How do you know when it’s time to buy a new refrigerator or when you can just call a technician to repair it? Sometimes it’s obvious, and other times, it’s not quite as clear. You may not even realize your problem is actually a problem at first, but when you do, it will cost you—and not only if you need to buy a new fridge. According to Puls’ 2019 National Appliance Repair Report, it costs an average of $242 to repair a fridge. If your fridge is on its deathbed, though, you may be paying that fee more than once. Plus, your malfunctioning fridge can increase your bills in other surprising ways. That’s why it’s important to catch potential problems early. To save yourself lots of time, money, and grief, you need to know these eight signs that your fridge is on the fritz—and what you should do about it.
Your food is spoiling before its expiration date
If your food seems to be going bad much faster than usual, it could mean your fridge is faulty—but not necessarily. First, check your temperate settings. According to Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company, the temperature inside your refrigerator should be between 37 and 41 degrees. If the temperature is within the normal range but you’re still having a problem, the next step is to check that the door seals are tight. “The seals keep in the cool air and keep out the warm air,” says Shimek. “Keeping the seals clean keep this working the right way and prevent spoiling.” The good news: Replacing a seal is far easier and less expensive than replacing the entire unit. Don’t miss these 7 ways you’re accidentally shortening the life of your refrigerator.
Your freezer is too cold
Yes, that’s actually possible. According to the FDA, the temperature of your freezer should be exactly zero degrees. So, if your freezer feels as if it is more than freezing, it can be a sign that something has gone wrong. “Old freezers are especially prone to frost buildup. If you’re experiencing this refrigerator issue, first check for a cracked door seal that’s allowing warm, moist air to enter,” says Shimek. “This is a common cause of frost in the freezer. If that’s not the problem, there could be something wrong with the refrigerator defrost sensor.” If your freezer is malfunctioning, call a technician to assess the problem. And if you do end up needing a new fridge, first find out which is better: a top or bottom freezer.
You can hear the motor
Of all the home appliances, refrigerators tend to be on the loud side. But if you haven’t noticed its sound for years and suddenly you start to hear the motor out of nowhere, that’s not a good sign. “The temperature control board supplies voltage to the compressor and fan motors, so if this part is malfunctioning, it could send continuous power and make the fridge too cold, thus expelling unnecessary energy,” says Shimek. A malfunctioning motor that runs unnecessarily can also increase your energy bills.
The back of the fridge feels hot
The back of a refrigerator should feel warmer than the front because that’s where the motor is located, but if it feels hot to the touch, that can be a sign of malfunctioning. Several problems can cause overheating, such as a dirty condenser or issues with the coils or ventilation system. As the first line of defense, as well as for regular maintenance, Shimek suggests cleaning the coils with the brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner. “Cleaning the coils helps the fridge run more efficiently, which helps it last longer and decreases operating costs,” he says. Sometimes, buying a new fridge can’t wait. But if it can, these are the best times to buy a fridge and other household appliances.
Your electric bill goes up unexpectedly
If certain components of a refrigerator aren’t working properly, you can see the effects on your electric bill, according to SF Gate. If your fridge has a faulty gasket, for example, other components such as the evaporator, condenser, fans and, thermostats, must work harder and, therefore, will use more energy. One surprising culprit: sticky buildup from food. This can cause gaskets to tear prematurely, so Shimek suggests regularly cleaning them with a warm, soapy sponge.
In general, though, older refrigerators consume more electricity than newer models—and cost you more. In a side-by-side test of a 2015 Whirlpool refrigerator and a 2009 model, Consumer Reports found that the newer fridge was a whopping 17 percent more energy efficient.
You’re seeing condensation or frost
If you notice that the inside of your refrigerator feels wet, there are droplets of condensation, or frost suddenly comes out of nowhere, this may mean your fridge’s days are numbered. However, these problems can also indicate that the gasket simply needs replacing, which costs significantly less. Test it yourself first by closing the door on a dollar bill. If it slips out easily, you may just need a new gasket. However, if there is no issue with the sealing, it’s best to call a repair company or consider a full replacement. If you go with the latter option, first check out this list of the 8 most reliable (and the 8 least reliable) home appliance brands.
You have the fridge-repair guy on speed dial
Much like a car, when a refrigerator has reached the end of its life cycle, one thing goes, so you have it fixed, and then just a few weeks later, something else breaks again. If the appliance continues to need one repair after another, it’s only a matter of time until the entire thing will need to be replaced.
Your fridge is more than 10 years old
All appliances have a finite life, even very high-end ones. If any of the problems above keep persisting, then try to remember when you bought your refrigerator or check the manufacture date. There should be a sticker somewhere inside. If it turns out that it was purchased over a decade ago, you probably need a replacement. Before buying your next fridge or other home items, check out these appliances that will last you 10 years or more.