Well, that fix didn’t take long to fail; they sure don’t make ’em like they used to:
The “new” fan’s bearing failure sounded more like an owl than a dog, but it was certainly not what we wanted to hear in the middle of the night. A replacement fan costs on the order of $60, which seems like an absurdly high number for what’s basically a clock motor, a plastic fan blade, and some stamped steel.
After mulling the situation for a bit, I concluded that the refrigerator has reached that age where stuffing more money into it doesn’t make much sense: the compressor will drop dead in fairly short order. It’s time for a gonzo fix that also slightly reduces the clutter in the Basement Laboratory Warehouse: stick a PC case fan and wall wart into the freezer, ignore their temperature ratings, and see what happens.
A polycarbonate sheet, a band saw, some step drills, a big hole saw, and an hour of Quality Shop Time produced a perfectly serviceable space transformer to mate the fan to the airflow director:
The plate surrounds the squishy foam washers from the OEM motor mount, with the fan on its own rubbery posts: there won’t be any vibration transmitted to the plastic air flow director! The obligatory Kapton tape on the right holds a closed-cell foam wrap around the wires to prevent rattling; I’d done much the same when I tore the thing apart after the first OEM fan failure.
The air flow is toward you out of the screen: the fan draws air from the refrigerator compartment through the evaporator coils, then directly into a square duct that leads back to the refrigerator. Whatever doesn’t make it into the duct flows into the freezer compartment through the row of vents at the top of the picture.
I assume some serious modeling went into choosing the OEM fan blade configuration and spacing so as to optimize the distribution. I hope just moving some air in roughly the right direction will suffice; I have no way to measure any interesting numbers, so this is entirely cut-and-try.
The PC case fan expects 12 VDC, which comes from a standard wall wart conspicuously labeled “For Indoor Use Only”. Well, this is certainly indoor, even if it’s not quite what they expected. The wart plugs into a cobbled-together extension cord receptacle with male 1/4 inch quick-disconnect tabs that match the female QD connectors on the OEM wiring harness that originally plugged into the fan:
All that fits into the space behind the rear panel, with the wart wrapped in a sheet of closed-cell foam to prevent rattling and provide a bit of protection:
The rear panel covers the mess, exposing only the row of vent holes along the top. The air flow is upward through the evaporator coil and fins, through the fan, and back to the two compartments.
One question remains: will the fan continue to start below 0 °F (-20 °C)?
Given the ball bearings in the fan, it ought to remain quiet, but I’ve thought that before. Now, however, I have a generous supply of case fans and wall warts that plug into the mechanical and power adapters, so I can replace fans for a long time.