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 a cheap cast metal, and after so many operations, the business end, the part you can’t see, eventually cracks and then snaps off.
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.
Part 1 of 1: Replacing a car door handle
- Painter’s tape
- Phillips 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 for the new.
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 in 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.
Changing a door handle from the outside is not a bad job, but like many people, you may just not have the time. Or you may find that you drive a car whose door handle must be replaced from the inside which can be challenging for even the most experienced mechanics. Either way, you can always call Your Mechanic and have that job done conveniently at your home.