Please note: The class action lawsuits against LG for linear compressor failures in 2018-2019 have resulted in some negative reactions to LG and the linear compressor, which we will respond to below.
LG has something unique to offer refrigerator buyers: the linear compressor. The compressor is an important piece to the system that moves warm air out of your refrigerator. It's more or less a "pump" designed for vapor rather than water, pushing the warm refrigerant vapor to the coils on the back of your refrigerator so the vapor can cool off and be cycled through your refrigerator again. You can think of this as your refrigerator removing warm air rather than "adding" coolness to the air.
LG's linear compressor is a type of digital inverter compressor. Your typical refrigerator has a "single-speed compressor" that turns on and off as needed. Digital inverter compressors act more like car accelerators: they have variable speed motors (controlled with digital magic) and run constantly at a lower power level rather than turning on to 100% power and then back off again. This saves a lot of energy and reduces wear and tear on the compressor as well.
The Lawsuits - What's Going On?
You may have arrived at this post wondering about or having already read about the class action lawsuits against LG for their linear compressor. These lawsuits are claiming that the compressors have a faulty design that leads to failures, and that repairs have used the same faulty design, so some people have experienced multiple (expensive) compressor failures.
So, first of all, this a bummer. Its a bummer to deal with any kind of appliance warranty issue or repair - and this process is part of why some people are so angry at LG (see reader comments below). Adding to this issue is the fact that some areas don't have a lot of certified LG repair technicians, and parts on backorder can add to delays. It's why we recommend choosing an appliance retailer with an in-house service team so you don't have to play phone tag or wait for days or weeks between the initial diagnosis and the repair.
LG's initial warranty on the linear compressor covered 10 years on the part - but another reason for people's anger is that the labor costs are significant. LG is now offering five years parts and labor coverage on the cooling system for refrigerators purchased after 1/1/2018, and is also offering five years of parts and labor coverage if you purchased a refrigerator before that, from the date of purchase.
Purportedly, LG has updated their compressor design to prevent premature failures from occurring, as of 2019, and also to make it easier for service teams to replace failed compressors. At the time of this writing we could find no publicly available information going into more detail on this. In our service department's experience, LG refrigerators have had a normal compressor repair rate up until very recently, in the last year or so. LG is making efforts to speed up how quickly repairs are being made - our service department has heard reports of repairs being completed in just two days.
The problem with these lawsuits is that we still don't have actual data on the rate of compressor failures. We absolutely sympathize with people who have had negative experiences, who have lost money and time to this issue - but as of this writing we still can’t say for certain if these failures are way beyond typical repair rates for refrigerators nationally across the board. Consumer Reports still ranks LG as pretty reliable as of June 20, 2019, and one of the few appliance retailers we found online that lists first-year repair rates of major brands didn't find LG to be a standout in "unreliability."
People are much more likely to share a negative experience than one that was positive or neutral. Does that mean this issue was handled perfectly, or that people don't have legitimate complaints? Absolutely not! It just means that it's hard to say if the complaints are representative of the "average" experience with a brand or an appliance.
In our experience one of the most important things that an appliance manufacturer can do in cases like this is take affirmative steps to confront the problem rather than turning a blind eye and waiting too long to react. The steps that LG took with respect to the retroactive warranty upgrades for linear compressor models is a great step in our view and shows that LG is committed to addressing problems and finding solutions when they arise. In the past, we've seen issues arise where a company hasn't taken steps like this. While LG's reaction may be imperfect, it does show that they care about their customers.
We'll continue to monitor feedback from customers on this post and update with new information as it becomes available.
What is the LG Linear Compressor Supposed to Do?
Although the lawsuits are calling this into question, here is how the LG linear compressor is supposed to benefit you:
Saving Energy: The compressor is responsible for the vast majority of your refrigerator's energy usage, so creating a more efficient compressor can result in big energy savings for consumers. The LG linear compressor is streamlined mechanically to reduce how much energy it uses to operate, and on top of that it's better at keeping the interior of your fridge at a constant temperature than traditional compressors. So that's double savings - your groceries can last longer and your electricity bills can be lower!
Quieter Operation: The streamlined design of the LG linear compressor with fewer "friction points" (moving parts) means a quieter refrigerator. Although you're likely to hear the fans start up after the doors have been opened multiple times, such as when loading groceries, you're less likely to hear your fridge kick into gear at random times throughout the day. Similarly to the perks of buying a quieter dishwasher, a quieter refrigerator is a great option for open floor plans. The LG linear compressor refrigerator is working smarter, not harder.
Improved Durability: Another benefit of the reduction in friction points is that there are fewer moving parts that can wear out, so the LG linear compressor is more durable. By some measures, the vast majority of "wear and tear" on a compressor happens when it starts up. Since a regular compressor is either "on" or "off," the linear compressor's ability to start up slowly and then slow down rather than completely stop when the interior has been cooled is a strength of the design. (Obviously, this point in particular has been called into question.)
Environmentally Friendly: Although home appliances save us a lot of time, they can have a big impact on the environment. Any technological improvements that allow for a more energy efficient appliance can help reduce your energy bills and your impact on the planet! The LG linear compressor reduces CO2 emissions by operating more efficiently, and also uses a more eco-friendly refrigerant than traditional refrigerators: R600A gases rather than traditional R134A gases. Derived from natural sources, R600A gases took a while to make its way to the US. Refrigerators using R600A gas are sometimes referred to as "green refrigerators." Fun fact: over 90% of refrigerators in Germany use this technology! (Source)
Should You Buy an LG Refrigerator?
LG has continued to improve the linear compressor since it was introduced in 2001, with each generation being quieter and more energy-efficient than the last. They have changed the design of the compressor for their new refrigerators to prevent premature failures, hopefully solving the issue brought up in the lawsuit claims. If you're torn on whether to buy an LG refrigerator, keep the following in mind:
They've extended the labor coverage on the cooling system/the compressor to five years.
You can buy from an appliance retailer with an in-house service team to make potential repairs much less stressful.
- In our experience, LG refrigerators had normal compressor repair rates up until the past year, so this problem is fairly recent and likely not an indictment of the linear compressor design as a whole.
Some people would rather avoid the brand for now. If you want to explore other options, compressor terms like "inverter compressors" or "digital compressors" are all terms for variable-speed compressors controlled by algorithms (although the design varies between manufacturers). Any of these variable-speed compressors from other brands should offer efficiency and reliability gains compared to a traditional compressor.
If you buy a new LG, let us know how you like it and your feedback on the compressor. We'd love to hear from you!
Editor's Note: This blog was originally written in June of 2018 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy as of the publication date noted above.