators with condenser coils mounted in the compressor compartment use fans to force air through the coil to dissipate heat and cool the refrigerator. If the condenser fan is not working properly, not only is the condenser at risk of overheating, but the internal temperature of the refrigerator will continue to rise.
Solution: You will need a multimeter to check the condenser fan motor for continuity. If you determine there is no continuity, replace the condenser fan motor.
#4 Water Inlet Valve
Problem: Ice maker not working/not producing ice, Refrigerator Leaking Water
Troubleshooting: The ice maker relies on a pressurized water supply filtering into the ice maker module. If the water inlet valve doesn’t have enough water pressure to open the valve, your ice maker won’t receive enough water to make ice, and the dispenser won’t have anything to eject into the ice tray. The water inlet valve needs at least 20 psi to function properly. If your refrigerator leaking water is causing a mess, the water inlet valve may also be faulty.
Solution: First, check the water pressure and confirm there is at least 20 psi. Next, determine if the water inlet valve is getting power. Use a multimeter to check for power to the water inlet valve. If the water inlet valve has adequate water pressure and sufficient power coming through, then the water inlet valve is defective and needs to be replaced.
#5 Water Filter
Problem: Ice dispenser won’t work and/or water tastes bad
Troubleshooting: The most common, inexpensive, and simple of the refrigerator repair parts is the water filter. A dirty or clogged water filter is often the culprit of unnecessary worry. A clogged water filter restricts the flow of water to the ice maker prohibiting the production of ice. Water filters should be replaced about every 6 months to ensure water quality and unrestricted water flow to the ice maker module.
Solution: Check the date on your water filter. If it’s old, install a fresh filter.
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