So, a couple weeks ago I found a great (?) deal on a fridge for my bus – a Magic Chef 24″ wide 10.1 cuft. apartment fridge, being given away for free! The ad said there was ‘probably something wrong with the condenser’, and that it wasn’t cooling properly anymore. A quick search online showed that, yeah, if the condenser was bad, it would cost about as much to replace as to buy a new fridge. However, I also found a number of accounts that said it was just as likely (if not more so) that the starter relay was the problem, which would only be a $20-25 fix. So, me being me, and having the free time, I decided to roll the dice and get myself a free refrigerator.

I think I was optimistic because the week before I had scored a free convection/microwave often, also off craigslist, also with the seller saying it didn’t heat very well (specifically the popcorn setting). When I brought *that* unit home and tested it, however, it seemed to work just fine for me, passing all three tests I put to it: frozen pizza, nachos, and yes, a bag of popcorn.

So, a ‘not running’ fridge seemed like a minor challenge at best. I brought the unit home and set it up in our home office (the only room with space to place it and still move it around to work on. I plugged it in and left it for a few hours to confirm that, no, it was not cooling at all. The fan was running in the freezer, and the condenser seemed to be functioning (I could feel it running when I touched it), so I unplugged it and set to removing the starter relay. I took several pictures of how the wires were attached so I could hopefully connect the new one correctly. A lengthy search online found the exact model of the relay, and I placed my order (replacement part: $25). About a week and a half later, direct from China, the relay arrived.

My relay! Took me a good long while to find the right one.

I had spent the meantime cleaning out the fridge a bit better – the seller had taken a lot of the interior pieces out trying to diagnose the problem, so I needed to reinstall the control panel and light in the main fridge, and the back panel and fan in the freezer. I also sprayed the whole unit out with all-purpose cleaner, and washed out the dregs of something green from the crisper drawers. I looked up a replacement part for one of the door shelves that was broken when I picked up the fridge, but didn’t order it yet – I knew I’d get it fixed once I got the fridge running again, but didn’t want to put more money into this free refrigerator than was justified. Mostly I was just doing busy work waiting for the new relay, which finally arrived Monday afternoon. Now I was finally ready to find out if I’d made a mistake with this fridge.

Finally in the evening after dinner, I had my opportunity to ‘do some handy-man stuff’. I grabbed a beer and the relay and headed to the fridge. I nervously started plugging all the wired back in, using my not-quite adequate reference photos. I swear, there weren’t this many wires when I disconnected it. In all I think it took five minutes, and another five to double-check the connections – the last thing I wanted to do was accidentally reverse some wires, or plug them into the wrong tab, and short out the whole system. I cautiously plugged the fridge back in, and soon heard the compressor kick in. I verified that the freezer fan and fridge light were functioning, so all I could do was let it sit and cool down.

So, I went and watched a movie and finished my beer. About four hours later I took another look at the fridge, and while the thermometer I had left inside the freezer had gone down some, it was nowhere near freezing temp. Hoping I just hadn’t let it run long enough, I left it overnight and checked again this morning. Still hovering around 50 degrees. The new relay was a clear improvement, I don’t think the freezer got colder than 60 before I replaced it. I got behind the fridge again and confirmed that the compressor was working, and then unplugged it to let it cool so I can work on it again.

So now I’m thinking it’s something wrong with either the coolant, or the thermostat. Accounts that I’ve seen online say that if the fridge is lacking coolant I should be able to hear the compressor humming, as it would be running dry. I couldn’t hear anything noticeable there, so I don’t think that’s the problem. I noticed this morning that the control button inside the fridge wasn’t responding, so it may be an electrical problem there. Possibly the seller of the fridge disconnected something there which I didn’t notice. Or possibly the control panel itself is bad, which might be an easy fix if it’s just electrical – it’s not a Smart Fridge, so I don’t think there’s a computer on board. Basically, I have more fun research to do, and a solvable problem.

I’m not giving up on the fridge just yet, I just have a couple new things to check out. I really hope I can keep this appliance in the ‘Wins’ column of my bus build budget.