There a number of reasons why a car door handle may no longer work, and possible causes range from mechanical failure, lack of lubrication, or even electrical issues. (believe it or not)
Whatever the reason, most cars will suffer broken door handles at some point in their lives, and while the repair is not always easy, it is not an overly complicated affair, and almost anyone should be able to replace a door handle with only basic tools.
While this guide cannot provide exact instructions for each car in service today, it can provide general guidelines and information that will make it a lot easier to replace door handle if you have never done it before.
However, this guide does NOT apply to cars with keyless entry systems, since in many cases, these systems have to be reset when a handle is replaced.
This guide therefore ONLY applies to conventional systems that require keys to lock and unlock the doors. Here is how to replace a door handle on your car…
Time required to fix a door handle:
Most door handle replacements should only take about 45 minutes or so.
However, this time can vary according to the make, model, and type of handle, since the arrangement of links, central locking devices, and other equipment could make it difficult to work inside the door cavity.
Is it difficult to fix a door handle?
Replacing or fixing a door handle can vary from easy to challenging, depending on the car, and the nature of the problem.
Special precautions needed when fixing a door handle:
- Do NOT tamper with the door handles of cars that use keyless entry systems, since repair of these systems require specialized equipment, tools, and knowledge- seek professional diagnosis and repair instead.
- Care must be taken not to damage door panels, electrical wiring, or other equipment during removal of the door panel.
- Make sure the ignition is in the “OFF” position to prevent accidental short circuits when working with the wiring.
- In most cases, it is not possible to repair or replace door handle without removing the door panel. Specific instructions on door panel removal is best obtained from a repair manual, or from the many online resources available today.
- Take special care not to damage the dust shield behind the door panel. This is just a piece of soft plastic, and it is easily torn or damaged.
WARNING: Do NOT attempt to remove a door panel on your vehicle if you do not have detailed instructions available, since it is very easy to damage the panel, or wiring and associated components if you go about it the wrong way.
Tools and equipment required:
- Repair manual, or detailed instructions that are available online.
- Replacement door handle.
- Trim removal tool.
- Needle-nosed pliers.
- Small flat bladed screwdriver.
- Phillips screwdrivers (#1-#2)
- Flashlight or wearable headlamp.
- Cleaning rags.
- Aerosol lubricant.
Video: How to Fix a Car Door Handle
Step 1- Remove the door panel.
While this guide cannot provide detailed instructions on how to remove every door panel on every car, the process is much the same for all cars. Generally, you would start by locating all screws, some of which may be under armrests, or in the bottom of storage containers in arm armrests. Remove all screws, gently pry out window control modules, foot lights, and other removable components.
Next, use the trim removal tool to pry out all retaining clips, starting at the bottom, and working your way around the panel. However, almost all door panels are attached to the door frames with wiring for speakers, window regulators, central locking devices and other equipment, and it is always a good idea to have an assistant available to hold the door panel while you disconnect all electrical connectors.
NOTE: The dust shield behind the door panel is stuck down with very good adhesive, and it may be impossible to remove the plastic sheeting without damaging it. Therefore, only detach as much of the shield as you need to gain access to the door handle mechanism.
Step 2- Identify the problem.
Use a flashlight or headlamp to inspect the layout of the various links, central locking devices, and other components that make up a modern door handle mechanism. At this point it might be an excellent idea to take some high-resolution pictures for reference purposes.
There are many possible reasons why a door handle may not work anymore, so inspect the arrangement of the various components to see if anything looks out of place. It often happens that retaining clips and small plastic bushings that hold links together break, fall off, or become so dry that that they inhibit free movement of components.
It often happens that retaining clips and small plastic bushings that hold links together break, fall off, or become so dry that that they inhibit free movement of components.
If everything seems to be OK, and you don’t see any obvious problems, apply some lubricant to the entire mechanism. There are many aerosol lubricants available, but avoid those that contain graphite, since graphite can cause short circuits in the door wiring.
There is a good chance that the door handle will now work, so test it to see if it latches on the door lock, and it if latches, if it opens the door again. If it does, good, you have solved the problem, and you can reassemble the door. However, if it still does not work, proceed to Step 3.
Step 3-Remove the entire mechanism.
If a simple lube job did not resolve the problem, there is very little chance that the mechanism can be repaired. However, from this point on, you need to consult your manual or online instructions very closely to ensure that you do not bend, deform, or otherwise damage links, retaining clips, central locking actuators, or other components that will only be available from the dealers.
Follow the instructions closely, and if they say gently do this, or do that carefully, accept the fact that you need to be careful and gentle, since you will almost certainly break something if you are not.
TIP: If you have already bought a replacement handle, check the packaging to see what parts in the form of links and retaining clips came with it. This will give you an idea of what is involved with removing some retaining clips on links inside the door, since some clips can be very tricky to remove without breaking them.
Step 4- Assemble the new door handle mechanism.
It is almost certain that you will have to transfer some components from the old mechanism to the replacement, but before you do, carefully wipe all old grease, oil, and accumulated dust off of the old parts. This will make it much easier to hook up everything when you are working inside the door cavity again, since everything will be clean, and nothing will be slippery, or difficult to hold onto. Trust us on this.
Step 5- Fit the new door handle mechanism
You will now have a mechanism to which several uncontrollable links and appendages are attached, which will make it almost impossible to re-attach everything in the respective positions in the correct order.
Therefore, we recommend that you refer to the pictures you took earlier, and use some sort of adhesive putty to attach to pivot points until the mechanism resembles the configuration it had when it was still in the door cavity. Trust us, this step can save you hours of fiddling with floppy links and control rods. Apply as much putty as you need to hold everything in place while you hook up what needs to be hooked up.
NOTE: Be sure however that all retaining clips are in place; in some cases, you need to slide the clips over the rods before you attach them to the mechanism. If you don’t, you may have to remove the entire mechanism again, just because you missed a retaining clip.
Step 6: Test the new door handle.
Assuming that you managed to get everything hooked up correctly, and that all retaining clips are secure, remove all the putty used to hold everything in place, but be sure you remove ALL of it to prevent the putty from interfering with the working of the handle.
Now, you need to test the new handle, and its associated equipment, so reconnect all wiring (without replacing the door panel at this point), and test the door to see if it latches, and opens correctly. Do not test the central locking yet, since there is a chance that you need to adjust the mechanism to latch and release correctly.
WARNING: Only test the central locking system when the door latches, and unlatches correctly. This is very important, because if there is some kind of problem with the unlatching mechanism, and the central locking system locks the door, you may not be able to open the door because the central locking actuator may not be able to unlock it.
NOTE: Not all door handle mechanisms are adjustable; if yours is not, and you did not bend anything, it should work fine the first time. However, if there is provision for adjustment, follow the instructions in manual on the correct procedure to avoid over adjustment, which can prevent the door from unlatching when you close it. If you have to adjust anything, make lots of small adjustments, and test each, instead of one large adjustment that could damage the new mechanism, or prevent you from opening and closing the door.
Step 7- Reassemble the door.
Do not reassemble the door unless the door handle works perfectly.
If there is any kind of issue, retrace your steps, and correct any problems before they can turn into major malfunctions, such as being unable to open or close the door at some later date.
However, assuming that everything works fine, start reassembling the door by ensuring that there are no tools inside the door cavity, and that the dust shield is reattached, and without any tears, holes, or other damage. Replacement shields are available from the dealers if you need to replace it.
Reassemble the door in the exact reverse order of disassembly, but take care when you seat the clips along the panel edges. The clips can move out of position, so make sure each clip is properly aligned with its hole in the door frame before you apply pressure to seat them.