Fixing a Broken Mini Fridge

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November 13, 2023

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Repairs
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We recently had a mini fridge fail on us, and naturally wanted to see if it was fixable. With the price of a replacement likely to cost at least £90, it was certainly worth taking a look.

Mini fridges are incredibly simple in design. They pretty much consist of a compressor, and for controllable fridges (like ours), a controller. More advanced fridges might include a thermostat, to automatically control the compressor to keep to a specific temperature.

When a mini fridge fails, there are two main culprits. It’s possible that the compressor itself has failed, in which case the unit is effectively scrap. More commonly, though, the start relay is the issue. The telltale signs of a start relay failure are an intermittent clicking, occurring when the fridge should be turning on. This will be followed by a louder click a few seconds later, when the fridge shuts down. Other parts of the fridge, such as internal lights (where present) will function normally.

Taking a look at the compressor, you’ll notice parts attached directly to the side. This will vary depending on the exact fridge model, though many of them are the same design with a different brand logo slapped on the front. In this case, the fridge is a Russell Hobbs RHTTLF1B.

mini fridge compressor
Compressor found in the rear of the fridge. Note the black compartment attached to the left

Removing the three screws (two visible, one to the right of the other two , slightly recessed) allows the black cover hiding the compressor wiring to be removed. There is a clip on the top which needs to be unlatched to remove it.

compressor attached parts
The start relay is visible on the side of the compressor

The ground wire has also been unscrewed here, though this is not necessary to remove the cover.

Attached to the side of the compressor, you’ll find two parts. One provides overload protection, to cut the power in the event that the compressor draws too much current. The other is a start relay, used to provide the initial power needed to get the compressor started. The relay is the black part below the grey plastic piece, which itself is the overload protector.

Using a flat head screwdriver, the relay/overload protector should slide off the side of the compressor. They are friction-fit parts, attached to three prongs on the compressor. You’ll also need to unplug the wires from the relay to free it completely from the fridge.

relay
The freed start relay. The two holes are where the compressor prongs slide in

With the relay free, it’s possible to take a closer look. This particular relay is a QP2-15, which should have a reading of 15Ω.

relay side view
Side view of the relay, showing one of the two spade terminals

One way to check the relay is to give it a shake. If the ceramic disc inside has shattered, you’ll hear the parts rattling. That said, a lack of rattle doesn’t mean the relay is good.

The cover of the relay can be easily removed by lifting the two clips on either side.

relay internals
Inside of the relay

If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll notice a line across the bottom of the disc, just below where the bottom prongs are making contact. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but this is a crack. It hasn’t shattered, but there’s a definite crack in the disc. The prongs on the left-hand side also look rather discoloured.

A quick test with a multi-meter (probes pushed into the two contacts which the compressor prongs slot into) showed a reading of over 3kΩ – way above what it should be.

These relays can be purchased cheaply online – the replacement for this fridge cost just over £4. With the new relay, the fridge is working perfectly again.

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