If you’ve had your car for a little while, you probably don’t think too much about your car door handle – until one day you grab the door handle to get in and it feels “off.” You can’t quite place it but it just doesn’t feel right. The handle seems to operate, but it’s as though the door is still locked.
Naturally, you operate the key or the remote a few times, but it doesn’t help – it seems you are locked out of your own car. You try the other door or even the back door, and it works. Great! You can get into your car, but you have to climb over the center console or even the back seat to get in and drive! It’s undignified at best and next to impossible at worst, but at least you can get in the car and get home.
The driver’s door handle may not always be the handle that goes first sometimes it’s the interior door handle but since that is the door that is operated the most, that is usually the case. Most of these handles are made of plastic or cheap cast metal, and after so many operations, the business end, the part you can’t see, eventually cracks and then snaps off.
After looking for ways on the internet how to fix a car door handle, I’ve finally been able to do it without having to pay for a mechanic. Cars are complex machines, but with an organized and systematic approach, fixing that equipment is as easy as pie.
What do You need?
Here are the materials you will be needing for this tutorial:
- Replacement Handle – The replacement handle should be specific to the car you own.
- Screwdrivers – Every car door interior has screws to unfasten, old models even have screws visible on the interior door handle. In addition, you may also need a rubber mallet to tap and re-install the interior door panel.
- Towel – This can be used to gather all the screws in one place, or to provide additional cushion to the interior door panel when it is being hammered or pinned down for re-installation.
- Masking Tape and Marker – If you’re a clumsy person like me, a masking tape can be your best friend when fixing the car door. Disassembling is easy, but re-assembling can take time if you are unable to remember which piece comes in which part. Use a masking tape to label the pieces you removed.
A few minutes after my car handle broke, I brought my car to a near auto shop to have it assessed and quoted. To my surprise, a single door handle replacement can reach up to a hundred dollars, I thanked them, drove away, and started browsing for DIY solutions.
How to Fix a Car Door Handle?
Here, I’ll teach you how to fix a car door handle without having to shed off too much money.
Step 1: Find a Replacement Handle
To find the perfect replacement handle, make sure you know the exact model, year, and make. Remember that no car handle is universal, or can be used for any type of car.
Contact your dealer, look for resellers, or check the scrap yards for parts similar to your vehicle. If you’re lucky, you may find a similar car in the scrapyard, take all of the handles so you would not have to worry about future supplies.
Step 2: Remove Inner Door Panel
Have a good look at your door panel, or even take a photo prior to removing it. Remove any plastic caps that protect the bolts and screws, and lay them down on the towel. Unscrew all that needs to be removed one at a time, and make sure to label every single one of them.
There are cars that have plastic clips instead of screws, when dealing with such remember to use gentle force when removing the panel. Plastics can become brittle over time, so be careful not to break any interior clippings.
Step 3: Remove Waterproofing Paper
Because the car door handle is susceptible to moisture and water seepage, some cars models have waterproofing paper installed. This material deflects any possible water seepage from damaging the interior latches and mechanisms of the door panel.
Remove the material prior to working and make sure it is not damaged and can be easily returned after handle replacement.
Step 4: Remove the Connections
Now that you’ve removed the door panel, take a good look at the connections present. Take a photo if you must, to ensure you can fully re-assemble the connections in the right place.
As you remove the connections, focus your attention on carefully labeling each rod and connected piece to make sure you would not have trouble later on.
However, if you were able to get a copy of the reassembly manual for door handles, use this as a reference.
Step 5: Replace the Handle
Clean the edges of the interior and place the replacement handle in it. See to it that it is installed in the correct direction; look at the photo you took before disassembly and carefully re-assemble the connections removed to the new replacement handle.
Keep in mind that a single screw can affect the performance and locking function of the car.
Step 6: Check Door for Proper Operation
Test the new mechanism if the locks and latch functions are working perfectly. Test it several times prior to re-attaching the interior panel to make sure there’s no faulty connection or loose mechanisms.
Do not just focus on the replacement interior door handle, but also test if the exterior handles still function.
Often times we focus on what’s being repaired and forget the other part, test the exterior and make sure the latch is working in perfect connection with the interior door handle.
Step 7: Re-assemble the Interior Panel
Once you’ve tested your replacement handle and made sure it is sturdy and well connected, it’s now time to return the interior panel of the door. Depending on your car model, you may need a towel and a rubber mallet to put everything in place.
Return all screws originally found in the panel surface including the rubber covers. If your car has plastic clippings instead of screws, use the towel to receive the impact of the rubber mallet so as you do not damage the interior of the door.
How to Replace an Exterior Car Door Handle?
The procedure for replacing the handle varies from car to car, and some even require dismantling the interior of the door, but many can be easily changed from outside the door with just a few procedures.
- Painter’s tape
- Phillips’s screwdriver
- Replacement door handle
- Socket wrench set (1/4 drive)
- Torx bit set
Step 1: Shop for the new door handle. It’s a good idea to have the replacement door handle in your hands before starting to dismantle anything. This makes it possible to study the handle and gain a little insight into how it’s attached. There may be fasteners on one or both ends.
If your car has automatic door locks, there may be little levers that have to be connected or even electrical connections if the car is equipped with a security system.
By looking at how the fasteners are installed, you can determine if they can be removed from the exterior of the door, or if it’s necessary to work from the inside of the door. If it has to be worked from the inside, that goes beyond the scope of this article.
Ask your parts professional if the handle comes with a lock cylinder – if it does, you have a decision to make: do you want to have a separate key to operate this door? Or do you want to still be able to use your old key? In most cases, you can order the cylinder to be keyed to your existing key by providing the serial number of the car, but this usually takes longer to deliver than a handle with its own lock and a pair of keys.
If the lock cylinder is in good condition, it’s sometimes possible to switch the old lock to the new one.
Step 2: Locate the fasteners. In most cases, there is a fastener located in the door jamb just around the corner from the door handle. Sometimes it’s out there in plain view, often it’s hidden behind a plastic plug or a piece of weatherstrip but it’s usually not hard to find.
In many cases, it will be the only fastener in use; in others, there might be a screw at the forward end. You can tell by looking at the replacement handle.
Step 3: Apply painter’s tape. Before you go any further, it’s time to put a little painter’s tape around the door handle. This will help you do the job without scratching the paint. Use a good quality tape – one that can be removed easily to protect the finish.
Now it’s time to break out your, screwdriver, socket set, or Torx driver to take out the bolt(s). Once removed, the handle can be moved fore and aft.
Step 4: Remove the door handle. Slide the door handle toward the front of the car, then the rear of the handle can be tilted out of the door.
When this is done, the front of the handle will be free to move and can also be slid out of the door in a similar fashion.
Any mechanisms that have to be disconnected will be apparent at this point.
There may be a small pair of wires for the alarm or a plastic rod attached to an automatic door lock. In most cases, these can just be popped off with the fingers.
Step 4: Switching the lock cylinder. If you’ve decided to switch out your old lock cylinder, this is the time to do it. Put the key in the lock and unclip the fastener at the end that holds it in place. There may be a clock spring and other devices attached.
Carefully withdraw the cylinder with the key in place and replace it with the new handle.
Warning: Do not remove the key until the lock is in place – if you do, tiny parts and springs will shoot out all over the room!
Step 5: Install the door handle. Make sure any rubber gaskets are in place and slide the small end (front) of the door handle into the slot first then start to insert the large end.
Reconnect any links or electrical connections and guide the handle into the slot.
Looking into the hole, you should be able to see whatever mechanism the handle has to engage, it may be necessary to operate the lock or the trigger to get the latch to engage the mechanism while you insert the handle.
Step 6: Install the fasteners. Put the fastener in the door jamb first but do not tighten it yet, Check and make sure the handle is seated well against the door. If there is a fastener on the front, install it now, but don’t tighten it yet.
Tighten the fastener at the door jamb first, then you can tighten any other fasteners.
Try out the door handle, test the lock, and check the alarm to be sure you have everything hooked up correctly. Once you’re sure the job is done, be sure to put back the plastic plugs that covered up the holes.
How to Replace an Interior Car Door Handle
The inside handles on car doors fail when the handles come loose or when the doors are either hard to open or will not open at all.
Step 1: Remove the door panel screws. Locate all the screws before you start pulling on the door panel.
Some screws are out in the open, but others may have a small trim cover on them. Some can be hidden behind the grab handle as well as around the outer edge of the door panel.
Step 2: Separate the door panel from the fasteners/clips. Using the appropriate trim panel removal tool, feel around the outer edge of the door panel.
Typically, you’ll want to feel the front edge, down along the lower edge, and around the back of the door opening. There may be several clips holding the panel in place. Insert the trim panel removal tool between the door and interior panel and gently pry the door panel loose from the clips.
Note: Be gentle as these clips can break easily.
Step 3: Remove the door trim panel. Once separated from the retaining clips, gently push up on the door panel from the bottom.
The top edge of the door panel will pop up along the window. At this point, reach around behind the door panel to unplug any electrical connectors for the power window/door lock/trunk/fuel door release buttons. To fully lift the door panel out of place, you will have to angle the door panel and/or the door handle assembly to pull it back through the opening in the door panel to lift it completely off.
Step 4: Remove the plastic vapor barrier if needed. Take care to remove the vapor barrier intact and do not cut it open.
On some vehicles, the inner door must remain sealed properly as side airbag sensors may rely on pressure changes within the door for side-impact airbags to deploy. If it is already damaged or damaged during replacement, replace the vapor barrier as soon as possible.
Step 5: Remove the inner door handle mechanism. Unscrew any nuts or bolts holding the door handle in place.
There will be a rod from the inner door handle to the door latch mechanism, usually held together by plastic clips. Carefully detach them, remove the broken handle, and replace it with the new one.
Step 6: Loosely reinstall the inner door panel. Test both the inner and outer door handle functions before securing anything in place.
Once you have verified the operation of both, reconnect any electrical connectors you removed and snap the door panel back into the retaining clips. If any were broken during disassembly, visit your local auto parts store or dealership for replacements.
Step 7: Reinstall all screws and trim pieces. Once the door panel is secured onto the retaining clips, reinstall all screws and trim pieces.
Hand-tight is perfectly fine, no need to over-tighten them.
A car is like a family member, you treat it with love and care in an exchange for being able to go to places without having to commute. Replacing a car door handle might sound too advanced, but it’s a skill that is useful and will save your hard-earned money.