(Don’t Fear) The Re-pair

Our house came with a banana-yellow, General Electric, side-by-side refrigerator.  This would normally have bothered us, but it was ensconced in a kitchen made up of similarly yellow counter tops and wallpaper.  When we bought the house we had two kids under the age of two and a third, just two months away.  The yellow fridge kept our stuff cold… so it stayed.

Despite the poor color choice of the purchaser, that particular model is known to be so well made that they run for decades.  So, one day when I came home to the news that things in the fridge were not cold, my first thought was to not even believe it.


Old reliable still doing second-fridge duty in our basement.

I opened the door, snooped around and concluded that in fact, my wife was right… everything was warm.  As I surveyed the damage, deciding what was safe to keep and what had to go, I heard the compressor begin to start, but instead of continuing into the steady whir I expected, it cut out, just as quickly as it had started.

I decided to investigate further.

Regular readers of this blog know that I am not afraid to take anything apart, but this was my first refrigerator. I rolled the giant yellow beast out from its rectangular cave and started taking off the back.  Several screws and a large black panel later I was staring at a collection very dusty components with which I was not at all familiar.  There were wires, pipes, tubes, coils and other unlabeled shapes and colors.  I had no idea where to start since nothing looked broken, disconnected or out of place.

When I rolled the fridge out from the wall I unplugged it briefly and when I plugged it back in, I noticed that it ran through its (now truncated) start up routine.  I sat and thought for a few minutes and came up with a plan.

I would pull the plug, put it back in the wall and each time whack one of the components repeatedly with a screwdriver to see if it would get further along in the start-up process. Over the years I have learned that most failures are at least semi-mechanical in nature, so whacking at things with a screwdriver seemed as reasonable approach as anything. I had already taken the thing apart and I was sitting in a pile of dust and parts… I had nothing to lose.

I began on one side and after three rounds of my process I plugged the cord in and began wailing away at a gray plastic box with wires coming out of it. Sure enough, the fridge fired up all the way and kept running. Yes, I was surprised, but at the same time thrilled.

The offending gray plastic box

The offending gray plastic box

I had no idea what the gray plastic box was, but I knew it was the problem. There is a great website called repairclinic.com. I discovered the website a few years earlier when the control module in our stove was fried by a lighting strike. The great thing about repair clinic is that you can show up with little more than “gray plastic box from a GE fridge” and the website asks refining questions until it has narrowed down the list, then it shows you pictures of the possible matches. All you have to do is scroll down until you find what you’re looking for. If the details match… booya, you’re in business. Even better, they have really knowledgeable personnel available via live chat, and hundreds of guides, FAQs and videos to help you along the way. Repairclinic.com is like having a fix-it guy who lives next door, who will give you free advice and then sell you the part you need at wholesale. They are exactly what the internet can be if done right.

In the case of my ailing fridge, it was something called a run capacitor and it cost $20. It did take some additional detective work since the bad part was inside the gray plastic box and I had to open it up so see it. When I worked in the electronics business in the 1990s, we used to talk about the “un-tied shoelace” inside a piece of broken equipment.

An “un-tied shoelace” is something completely, obviously wrong, like a disconnected wire.

You would be surprised at how often you find an obvious cause when you look close enough. The best thing is, that once you figure out what is bad, all you have to do is replace it; you don’t even have to understand it. I think most appliance repair professionals operate in very much the same manner.

In the case of my bad capacitor, it was leaking and had developed a crystalline crust around the contacts, like you see sometimes on a car battery. Once I opened the gray plastic box, it was easy to see that it was bad.

Appliances, like cars, are a mystery to most people. They are magic metal boxes upon which we rely daily, and 99% of the time they just work. However, when they break we all lose our minds and think we can’t possibly fix what is wrong. To that I say baloney!

With a little use of your brain and a screwdriver, you will be amazed at what you can fix yourself.


Now, in gratitude for reading this far I give you the finest homage to Blue Oyster Cult’s (Don’t Fear) The Reaper ever made.  More Cowbell Please!


Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.

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