Garage Refrigerator Problems

If you have a garage refrigerator you may experience many problems especially if in an unheated garage. There are many misconceptions about refrigerators in garages. This page will clear them upBefore we get started there is one thing I would like to point out, refrigerators are designed to operate at or around room temperature (67-77 degrees). Ironically, refrigerators do much better with warmer temperatures, than they do colder temperatures, which I will explain. Basically refrigerators will work fair up to around 100 degrees and down to about 55 degrees or so, but optimal temperature is room temperature.

All temperatures discussed on this page are in degrees Fahrenheit

Garage Refrigerator Problems- Low Temperature

Not running/Not running enough

Most refrigerators (with the exception of newer high end refrigerators) are controlled by a cold control/thermostat in the fresh food section. Which means if the temperature in the fresh food section is at the set temperature (the cold control is satisfied) the entire refrigerator cuts off. This works fine at higher temperatures because when the temperature in the fresh food section gets to the set temperature the freezer is plenty cold. To understand all of this, it is important to know the fresh food section is cooled by cold air from the freezer on almost all refrigerators with a few exceptions.

What happens is when the ambient temperature gets below about 50 degrees or so the refrigerator will not run long enough to cool the freezer properly. This is because the refrigerator doesn’t have to run very long to cool the fresh food section to set temperature if the ambient temperature is low.

Then when the ambient temperature gets down in the 30s, the refrigerator will not run at all. So eventually the temperature in the freezer and the fresh food section will become the same as the ambient temperature.

So lets say the ambient temperature has been around 25 degrees for some time. This would mean that the temperature in both sections would be close to 25 degrees. 25 degrees is too cold for the fresh food section and food will start to freeze. 25 degrees is not cold enough for the freezer and things will start to thaw.

This is confusing and I know you are thinking how could food be freezing in the fresh food section and be thawing in the freezer if you just said they will be the same temperature. Well its simple things such as meat and ice-cream must be around 0 degrees to stay frozen but things that would be in the fresh food section such as water, soda, beer, eggs or milk will start to freeze at 32 degrees.

Note for this to happen, the temperature has got to be down for a prolonged period of time. If it just dips down at night then back up in the day the refrigerator may work halfway ok. Also some companies make heaters that correct this problem to a certain extent. They say the heater only allows the refrigerator to run down to around 32 degrees.

Here every thing is normal.

Here the fresh food section will reach set temperature too fast causing the freezer to be a little too warm.

Here the refrigerator will not run at all; therefore, the temperature in both sections will become the same as the ambient temperature.

In this example, the temperature is 25 degrees. At 25 degrees things in the freezer, such as ice cream and meats will start to thaw. While at the same time, things in the fresh food section, such as milk, eggs and drinks will start to freeze.

Here the refrigerator will run continually and have a hard time keeping correct temperature.

The hotter it gets the warmer the temperatures will become in both sections of the refrigerators.

Refrigeration Problem

Another garage refrigerator problem is the effect that cold ambient temperatures have on refrigerant and the oil in the compressor. Before I talk about this part you should know that it is basically a mute point because the refrigerator shouldn’t run at low ambient temperatures because of what I discussed above. But the refrigerator can try to run in low ambient temperatures if the light in the refrigerator is on or there is a heater installed to help it run more in cold conditions. On older refrigerators the oil can break down or thicken in cold environments causing the sealed system to clog. This will only happen in rare and extreme cases.

Garage Refrigerator Problems- High Temperature

Continuously running Garage refrigerators fair better in high ambient temperatures than low ambient temperatures but they still have problems. When the temperature gets up around 90 degrees it will never or hardly ever cut off. This is due to the fact that it is working very hard the keep the fresh food section at optimal temperature. On refrigerators with mechanical controls you can help this problem by turning the freezer section down. This will allow more airflow into the fresh food section and turn the refrigerator off sooner and still maintain a fairly good temperature in both sections. On refrigerators with electronic controls there is not much you can do.


Humidity is a big garage refrigerator problem in the summer. The high humidity causes the refrigerator to sweat badly and can cause the defrost system to become ineffective in extreme cases. If the refrigerator has an energy saver setting, you must turn it off in the summer to help the humidity problem. What the energy saver does is turn off a heater near or around the door where the freezer and the fresh food doors meet. When the refrigerator isn’t in a high humidity environment you don’t need the heater and it is a waist of energy. But in the summer, a garage refrigerator (or any refrigerator for that matter) is exposed to a very high humidity environment. So, turn the energy saver off.


As I said above, refrigerators are designed to operate at or around room temperature. This page is not intended to discourage you from putting a refrigerator in your garage, nor is it saying that refrigerators will not work in a garage. It is simply pointing out the problems you may encounter with garage refrigerators. It is fine to have a refrigerator in your garage; I have one in mine but don’t expect the performance to be optimal when temperatures are extreme for extended periods of time. Also there are refrigerators that will perform better in garages and there are some designed to be used in garages.

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