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Can you move a fridge laying down? Absolutely!

Last updated on May 19th, 2023

Don’t have the time or interest to read the whole article and just want to know whether you can move a fridge on it’s side? Yes, you can. Looking from the front tip it on the right side. Tape the doors shut. Don’t leave it laid down longer than you needs to, ideally less than 24 hours. When you get it where it needs to be, leave it turned off, standing upright, for at least 24 hours. Longer if possible. There’s a tiny chance you’ve broken your fridge. If you want to reduce your risk to practically zero, read on to find out exactly which side is best and why.

We get asked this question heaps, and we’ve found all the other articles out there don’t really cut it. They were either written by someone who has never moved a fridge, or Safety Sammy, who’s only ever moved a fridge upright because his Dad told him to and it is therefore the only way it can be done. What makes me different to these other goobers? I’ve moved thousands of fridges laying down, and some even upside down. I also repair fridges every day, and I understand exactly what can go wrong when you move a fridge laying down. So strap yourself in for one hell of a riveting read about moving a fridge on its side.

If there’s one thing to take away from this, it’s that if you move a fridge laid down, if you leave it off for at least 24 hours on the other end, you’re unlikely to have any problems.

What goes wrong when you move a fridge laid down?

It’s mostly about the oil in the compressor, and teeny tiny bits of rust and other crap suspended in the oil, but it can also be about spilt water.

Spilt water

In the image below you will see there is a water collection tray outlined in red, and the fridges computer in blue. The drainage tray collects water from the freezer of your fridge when the defrost cycle starts every 24 hours or so, where it can be evaporated away by the warmth of the compressor. Most of the time this tray has some water in it. If you tip the fridge over to the right side looking from the front, this water will spill onto the computer. If we turn the fridge on while the computer is wet, there’s a pretty solid chance it will blow, and now you need to replace it. These can usually be had for about $100-$150, and are pretty easy to replace. The computer is not always in this spot and not all fridges have a computer running them, especially if they are older. It varies by model and manufacturer.

The easiest way of addressing this issue is to jam an absorbent rag into the water collection tray, let it absorb the water for half an hour or so, then before you tip the fridge on its side have another rag or towel jammed between the compressor and the computer to catch any water. Or you can not bother with any of this, let the board get wet, and leave your fridge off for a few days at the destination. As long as the water has dried it will be fine. Maybe this sounds a bit careless, but I can tell you we use a pressure washer to clean our fridges, and as long as they’re left off for a few days afterwards, we’ve never had an issue.

Some fridges have a cover that needs to be removed so you can see the compressor, drain tray and board
The compressor circled in red can be found in this location on all fridges
The drainage tray outlined in red and the computer in blue

Compressor oil

Now – the issue of oil. The fridge compressor is located at the back bottom of the fridge, and is usually black. Sometimes there is a metal cover which will need to be unscrewed first so you can see what you need to. Inside there is a little motor with a little piston that moves up and down and compresses the refrigerant, which essentially allows your fridge to work. The little piston, just like the pistons in your car needs to be lubricated by oil or it will get too hot and seize up. The oil usually sits at the bottom of the compressor, in what’s called the sump. Now you will notice that there are little pipes that come out of the compressor.

If I tip my fridge on it’s side, front or back or upside down- what happens?

If you lay the fridge down, the oil can move into those pipes, or get where it shouldn’t in the compressor. If the non compressible oil ends up in a spot where the compressor tries to compress it, the oil will win and the compressor will break. No more cold. This issue will resolve itself within 24 hours regardless of what side you’ve transported the fridge, but the longer you leave it laid down, the more likely it is to be a problem. If its been upside down for a year, I would leave it standing upright for a month, and I wouldn’t bet on it working again…. but it probably will.

If the oil goes up one of the pipes this gets a bit trickier. Often there are only two pipes, one where the compressor is sucking the refrigerant gas from inside the fridge (SUCTION), and the other where the compressor is pushing the compressed gas back into your fridge to cool it down (DISCHARGE). If the oil goes into the SUCTION line it’s no biggy – as long as it’s not too much oil the compressor will suck it straight back into the compressor when its turned on. But if oil goes into the DISCHARGE line, the compressor will push it through the whole system – and this is bad news.

Since both pipes come out on the same side on this compressor we don't really need to tell the difference between discharge and suction. This fridge would be laid on the right looking from the front, and the oil will be stuck in the compressor.
This fridge would be laid on the right side looking from the front. Oil will go into the suction line but this will go straight back into the compressor when the fridge is switched on.

So when we move a fridge on it’s side, we want to avoid getting the oil into the DISCHARGE line. If you do end up with oil in the DISCHARGE line it is usually not a problem – as long as you leave it off at the destination for sufficient time. Getting oil and crap into the DISCHARGE line, then sucking that mixture up and into the system is what kills your fridge, and this would be avoided most of the time, if the fridge were left to sit for a few days at your destination regardless of what side you move it on. Generally if you leave the fridge off for enough time, the oil and crud will go back to the compressor sump where it belongs. This is probably going to be good enough for most applications, but we can do better than good enough. If you need to turn your fridge on earlier, or don’t want to take any chances, carry on.

So how do I avoid getting oil into the discharge line?

Some fridge are really easy – when all the pipes come out of one side of the compressor. In that case, the correct side to transport the frdge on is the side where all the pipes do not come out. Easy peasy – this will be maybe 50% of fridges if I’m guessing. For the remainder of fridges we need to identify which is the DISCHARGE line, and this is thankfully easy.

Whether there’s one or ten pipes coming and going from the compressor there’s only one DISCHARGE line in my experience. The discharge line is the pipe leaving the compressor with the smallest diameter, this is a fact of refrigeration. For your fridge to work – the discharge lines need to have a smaller diameter than the suction lines. Its small but noticeable. You should be able to see the difference by looking at it, and definetly by touching it (turn the power off dumb dumb). Find where the pipe with the smallest diameter leaves the compressor and lay the fridge down on the opposite side.

Don’t forget to tape the door shut!

Looking from the front, the correct side is almost always the right hand side (left looking from back). This is also the side where most fridges are hinged, so the doors will fall open if you don’t tape them shut with a bit of duct or electrical tape (which I’ve always found interesting from a designed to break perspective, it’s my little conspiracy that they do this so you transport it on the wrong side, break your fridge, and you tend to hold yourself accountable not the manufacturer, but I digress). Electrical tape is better, duct tape can take paint off sometimes. The longer you leave the tape on the higher the chance it will take paint off, don’t leave it for a month.

Is it possible that I’ll break the internal compressor mounts?

Possible in theory but in thousands of fridges I’ve never seen it once. Inside the compressor housing, the compressor motor is suspended usually on 3 or 4 spring mounts. These mounts are made to deal with up and down movement, not side to side. When you move a fridge laying down you might say – hit a big bump or pothole. The force of the jolt, could in theory break one or more of these mounts or springs, causing a very noisy compressor or a compressor that obliterates itself on being plugged in at the destination. Again, I’ve never seen it in thousands of fridges, its possible but you’d have to be hella unlucky.

I’ve just moved my fridge laying down and now it’s not cooling – is it dead? probably.

It depends on the cost of labour in your area, and what the fridge is worth. You’re probably dealing with a blocked refrigeration system (but it could be a computer as discussed above), and a possible dead compressor. They’re the hardest faults to fix on a fridge for sure, and they need someone competent and well trained to deal with it. If you’re in Australia you can just go ahead and send that badboy to scrap metal – it’s going to cost you easy $300 and more likely $600 to repair. We repair fridges professionally and if we have this fault, we strip the unit down for parts and kick it to the curb.

Please be responsible when you dispose of your fridge as well (don’t actually kick it to the curb) – The refrigerant they contain is usually very bad for the environment, and the law, often ignored, and rarely enforced, requires that the refrigerant be reclaimed – basically sucked out with a special pump into a cylinder, then burnt in a plasma arc furnace, which is hotter than the sun! In Australia you can tell if your fridge is being responsibly degassed by asking if the organisation holds an Australian Refrigeration Council trading authorisation. Another easy giveaway is if you’re not paying to dispose of your fridge – they typically cost more to degas then they are worth in scrapmetal value. If you rent a fridge with us and have an old one you want us to take away, we will dispose of it responsibly.

How do we move our fridges? – you guessed, it laying down!

It’s just easier and less risky. If you do it right, it makes it easier to get in and out of a ute tray, you just tip it over onto a blaneket hanging a bit over the side and then lever it in, it can be done with one person. You’ve got less risk when you’re on the road, our fridges aren’t going anywhere, but if they were standing up and held by only a ratchet strap – its probably going to become a projectile in an accident, and even under normal conditions ratchets and ropes often work their way loose, and now your fridge is going out the side next time you make a hard turn.

It doesn’t seem to matter which way you face the fridge, if it’s in a trailer or a ute, regardless of taped doors, they will find a way to open. Face it front, doors open under braking, face it any other way, and they open when you hit 60 k’s. If the doors open you can bert that the shelves will slide out and either fly away, or come out just enough to jam against the door. The door then comes flying closed, slamming into the shelf and damaging both the door and the shelf. Straps can also leave marks on the outside of the fridge, and can even dent the fridge if too tight – they are only made of relatively thin sheet metal after all. Its just anxiety inducing. If you’re moving a fridge in the back of a ute or trailer, do yourself a favour, lay down a blanket, and lay the fridge on top. Centre it and tie it down or ratchet it. Leave it off for a day on the other end. Job done.

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