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I tried to deliver a refrigerator and the customer saw that the refrigerator was lying down in the truck instead of standing up. He refused to accept it, claiming that the compressor would be damaged by having it on its side. I tried to explain that that made no sense, but his friend came to me and also said the same thing.

Is transporting a refrigerator on its side a problem? If so, why?

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    $\begingroup$ The theory is that the fluid can cause an air (well gas) lock that prevents the fluid moving around the system and the lack of fluid damages the compressor, or the fluid can get into the compressor in a liquid state and cause hydraulic lock. Have not tested it myself as have always allowed plenty of time before turning it on - 5 hours or more... $\endgroup$ – Solar Mike Jun 10 '17 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ @SolarMike sounds like an answer to me $\endgroup$ – joojaa Jun 10 '17 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ Also, the cooling system for the compressor may not be well protected against mechanical loads, so stacking refrigerators (even in their original packaging) on their sides might be a bad idea. A bit of wire mesh, intended to stop you putting the fridge too close to a wall and blocking the air flow, won't support the weight of another fridge! $\endgroup$ – alephzero Jun 10 '17 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ @joojaa ok cheers, hopefully someone else with more experience of the vapour-compression cycle will confirm. $\endgroup$ – Solar Mike Jun 10 '17 at 22:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Fred - Please don't approve "spelling and grammer [sic]" edits which actually introduce grammatical errors! $\endgroup$ – AndyT Jun 12 '17 at 9:32
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After referring to some good online resources such this, I know why we shouldn't transport it laying down.

Compressor is filled with oil which is critical to its operation. In the normal upright position gravity keeps the oil in the compressor. When we lay the refrigerator flat, some of the oil can leave the compressor and go into the cooling lines. The oil is a thick viscous fluid and can clog the cooling lines thus hampering the refrigerator's ability to cool. Lack of oil in the compressor can also damage the compressor.

If we must lay the fridge down, it is better not to lay it 100% flat, but rather to keep an angle so gravity keeps the oil in the compressor.

If it has lied down flat for some time, then wait at least 24 hours with the refrigerator in the normal upright position before turning it on. This will allow sufficient time for oil that may have gotten into the cooling lines to flow back into the compressor.

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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like poor design then - why isn't the compressor designed to prevent a backflow of oil? It's a given that "keep upright" signs will be ignored and this would prevent problems. It would also allow for upright fridges to be quickly transformed into chest fridges. $\endgroup$ – Dai Jun 11 '17 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ I think every freezer or refrigerator I've ever bought has this clearly stated in the owner's manual, just as 0tyranny 0poverty described - transport upright, but if you have to lay it down, wait at least 24 hours before turning it on. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jun 11 '17 at 0:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Dai, simplicity and (presumably) reliability. A refrigerator compressor has approximately one moving part and is a fully-sealed unit, with only the wires passing through the casing. Adding any sort of gasket, valve, or other oil-retention mechanism would increase the cost and add a possible point of failure. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jun 11 '17 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ This is a good answer, but misses an additional reason for upright transport. Appliances are mechanically designed to be transported in an upright position. Since the up-down axis has the majority of the bumps and vibration, laying them on their back or side to deliver them means that the excitation is now along an axis not designed to accommodate it and damage is more likely. In a refrigerator this would typically be in the compressor mount or in a tubing joint. $\endgroup$ – DLS3141 Jun 11 '17 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Dai You could view it as a poor design in some regards, but I see it like this: Just like every fluid system, every bend, change in size, fitting, and valve (like a backflow preventer) adds a pressure drop that the pumping mechanism (pumps, fans, etc.) has to overcome. It doesn't make sense from a design standpoint to have to over-engineer to overcome a situation that shouldn't be encountered in normal use. $\endgroup$ – Secundus Jun 13 '17 at 23:55
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The theory is that the fluid can cause an air (well gas) lock that prevents the fluid moving around the system and the lack of fluid damages the compressor, or the fluid can get into the compressor in a liquid state and cause hydraulic lock. Have not tested it myself as have always allowed plenty of time before turning it on - 5 hours or more... posted as an answer on friendly advice.

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I have been shipping refrigerators on their sides since 1976; that adds up to thousands of times. I tell the customer that it is the biggest wives' tale ever. I tell the customer to allow two hours for the oil to return back to the compressor and there will be no problems. I lay them down to where the suction line on the compressor is facing down. That way when the compressor starts up the oil in the suction line is pulled right back into the compressor. The oil does not go through the piston valve as it enters the "pot" section. The whole compressor is under the low side of the refrigeration cycle. Laying it down on the discharge side can discharge any oil into the condenser that may clog the cap tube that feeds the evaporator. THIS WILL PASS the compressor will push it through.

I just love people who speculate with their answers with no refrigeration degree and no practical application.

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  • $\begingroup$ "That way when the compressor starts up the oil in the suction line is pulled right back into the compressor." Which is the worst possible thing you can do, of course. Why do lay them down if you do this a lot? I have never laid one down to ship. Don't need to. $\endgroup$ – Phil Sweet Nov 21 '17 at 23:53
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I been told by a number a fridge maint. People Their rule of thumb is how ever long it lays on its side,, leave it upright that long before plugging it in . Will give oils time to drain back down to where they are supposed to be. I am sure I didn't word it the exact same way but I am sure you get what I am saying. if it is on its side for 12 hours upright 12 hours before you plug it in. I myself wait as long as I can

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I agree with Craig below, in addition though, my understanding is, old refrigerators will accumulate some wear sludge in the bottom of the compressor - this is what will permanently stop a fridge from working.

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  • $\begingroup$ This would have been better written as a comment on Craig's answer, rather than existing as a new answer itself $\endgroup$ – Jonathan R Swift Apr 24 '18 at 10:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Ted. Craig isn't below anymore. Answers float up and down with votes and user sorting preference. This isn't a forum. $\endgroup$ – Transistor May 12 '18 at 17:01

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