Door Adjustments and Tips
Car doors tend to get out of adjustment because they get lots of use, especially if they are abused by constant slamming. If a car door does not latch fully without slamming, it needs adjustment.
Weatherstripping becomes compressed with age, sometimes to the point
where it no longer seals the opening. That also calls for adjustment.
Door rattles caused by a latch that is too loose can be identified by grabbing the door handle with the door closed and shaking it all around. A slight, silent movement is all right. Anything more calls for repairs.
Not all rattling doors, though, call for an adjustment. The cause of the rattle may be loose glass channels or spare parts that have fallen into the door bottom. Open the door and shake it. Slap it at the bottom several times with your open hand. If you hear a rattle, it is caused by something in side the door. To remove the object, you must take off the trim panel.
Striker. A loose or noisy latch means that the striker, which holds the door closed and keeps it from moving up and down, is out too far. A door that must be slammed shut has its striker set in too far.
Considerable striker adjustment is provided by enlarged mounting holes.
Loosen the screws just enough so that you can shift the striker by tapping
it with a hammer. Snug up the screws and close the door to check progress.
Move and check until you get the striker where you want it. If you are
adjusting the striker in or out, try not to disturb the up-down adjustment,
Up-down. For this alignment, close the door slowly while you depress the door button or otherwise hold the latch open. The door should close straight in and align correctly, with no binding, as the free-moving latch contacts the striker. Raise or lower’the striker as necessary. In a few hardtops and convertibles and some Chrysler cars, the striker is supposed to give a slight lift to the door as it closes; that helps the window glass seal at the top. If you are in doubt, check your car’s specifications.
In-out. If the door closure is too loose or too tight, adjust the in-out
alignment. Loosen the striker and tap it in or out until you can close
the door tightly with out slamming.
Fore-aft. Besides the up-down and in- out adjustments, a door striker can be moved fore or aft to align with the latch. To check fore-aft alignment, put a lump of modeling clay or putty in the door latch opening. Close the door on the putty just enough to get an impression of the striker. (If you completely close the door, you will have a mess to clean out.) Open the door and inspect the putty impression. Bolt- type striker shoulders should be centered in the latch opening. Plate-type strikers, as used on Chrysler cars, should be nearly centered on the latch cog.
The putty method does not work with bear-hug latches such as those in
some Ford products. To check their fore-and-aft alignment, coat the latch
contacts with dark grease. Close the door and reopen it.
For all fore-aft adjustments, add or remove shims beneath the striker base; you can buy shims from your car dealer. When the striker is where you want it, tighten the screws. Test again to be sure.
Before you leave the striker-setting job, see that the safety catch is working. That feature stops the door at half-latch, preventing it from flying open if it should be unlatched accidentally. To test, push the door in until it is almost latched. Then, try to open it without using the button. The door should be held by the safety latch. If it opens, suspect either an incorrect striker setting or a worn or sticking latch mechanism. The cure may be a shop job.
A striker should never be set to pull the door into alignment. That adjustment is made to the hinges.
If you go out some icy morning, especially after washing the car the night be fore, and find the door lock frozen, you need not be locked out for long.
The standard emergency cure is to warm the key with a match or cigarette lighter. If you do not have access to a flame, hold the key tightly in your hand to warm it; then, insert it in the lock. Try several warmings and insertions if the first one does not work. Sometimes, cupping your hands around the lock and blowing into them for several seconds is effective.
Most likely the lock will freeze again soon. A more lasting remedy is
to squirt alcohol de-icer, windshield washer anti freeze, or rubbing alcohol
into the lock cylinder. With pliers, pinch the end of an oil can spout
so it will fit into the lock about 1 Warm the de-icer to room temperature
before spraying it into the lock. Aim the spray up, down, and side ways.
Try the key a few times. Spray again to help the de-icer melt and carry
away the ice.
Then, pump a couple of squirts of penetrating lubricant into the lock cylinder, and put two drops of light machine oil on your key. Insert and pull out the key, and try the lock — it should be good as new.
Most exterior auto locks have dust shields that spring away when the key is inserted. Dust shields are also supposed to keep water out of the lock cylinder. Sometimes, a dust shield is damaged or loses its spring action and lets in water and dust. Such a lock is especially prone to sticking and freezing; it will need more frequent attention than a fully protected one. You can try saving it by lubricating it with graphite or some other lock lubricant. If that does not help, replace it. Let a car dealer or locksmith do that. He can key the new lock cylinder to match the door keys you already have.
The way a door fits into its body opening affects not only the looks of a car but the operation of the door as well. Car manufacturers provide elongated mounting holes for hinge-to-body and hinge-to-door adjustments. Most hinge adjustments are best left to a bodyman. There is, however, one adjustment you can make yourself. Fortunately, it corrects the most common problem: sagging. Door sagging is most noticeable just below the window—the rear edge of the door is too low in relation to the body.
Each door has two hinges. They are held by screws that fasten to caged, tapped metal plates. The mounting holes are slotted to permit adjustment by sliding. These can often be made at either the door or the pillar, whichever is easier to get at.
Before any adjustment, study the alignment problem and decide which way the hinged edge of the door must go. To make the adjustment, loosen the holding screws sufficiently for the parts to slide when forced. Once the adjustment is right, tighten the screws. If shims are necessary, remove the screws from one hinge at a time and install metal shims.
To fix a sagging door, remove the striker. If it is left on, it may affect
A tapped plate behind the door pillar holds the striker bolts. The plate itself is held in a pocket and cannot fall away. Do not worry about finding it again when you need it.
Check for door sag once more with the striker off. Lift the closed door
up and down by the handle to see whether it is loose. Looseness most often
comes from a loose hinge mounting bolt. The bolt must be found and tightened
before you try to make any adjustment.
You sometimes need a special wrench, especially with some GM models. In that case, it may pay to have a shop do the repair.
If a hinge-to-door bolt is loose, you usually must remove the door trim panel to get at it. If the hinge-to-body bolt is loose, it may be accessible with the door open. In most cars, at least some of the hinge bolts are accessible. Tighten those that you can, and recheck the door for looseness.
The adjustments you can make depend on which of two types of hinges you are dealing with. One type has its members at right angles to each other when closed. It al lows in-out, up-down, and fore-aft adjustment without shims.
The other is built so that both members are parallel when the door is
closed. This allows in-out and up-down adjustments by sliding. Fore-aft
alignment requires shimming between the hinge and the door or pillar.
• Correct door sag at the latch edge on a right-angled hinged door by loosening the screws of the longitudinal (front-to-rear) member and lifting the latch edge into alignment. Then, tighten the screws. In parallel-member hinges, shims under the lower hinge will correct sagging. Depending on the evenness of the gap running up and down the hinged edge of the door, one or both hinges may need adjustment.
• Another common problem finds the hinged edge of the door out at the top and in at the bottom — a result of straining the door while it is open. To correct such misalignment, loosen the lower hinge screws somewhat at the pillar or cowl. Open the door and lift it at the latch edge. Then, close it and check your progress. When the alignment is right, tighten the screws.
• Up-down door alignment corrections are made by loosening the screws of both hinges and forcing the door in the desired direction.
There is a cruder method of removing door sag that does not involve taking the door apart. Simply slip protective blocks of wood onto the door step plate and under the door bottom. (Get the block on the door’s flat bottom surface, not under the lip.) With the door open about a foot, put a four-foot-long 2 x 4 on top of the doorplate block and under the door bottom block. Pry up on the end of the 2 x 4 to raise the door at its latch edge. Essentially, that springs the door mounts to a new position—a rough but effective method. Pry and check until all sag is gone. Do not bend too much or you will have to bring your door back down again. Other hinge adjustments are possible. but not easy. Aligning a door’s leading edge, for example, consists of loosening the hinge-to-body bolts, moving the door in the desired direction, and tightening the bolts. In most cases, some of the bolts are hard to reach, and a special wrench is often required. You can get the wrench and try it if you like, but I do not recommend it.
Not all fitting is limited to that portion of the car door below the
belt line. The upper door, the narrow frame part around the window, often
needs adjustment, too. Never adjust the fit of the lower part of the door
because of a poor-fitting upper door.
The most common upper-door problem is loose fit. The weatherstrip does not make contact but gapes open, letting out side air in. If the metal portion of the door does not seem to be too far out or in, restrict your fitting to the weatherstrip. But if the culprit is an out-of-position frame, it must be bent into place.
First, roll the window down to get the glass out of the way. Open the door, and grab the frame with one hand and the lower part of the door with your other hand. Bend the frame the way it should go. Close the door and check. Bend more, if necessary, to get a good fit.
If the frame resists fitting this way, block the door open at the latch and push in on the upper door frame with both hands. If the upper door is already too far in and must come out, block with a knee while you pull out on the frame with both hands. If still more force is needed, pull the car close to a tree or building and open the door against it. Pad the door thickly with cloth to protect the finish, and pull or push the upper door frame to bend it. Check after each pull or push so you do not go too far.
Trim Panel Removal.To take off this door part, you often need a special
tool to reach the lock rings or clips that are behind the door and window
Use a No. 2 Phillips screwdriver to take the screws out of trim moldings and to remove the armrest.
The door trim panel is held around the edges with spring clips every six inches or so. Stick a screwdriver between the trim panel and the door, and pry each spring clip out of its hole. When the last one is out, the trim panel should come off.
Whenever you have access to the inside of a door, apply white lubricant
to the window winding gear. Squirt motor oil on all other moving parts
except the window channels. Spray silicone lubricant along window channels
to help window movement. Tighten all screws and bolts, too, to forestall
Finish the job by replacing the trim panel. Position it over the door handle and window operator spindles. Start the spring clips into their holes. Give a sharp blow with your fist to the panel over each clip to snap it in place. Install the armrest, crank handles and molding. Ford and GM cranks snap into place when you position the lock ring on the handle and slip the handle onto its spindle.
Once the door has been fitted to its opening and you are satisfied, check the weatherstripping all around. The old refrigerator-door-gasket trick is a good one. Close the door on a two-inch- wide strip of brown paper cut from a grocery bag and try to pull the paper out. If the paper comes out easily, the weather stripping is not making good contact at that point. If the paper tears when you try to pull it out, chances are the contact is too tight. Repeat the test all around, using chalk to mark the areas that need fitting.
Or, if you have a stethoscope, you can use it to find leaks in door weatherstrip ping. Close all doors and windows, set the car’s heater control on “heat,” and turn the blower on its highest setting. This pressurizes the car interior. Put on the stethoscope and move its probe around the door edges. When the probe comes to a spot where air is rushing out, you’ll hear a sound like a muted waterfall. Mark the spot with chalk.
If you have no stethoscope, you can watch for leaks instead of listening
for them. Pressurize the car interior with the heater and blower and,
from outside the vehicle, raise clouds of bath powder around the closed
door edges. The clouds will be disturbed where air is rushing out, pinpointing
Replacing old weatherstripping is seldom satisfactory. The new stripping usually takes on the shape of its storage bin, and fitting it properly can be a problem.
The best cure for undersized weather stripping is to shim it up. With a single- edged razor blade or utility knife, slice the weatherstrip from the door in the areas where it needs beefing up. Then, cut off thin slices of sponge-rubber weather stripping (the kind used for house storm doors and windows). Secure the slices to the frame with automotive trim cement or weatherstrip cement. Cement the old weatherstrip over the slices. Retest.
To cure oversized weatherstripping, pare it, a little at a time, with your razorblade or knife. Be careful, or you may take off too much; then, you will be forced to beef it lip with shims.