Dealer or DIY?
August 29, 2009 11:18 PM   Subscribe

What happed to the doorlock my 2003 Dodge neon?

The driver's side lock just turns when I try to unlock or lock it with the the key. The key slides in as usual and will rotate a half turn either way, also as usual, but that's all. This is a purely mechanical lock with no remote. The toggle button inside will still lock/unlock the door.

What little I could google talked about a tumbler possibly being the issue and that it would only be available through a dealer. Is the dealer the only option? I'll take it in if I have to but I would prefer avoid that if possible because they tend to grossly overcharge for repair jobs of any kind.
posted by longsleeves to Travel & Transportation (4 answers total)
Jammed or gummed-up door lock? Several steps are in order:

(1) On the hope that it's merely gummed-up due to aging, weather, and all that, go to a hardware or auto parts store and ask for a tube of graphite. Go back to your car, open the tube, and squeeze a little bit of graphite into the door lock; then, put in your key and gently turn it back and forth in the lock. Graphite is intended to lubricate door locks, and will keep the lock turning smoothly; many times, that's enough to loosen a jammed lock and allow it to turn correctly.

(2) If that doesn't do it, or if there's something clearly broken inside the lock (it makes a jarring soung when you turn it, for example) then it may not be too difficult to take off the door panel and inspect the lock yourself.

(3) If you're not at all mechanically inclined, however, you can take it to a shop. But what you've gotten from the internet is wrong, I'm happy to report: the dealer is never the only option, especially for cars more than two or three years old. Take it to any shop whatsoever, and someone ought to be able to help you.

Finally, if you own a car, it's a good idea to have a regular shop that you trust to whom you go regularly for maintenance, even if that's only every six months or so. Ask your friends if they have a mechanic they trust, look around a bit, and see if there's someone you can settle on. When you've got a regular mechanic that you go to frequently, they can be a great resource when you'd like to ask little stuff like this; and since trust is really the name of the game, that's what you want to build, anyway.
posted by koeselitz at 11:42 PM on August 29, 2009

I may have just had this exact thing happen with my 2000 Dodge Neon. My doors are also mechanical, not electric. I was able to turn the key in the cylinder, but it was very loose, and it didn't "catch" to lock or unlock the door.

I took a risk and dismantled my car door to try and figure it out. After tracing all of the connections in the door, I realized that there was something missing that connects the cylinder to the rest of it mechanically. I reached down in the car door, and sure enough, something had come undone. It was a long metal piece that connects the end of the cylinder to the longer metal rods that reach to the lock. I simply put it back on, and all was well.

Two things to note:

1. If you want to look inside, it's a pain to dismantle the car door and get it back together in the same way. Not impossible, but tricky. I had to research quite a bit online to figure out where the attachments were (two screws, I believe, in odd places), as well as how to unlatch the panel from the door, work around the door handle, etc.

2. The reason that the attachment came off the cylinder may have been a piece that broke off that holds it there. I have no idea what happened to it. I was able to rig something myself that held it in place.

Good luck!
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:44 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

As an amateur locksmith, I believe that SpacemanStix is correct.

Assuming that the lock doesn't turn if you use, say, a coin or a screwdriver to gently twist it, but does turn if you use the key, then the lock itself (and the tumblers inside it) is working just peachy. If a tumbler were broken, either anything will turn the cylinder, or nothing will. If only your key turns the lock, then there's nothing wrong with the lock. Even if the lock's broken (which, again, I don't think is the case), there's no reason that only the dealer would be able to repair it for you. A locksmith is very likely to have the appropriate parts.

What I imagine is broken is the connecting rod between the lock cylinder and the locking mechanism. You can probably put it back together with bailing wire, if need be. Take apart the door and have a look around.
posted by Netzapper at 1:41 AM on August 30, 2009

The inside of most car door panels has an array of small, cheap, plastic actuators for the locks, door handles, and even window mechanisms. If you're putting your key in the lock and turning it with no resistance, one of those actuators has certainly broken.

When dismantling a car door, look for screws behind the interior door handle and armrest, which needs to be firmly mounted to the door frame since you're pulling or leaning on it all the time. There will usually be one screw at the top of the handle and then two or three under the armrest somewhere. Look for little plastic covers and, often, screws are hidden under the window/lock switch panels. Those switch panels usually have a spring clip at one end and a hook or lip at the other that sub-ducts under the armrest. Many manufacturers also hide screws behind or in the speaker grille assembly.
There also may be a screw behind the little plastic panel that surrounds the interior door handle. With a small screwdriver, you should be able to pop that out and slide it out around the handle.
There is often a fastener at the very bottom of the door and then maybe one or two around the door latch assembly. If the triangular plastic panel that covers the fasteners for the exterior mirror overlaps the door panel at all, remove it. There's usually nothing much holding those on at all.
Most of what holds a door panel on are a bunch of plastic push-tension clips that almost certainly will break when you reassemble the door. Don't worry, though. If you break two or three, there are plenty more holding the door on.
Once you get the screws out, just yank on the door panel and disengage the plastic clips. But be careful, there will be a cable that connects the interior door handle to the lock mechanism and a bunch of wire for the speakers and switches. The door panel probably also wraps over the top of the door and contacts the window glass along that little rubber strip. Lift the panel, possibly at an angle to clear the door. Then, gently rest the panel on the ground and lean over it to disengage the wiring and cable actuators.
At that point, there'll be a plastic sheet that's glued to the metal frame of the door (if this is the first time the door's been apart). You can do whatever you want with this sheet of plastic. You can remove it carefully and stick it back or you can slice it off and throw it out. But, it needs to get out of your way so remove it. At this point, hook your window switch back up, separately from the door so you can roll the window up and down and get the regulator armature out of your way, if there's stuff you can't get to through the cutouts in the door panel.
At this point, it'll probably be pretty clear what you need to fix since all of the broken bits will still be trapped in the door.
Assembly is reverse of removal. Don't forget to hook the door latch back up, otherwise you'll lock yourself in the car (LOL) and when putting the door panel on, it'll have to fit over the top of the door first since it wraps over. When I do a door panel, I put one of the top corners in place first, then walk the rest of the top of the door into its snug groove against the glass. I'll tap the whole thing down to make sure it's snug. Then, make sure all of your clips are lined up with the holes and SMACK IT BACK ON. Don't be afraid to hit it really hard. Just make SURE you'll all lined up.
There will be a few times that you wish you had three hands, but aside from that, door panels are a pretty easy do it yourself adventure.
posted by Jon-o at 6:04 AM on August 30, 2009

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