Modern refrigerators use freon as a coolant. This is a chemical that has a strong smell similar to gasoline. When it leaks, the smell of gasoline is often one of the first things to be noticed. When freon leaks from a refrigerator, the appliance will quickly begin to overheat, and therefore will be unable to keep foodstuffs cool.
Refrigerators are not usually known for their strange smells, and a working refrigerator will not leak. So when a refrigerator leaks something that smells like gasoline, it raises two concerns. A gasoline smell is an indication of a coolant leak in the refrigerator, which can lead to the device failing if it is left unchecked. Gasoline smells from a refrigerator are therefore an indication that it is time to call a service technician.
When a refrigerator is transported on its side or on its back, it is easy to damage the coolant system -- particularly the condensing coils on the back of the unit. These coils contain the freon, which will begin to leak out. Similarly, units with condensing coils on the underside should be stood on a flat surface rather than carpet to avoid overheating the system and causing its spot welding to fail, leading to a leak.
Freon leaks should only be repaired by a qualified technician, due to the need to replace the lost freon and the nature of the repair work that will need to be carried out. While it is possible to repair small leaks in a coolant system using epoxy sealant, this will quickly begin to degrade and will often fail within two years of the repair being made.
Freon, like many other industrial chemicals, is dangerous to human and animal health. When inhaled in large quantities, even over a short period of time, freon attacks the nervous system, causing a range of symptoms from dizziness to irregular heartbeats. You should therefore open all the doors and windows when you suspect a freon leak, and avoid staying in the same room as the refrigerator until it is repaired.
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