Signs and Symptoms of a Bad Start Relay on a Refrigerator

Without a working start relay, your refrigerator will not cool.

The refrigerator compressor compresses the refrigerant, turning it into liquid and causing it to heat up. The refrigerant loses heat through the condenser coils on the back of the unit, and then pumps the refrigerant through an expansion chamber -- where it quickly vaporizes and chills, making the refrigerator cold. But the compressor doesn't run all the time, only during the cooling cycle. It also needs help starting up each time the cooling cycle begins. This is the job of the start relay. If you see signs that the start relay is bad, you'll need to replace it.

Temperature Rising

The most obvious sign that your start relay isn't working is the lack of cooling caused when the compressor never starts up. You can usually hear the intermittent humming of the compressor throughout the day. If this sound never happens and the temperature inside the fresh food compartment and the freezer begins to rise, then there is a good chance the start relay isn't functioning properly.


Each time the start relay kicks the compressor on, there is an audible click. This click happens whether the compressor actually comes on or not. If the compressor does not come on when the start relay tries to start, then the start relay will try again in a short time. This is usually in intervals of two to five minutes. This repeated clicking is a likely signal that the start relay has failed and needs to be replaced.

Rattle Test

A physical test of the start relay can be the most effective way to determine whether it's working or not. The start relay is located inside the same compartment with the compressor and is plugged into the back of the main device. Disconnect the power to the refrigerator and open up the compartment. Unplug the start relay from the compressor and give it a shake. If you can hear rattling on the inside of the start relay, then the part is bad and will have to be replaced. If it's not rattling and appears to be in good condition, you may have a problem with the actual compressor. Compressor repairs are far more serious and expensive.

Replacing the Start Relay

Replacing the start relay on your refrigerator is as simple as unplugging the bad component and replacing it with a new one. Simply remove the compartment cover with the power disconnected from the appliance. Pull the bad relay out of its socket, and plug in a new one of the same type. This should take care of the problem, and your refrigerator will begin working normally again.