Refrigerators are an essential appliance in every household. It only has one job to do (or more if it is a smart fridge), and that is to keep your food and beverages cold to prevent bacteria from growing. So when your refrigerator stops working, that is a huge problem – especially if you have a lot of food in there. But why does the freezer work if the refrigerator part isn’t?
When the fridge is not cold but the freezer is, it all comes down to malfunctioning parts such as the damper control assembly, defrost control board, evaporator fan motor, defrost timer, and thermistor. You need to troubleshoot all of them until you’ve found the culprit.
We will be going through some reasons why a refrigerator isn’t working even though the freezer is and how you can troubleshoot the issues. Read on if you’d like to learn more.
Why Would a Freezer Work but Not the Refrigerator?
Modern refrigerators have gotten pretty advanced over the years. But at the end of the day, no matter how many features they keep adding to fridges, they still work largely the same as they did before.
Different components work together to keep the cabin cool at the temperature you want it to be at. If one of those goes wrong, it can seriously affect the entire operation like a Jenga tower with the wrong piece removed.
Then there’s the freezer that is separated from the refrigerator section. The reason why one doesn’t affect the other is that they use different components. It makes sense, the freezer has to be much colder, and thus it requires different parts. There is some interaction between the two (we’ll get to that in a moment), but in general, you aren’t going to have problems that would affect the entire appliance as a whole.
We should mention that not all refrigerators are the same, some share more components with the freezer and fridge than others, but it will be possible for one to work and not the other regardless.
Why Your Refrigerator May Not Be Cold
As we stated previously, some components work together to keep your refrigerator cool. The good news is that there aren’t too many of those components related to this issue and so troubleshooting won’t be the worst thing in the world. Here they are as follows:
- Damper control assembly
- Evaporator fan motor
- Defrost control board
- Defrost timer
We’ll walk you through each of these one by one and tell you how you can troubleshoot each component. If you want to avoid headaches, don’t be afraid to call a repairman to diagnose the issue for you! But consider at least checking the easier problems first.
Damper Control Assembly
This is a case where the refrigerator and freezer work together. The refrigerator borrows some air from the freezer using what is called a damper. If this part is damaged or blocked, it will not let cold air in from the freezer section. Check to see if it is opening and closing properly; if it is faulty, you’ll need to replace it with a new one.
This is a common problem, and depending on your fridge’s age, it may or may not be worth fixing. Repairs can cost a few hundred dollars, and if you have an old fridge, you don’t know if something else will break down the line. It’s really up to your discretion, but you might be able to buy a newer used fridge instead. Or you can find deals on brand new fridges for around the same price if not a little more. This is just something we want you to consider!
Evaporator Fan Motor
Refrigerators require adequate circulation to keep the cabin nice and cool. A component that is responsible for this is the evaporator fan motor. What this does is draw cold air over the evaporator coils. If this part isn’t functioning properly, the cold air won’t be distributed around the cabin. If you hear a loud noise being emitted, this could be causing your problem. Fixing this can cost $200-$250.
Defrost Control Board
To prevent the refrigerator from getting too cold and freezing the evaporator coils, they have what is known as a defrost control board. It will engage periodically to keep temperatures stable, which also means it works to keep heat out. If this component isn’t working, excess heat will stay around, which results in a room-temperature fridge.
If the defrost heater is working, but not the defrost system, you’ll know that this is the culprit. This component is located in the back of the refrigerator. You can unplug the fridge and test to see if it works with a multimeter such as this KAIWEETS Digital Multimeter. This is a bit more involved than some of the other troubleshoots. We recommend watching this short video on how you can do this to avoid confusion:
The repair price will vary depending on your fridge. The typical range is anywhere between $158-$584.
The defrost timer is what controls when the heat turns on to regulate temperatures inside the fridge. If this malfunctions, it can continuously pump out heat, which results in a fridge that doesn’t get cold.
This component is located behind the fridge either in the control panel, behind the lower kick plates, or on the back wall. You can test if this functions by manually adjusting the timer. If it fails to turn on the heat at the select time or doesn’t stop heating, it will need to be replaced. You should be able to do this yourself quite easily, depending on the model. If you can find one for your fridge, they only cost less than $15 or so.
The thermistor is what monitors a refrigerator’s temperature. It tells the control board what the temperature is, and the main control board will adjust the temperature accordingly. If this isn’t working, it will cause the compressor to run either not enough or too often. You can test the thermistor with a multimeter like how we went over above for the defrost control board.
It’s quite easy to replace this yourself.
- Unplug the fridge.
- Remove the thermistor cover located inside the fridge.
- Remove the thermistor.
- Attach the thermistor to the mounting clip and wire harness.
- Reattach cover.
- Plug the fridge back in.
A thermistor will cost you less than $15 in most cases. If you need a visual guide for this section, we have linked another video down below.
When Is It Not Worth Fixing a Fridge?
We went over this a bit in the damper control assembly section since it is a common part that becomes faulty and relatively expensive. But we wanted to elaborate on this more so you can make the best decision for yourself.
It’s a good rule of thumb to seriously consider if a repair bill is worth it if it will cost you over $300. In newer, higher-end fridges, this won’t be too big of a deal, but many people keep their refrigerators on hand for years. It’s generally accepted that a fridge that is over ten years old should be replaced, or at least you should consider replacing it soon. This is around the age where a refrigerator might start having expensive problems.
These days, you can buy decent used refrigerators for $300. Or if you don’t need a particularly large one, you can get brand new models for as low as $200 for a 7.1 Cu. ft. Depending on what you have currently, it could very well be a better idea to just get another fridge.
Like we said earlier, if your older fridge is having problems, other things could break down as well in 6 months, so to avoid drowning in repair bills for an old appliance, replacing the whole thing is probably the better move.
If you are buying used, check if there are any problems before purchasing it, such as testing the coldness, looking out for odd smells, ensuring the door seal is tight, and don’t buy anything more than a decade old. You don’t want to end up with something with the same problems as your previous fridge or worse; it’s having even bigger issues!
A fridge can be room temperature, while the freezer can work just fine. This is because they operate on separate components for the most part. However, this will depend on your model since some refrigerators might use one component to control both the fridge and freezer’s functions (i.e., the control board).
If your fridge isn’t getting cold, it could come down to several reasons. Sometimes you can detect the problem almost immediately if it is a bad control damper assembly or a malfunctioning evaporating fan motor. Still, other reasons may require more advanced troubleshooting methods.