Automated Garage Door Broken
August 22, 2012 11:23 AM   Subscribe

After record heat waves here in Wisconsin, one day my automatic garage door closed, and as it touched the ground, I heard the top panel of the door "pop" into place. From that point on, it won't open without someone there to manually lift it through about 50% of the way open. Suggestions?

To clarify: I've inspected the tracks on the door, and they appear to be solid and functioning properly. The wheels move along the tracks smoothly, and I even slathered them in WD-40 in case I wasn't seeing anything.

As soon as the door gets about halfway up the track, I can let it go, and it'll open the rest of the way by itself.

Additionally: Every time it closes, that top panel seems to pop into place, making a loud sound.

Is there something I can do, or do I really need to call a repairman?
posted by thanotopsis to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
The "popping" part of this sounds to me like your tracks have somehow got out of alignment (i.e., they're too close together or too far apart--with the "popping" I'd go for too close together--the panel is "popping" flat after being squeezed into an arc form). Could there be anything stuffed behind the tracks on one side or the other that could be pushing it out of alignment?

Otherwise you could have a shot bearing on one or more of the rollers. We had all the rollers on our garage door replaced with high quality ones (like skateboard wheels, basically) and it seems to have reduced the strain on the system significantly).
posted by yoink at 11:34 AM on August 22, 2012

Most automatic garage doors have two long coil springs that run parallel to the top of the door. The springs are used in torsion to make the door "lighter" so that it can be opened manually and so that openers don't need a gigantic motor. Eventually, they wear out and break. A door with one broken spring can usually be opened with a combination of the opener and somebody lifting on the door, which seems to be what you are describing. Springs usually make a hell of a racket when they break, but if you were in a vehicle or something you might not have noticed.

If a spring is broken it should be pretty obvious from visual inspection. Be careful, though, the springs are normally under a lot of tension and are dangerous to mess around with. Some newer springs are fully contained in a tube and are tensioned with an electric drill. These are supposedly safer for do-it-yourselfers but I don't have any experience with them. Again, be careful, and if you have any doubts call somebody who knows what they are doing.
posted by indyz at 11:38 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

When this happened on ours, it was because the return spring had broken. This is a large dangerous spring that I would not attempt to replace myself. You should lubricate it once a year. We were also told that they last for a finite number of door open and close cycles.
posted by rfs at 11:39 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

indyz: You inspired me to go look at the door while it was closed -- I hadn't done that before. Sure enough, one of the springs is busted.
posted by thanotopsis at 11:44 AM on August 22, 2012

You can replace this yourself but you really need to be pretty handy at around-the-house sorts of things. Can't hang a curtain rod? Don't do this. Can you safely change out a light fixture without electrocuting yourself? You can probably do this.

My husband changed ours and it's kind of a pain in the butt. Like indyz says, if you're in doubt, hire a professional.
posted by cooker girl at 11:51 AM on August 22, 2012

Glad you found the answer, but quick side note: re-grease the rails. WD-40 is great for unsticking things, but is a terrible long-term lubricant, and you've likely rinsed a bunch of the grease off now.
posted by davejay at 12:07 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do everything around the house myself, but I will not change a garage door spring. I know people who have lost parts of their body and/or have gaping scars from trying to do garage door stuff themselves.

Have a pro fix it, or at the very, very, very least, have someone help you who has done it many times before.
posted by TinWhistle at 12:19 PM on August 22, 2012

I have to nth this: a garage door spring is a very dangerous thing. It is not worth the risk to change it yourself. There is a large amount of energy stored in this spring, and making a mistake can be very dangerous. A professional company can do the swapout and even make it look pretty easy, but watch them carefully as they tension the spring up and you'll probably understand the physics, forces, and risk involved.
posted by jgreco at 1:32 PM on August 22, 2012

I just wanted to add that you should probably get both springs replaced at the same time. That has always been the recommendation from the garage door company when ours have broken.
posted by Ostara at 5:12 PM on August 22, 2012

Do not try to change the spring yourself. While it's a relatively simple procedure, you can also injure yourself severely. As in "break your arm" severely. Get a pro to do it.

If it's a two spring system, they will definitely suggest replacing both. You can just replace the one, if you can't financially swing both. But, then, you'll have a fresh spring working with an older, weaker spring.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:44 AM on August 23, 2012

I am a pretty die-hard do-it-yourselfer (including plumbing and electrical work) and even I stay away from garage door springs. Mine have been replaced a couple of times; it is quick and easy for a pro with tools and experience, and I would definitely replace both if you can. You might even save a little by having only one service call; if one spring has failed there is a reasonable chance the other is not far behind.
posted by TedW at 8:13 AM on August 23, 2012

I'll go against the grain and say swapping springs is about one of the most trivial things you can do as a home owner.

Get the door all-the-way-open, so there is no tension on the springs. Unhook the U ends of the springs. Go down to Ace, Lowes, wherever, buy a replacement set (do both springs at once). The set of springs should be matched to the size of your door and weight (wood doors vs light-weight metal, etc). Now put them back on.

New springs should come with a braided piece of wire that goes "in" the tube of the spring. Tie this wire off at both ends to the rails. That's to "hold" the spring in place should it break.

Really, not that hard, pretty tough to screw up, other than buying the wrong type of spring.
posted by k5.user at 10:11 AM on August 23, 2012

I'll go against the grain and say swapping springs is about one of the most trivial things you can do as a home owner.

Depends entirely on the type of spring and the type of door. If they're the long springs that lie over the top of the garage door they are really not to be screwed around with by amateurs. If they're the kind of springs that go up from the garage floor to the "elbow" (as it were) of the lifting mechanism, then sure, they're not too hard to replace (I've helped friends do it a couple of times--it's worth having a look at some YouTube videos of people doing it to get the technique straight in your head first). But, in short--not all garage door springs are the same, and if you have any doubts at all, don't hesitate to get a pro in. It shouldn't be too expensive.
posted by yoink at 10:19 AM on August 23, 2012

Yea the same thing happened to our garage door opener (a spring broke) and the guy replaced both springs because he said the other one usually goes around the same time. For what it's worth...
posted by theNeutral at 3:16 PM on August 23, 2012

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