Fixing A Refrigerator That Just Won’t Turn On: 6 Steps

Fixing A Refrigerator That Just Won't Turn On

I know you don’t pay much attention to it, but your fridge is the most hardworking appliance in your home.  Okay, what else runs continuously every day, month, year or decade without breaking down?

Oops, yours has just quit; I assume that’s why you’re here. But I’m certain that it has served you for a long time, and it’s not like you’re giving up on it. Though refrigerators generally operate the same way, they can break down. When they do, your food can spoil faster than you find any reliable refrigerator repair.

Now there are a million and one reasons why your fridge just quit freezing and cooling your food. These are huge complex machines, which means you need to take your time to diagnose the problem. If your fridge doesn’t start, your first focus should be the power supply. Check whether you’ve inserted the plug properly or the circuit breaker has tripped. If everything seems okay with the power supply, you need to focus elsewhere-faulty wiring, capacitor, thermostat, coolant shortage, compressor or motor.

In this post, we will look at some of the reasons your fridge is acting up and share the steps you can take to fix it. I will also be answering some of the questions many of you might have so you can fix your fridge like a pro!

Ready? Let’s do this!

Why Your Refrigerator Just Won’t Turn On

To get a personalized solution to your problem, I would recommend taking your time to know the exact problem with your fridge.  A general rule of thumb is that if a fridge won’t turn on, it means two things; it’s not getting any power, or there is a technical problem. Let’s look at the major reasons.

Circuit Breaker Overload

When your fridge suddenly stops and doesn’t start, the circuit breaker could be the culprit. Check whether it is tripping and reset it. If it still trips, you need to replace it. 

Faulty Compressor

The compressor is located at the back of the fridge

The compressor is the heart of the refrigerator that is responsible for the continuous refrigeration cycle. If the fridge doesn’t work, your compressor may be faulty. It compresses the refrigerant or coolant and circulates it through the evaporator and condenser coils. If not properly lubricated or cleaned, the compressor can prevent the fridge from turning on.

Insufficient Current

Maybe your refrigerator is simply not getting enough current or voltage. To rule out insufficient voltage, use a multi-meter and voltage tester to check the current. 

Problem With the Motor

A defective motor is another common problem that causes the fridge to break down or fail to start. If the motor is faulty, the unit will not start at all. If the refrigerator were on, it would stop immediately. Defective motors have to be replaced immediately. If your motor is faulty, call your technician will replace it for you.

Dirty Condenser Coils

The condenser coils have a critical role to play in running your refrigerator. They’re located at the back of the unit, almost exposed to the heat, dust and humidity. Condenser coils convert high-pressure temperature gas into a high-pressure liquid. This process dissipates a lot of heat from the rear end. That means that they’re susceptible to dirt and other environmental problems. If covered in dirt, the condenser coils may not work efficiently, which often leads to an abrupt breakdown of the unit.

Damaged Start Capacitor

testing the start capacitor with a multimeter
Check the start capacitor at the back of the refrigerator

Every time you turn on your unit, multiple mechanical processes take place, and they start with the start capacitor. When you switch ON the unit, the thermostat sends a message to the start capacitor to trigger the compressor and begin the refrigeration cycle. When the capacitor fails, there will be no refrigeration cycle, and in most cases, the fridge won’t start. Your technician can help you determine whether to repair or replace the capacitor.

Faulty Thermostat

 A bad thermostat causes a series of problems with the entire functioning of your fridge. If not defective, the thermostat won’t send only a message to the start capacitor, meaning the unit won’t start.

While these are the most common reasons behind a refrigerator not turning on, there could be other reasons as well. Note that refrigerators are complex units and pretty expensive to replace. Therefore, I do not recommend opening every part of the unit, especially if it’s your first time. It’s wiser to have a professional with you to help you understand how things are done when checking it for the first time.

How to Fix a Refrigerator that Won’t Turn On: Step-by-Step #6

Step #1 Turn it Off and then On (if your fridge has this switch)

 When it comes to electrical appliances, it is always crucial to check the power before doing anything else. To check whether there is a problem with your unit, turn it off and then on again. Your fridge will have a small switch inside to control this. However, some brands don’t have one. If yours doesn’t have one, simply unplug the power cord and plug it on again. If you have connected the cord to an extension, try plugging it directly into the socket. If nothing happens, it’s time to move to the next stage.

Step #2 Make sure that you’ve fully and correctly plugged in the power cord

You may not think much about it until it’s already giving you a terrible migraine.  When the power cord is defective, the unit is not getting electricity, which makes the refrigerator not turn on when you switch it on.

The power cord also experiences normal wear and tear or damage depending on how you keep it. If you do not fold it neatly behind the unit, the wiring inside the insulation may fold incorrectly and completely cut off electricity transmission. You may not know this until you’ve carefully examined the cord. If defective, the power cord may emit a burning smell and appear swollen where the faulty wires are. 

To check for a faulty power cord, turn off the refrigerator and unplug it. Check it thoroughly for scratch signs. If there are any, you might need to cut open the insulator and fix the broken wire. Once fixed, insulate and plug the cord back into the outlet. Make sure the cord is correctly inserted. If too damaged, replace it.

Step #3 Check the circuit breaker and rule out overloading

 Your fridge is a large unit capable of tripping the circuit breaker assigned to it. So, it’s pretty essential to rule out overloading before you begin opening things up. Most homes have a dedicated 20 -amp circuit breaker for the fridge alone, but older homes may have it on the general kitchen circuit. 

Find the breaker box and open the cover. Check whether there is any breaker in the OFF positionIf it has tripped and moved to the OFF position, it could be overloaded. To be sure, turn off and unplug everything else connected to the tripped breaker and move the lever from OFF to ON. 

If it trips, either the fridge is causing the overload, or the breaker is faulty.  If it doesn’t trip, something else is causing the overload. Check what else could be plugged in that is causing the overload and unplug it. It might take some time, but it’s worth it.  However, if the breaker had not tripped and was still in the ON position when you first checked, it’s time to check the next possible cause.

Step #4 Test for overload relay

The overload relay is the protection device used to start the winding before the compressor begins running at the required speed. It is like the presidential escort, which leads the way every time the president travels. They come with a capacitor that offers the high start voltage required by the compressor winding.

The overload relay can be found on the side of the compressor. You can check the overload relay using your multi-meter. To get this done, make sure you’ve unplugged your refrigerator. Remove the rear panel and locate the relay start capacitor (it is on the side of the compressor). Begin by discharging the capacitor and then set your multi-meter to the Rx1 setting. Place the probes onto the terminals of the overload capacitor. 

The reading should change if the capacitor is in good condition. However, if nothing happens, you need to replace the relay start capacitor. Reading could differ from one refrigerator brand to another. Check your manual to see what to expect.

Step #5 Check for defective cold control

Temperature adjustment knob of a fridge

If the unit does not start and the fans are not running, the cold control system may be defective. Remember, all refrigerator parts must work as they should for the unit to start, run and cool your food. The cold control is connected to the temperature adjustment knob. To fix this, open your refrigerator door and locate the cold control. It is in the fresh food section.

Remove the control from the fridge and test it using a multi-meter. Set your control to the warmest or lowest and place the probes on the terminals. You are testing continuity, so expect to receive a continuous reading. With probes still on the terminals, adjust the temperatures to colder levels. Your reading should go to zero, but if it fails to move, you need to change the temperature control.

Step #6 Inspect the refrigerator’s electronic control board

 The new refrigerator models have all systems controlled by one authority–the electronic control board. Now, this is the most expensive, trickiest, most complex system to deal with. So I’d suggest that you leave this to the pros. 

However, if you’re used to working with it, turn off the appliances and open your refrigerator to remove the board which is located on the control box. It is usually attached to the top or either side of the unit. Check for signs of arcing, damaged foil, burnt connections, wear or any other damage. If there is any, you need to replace the electronic control board asap.


Fridge working but light bulb not working: what should I do?

At least you know the unit is getting power. Check the bulb for any signs of burning (a dark area inside the bulb or broken or loose filament). If defective, buy a new one and replace it.

What about a light bulb that remains on after closing the refrigerator door?

A bulb that remains on will ultimately start warming the fridge, cutting down on efficiency. Test the light-switch button that the door closes against. When you push it, the light should go off. However, if the light stays on, you need to replace the light switch.

How to get the right fridge parts?

Your fridge has a model number. You can find this from your manual or read the stamp on the tag inside the unit. Write the model number down and take it with you to your parts dealer. If you could take pictures of the part you’re looking for, that would even be better.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of the problem your fridge is experiencing, you can fix it and prevent your food from thawing or spoiling. Whatever you do, just try to keep the cold in as much as you can. Avoid opening the fridge unless necessary.

If this post has helped you understand why your refrigerator won’t turn on and the solution to it, please check other helpful, informative and resourceful posts below. We’re all about finding solutions to your problem and making your DIY life easier for you.

Thank you so much for reading.

Hi there! I’m Craig, and I’m the founder of Appliance Analysts. When it comes to appliances and anything electrical, I’ve always loved opening things up, figuring out how they work, and fixing them. This website is where I share free advice from myself and our experts to help our readers solve their appliance/HVAC problems and save money. Read more