What To Do When A Window Regulator Goes Bad

AutoGuide.com Staff
by AutoGuide.com Staff

Power windows used to be a pure luxury automotive item, but over time it seems that manual-cranking windows are a thing of the past. Most of us have power windows these days and unfortunately, quite a few of us have experienced the misfortune of having them stop working correctly. You know what we mean, too. You roll the window down and it doesn’t come back up, or you go to roll it down and it doesn’t budge.

What causes this failure? It is likely the window regulator has gone bad. If you’re like us, that means you need to find the right part and get to replacing it. It’s not a hard task, if you plan it out and do it right. Let’s roll up our sleeves and dig into replacing a window regulator.

Signs You Need a New Window Regulator

Much of the time, there will be warning signs that you’re about to need to replace your vehicle’s window regulator. You may notice that one window is slower than others, or has a less than smooth operation as it goes down or up. The usual cause is that the motor for the regulator is old and is simply wearing out. There can be other factors, like something got into your regulator mechanism, or your regulator was damaged by an impact.

“The main causes for OEM regulator failure are varied," said Lemmy, an ASE-certified mechanic, author, and video host for Dorman Products. “Old age, worn parts, moisture, debris intrusion, and mechanical causes all are on the table. And when you consider how often a window is used - especially the left front - they also simply die from normal use.”

Where to Begin

If it is looking more and more like you will need to replace the window regulator in your door, you need to know where to begin in the process to replace it. The obvious place to start is to find a replacement, but it isn’t quite that simple. Do your research first, and make sure you’re buying the right replacement.

“I think a lot of folks shop by price, which does matter, but fail to consider other factors,” according to Lemmy from Dorman Products. “Some manufacturers don’t meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Some will replace a part with a failure-prone pattern of an OEM reg. And others fail to select a replacement in the first place – a slow window may not be just the fault of a tired motor.”

Look at the quality of the regulator and the components that go into it. If you look online, you can find a complete window regulator and motor assembly with prices that vary by as much as 200% or more, and that isn’t including OEM. It’s the lower-priced units that should give you pause. Why is that? To really get into that, you have to look at the process of doing the work to replace the assembly.

“For average folks, I’d say leave plenty of time for the job,” says Lemmy from Dorman Products. “In the driveway, giving oneself 4-6 hours for the job so you can work at a leisurely pace is a good idea. And having nice trim sticks will ensure that you don’t make your door panel look like an animal attacked it during removal.”

Going with a mechanic will take less time, possibly, but you’re paying for that time and experience. If you go with the cheapest-possible replacement part, is it worth the time and money you invest in the process of replacing that part, knowing that you may likely need to repeat the process again in a much shorter amount of time? A cheap replacement might very likely have a motor that isn’t smooth. The cable actuator that actually does the work of raising and lowering the glass might be put together loosely, giving your window a slow speed and allow for dirt and debris to hinder the movement. Do your research into getting a replacement window regulator that meets your expectations. You’ll be happier in the end.

The Work

If you take on the job yourself, start off with a clean and comfortable place to work. Some kind of stool is handy and make sure you line up all of your tools in advance. As Lemmy mentioned, have the right tools to take apart your door panel so it doesn’t look like a bear tried to get in to snatch a picnic basket when you’re done.

Since this is electrical, once you have the door panel off, and your glass supported where you need it to be, disconnect your battery. Then simply follow the steps from the instructions that came with your window regulator. It would be difficult to lay out basic directions for the process because there are so many different designs and door designs. It’s easier to talk about the mistakes you can make.

“There are plenty of mistakes that can be made when doing this task as a DIYer,” according to Lemmy from Dorman Products. “It’s a fiddly job to get into the door without damaging things, and working within the door itself with a part that needs to be manipulated and moved a lot to install it is a bit annoying. Finally, you’re working with glass, which is both heavy and delicate! It’s easy to break things.”

Some of the best advice is to have an extra set of hands to help you. If you don’t have someone available, a few tips that can help would be to secure the glass with a generous amount of tape to keep it situated exactly where you need it to be while you remove the old regulator and install the new one. Since you’re going to be working in tight spaces, have an assortment of screwdrivers and wrenches of various sizes and lengths at hand so you can reach every bolt and screw.

Pro Tip - Check Forums!

A pro tip for the DIY’er - forums and YouTube are your friends. Forums are especially useful for getting tips from others who have tackled the exact project you are - and trust us when we say that the chances that someone else out there has taken on the same project and gone online to discuss it are extremely high.

Take your time and buy a quality part to begin with, and you’ll have a much more positive outcome. You can get back to ordering take out at the drive-through in no time.

Check out the window regulator installation to get a better idea of how this process should work.

AutoGuide.com Staff
AutoGuide.com Staff

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