If you haven’t had issues with car windows opening, consider yourself lucky. I have. Sweltering in 43-degree heat in mid-afternoon, and not one window able to open. The fix was a simple fuse change, and everything went back to normal. But if your windows constantly get jammed, won’t open or close, open halfway down then take a sickie, it’s time to check the window regulators. Similar issues with faulty regulators are constant grinding when opening or closing, or agonisingly slow speeds.
What are Window Regulators?
Window regulators are the parts in the door panel that open and close windows. They form part of the window assembly, which also includes the window itself and the mechanisms doing the lifting and lowering. Every car, new or old has some type of window regulator in each door panel. Though different designs are found, window regulators have three basic parts: the drive mechanism, the lifting mechanism, and the window bracket. The drive mechanism consists of the gears and a crank in manually operated windows, or a small battery-powered motor in electric windows. The lifting mech consists of the parts that lift and lower the window. This is either a set of intersecting arms, or a unit set around cables. Cables feature in most of today’s cars. Lastly, the bracket is what holds the glass in place.
Regulators also differ by location. The driver’s window will have a more complex design, and a stronger motor considering it needs to lift more glass than say the rear passenger windows. When shopping for a regulator, take note of which regulator needs replacing. Driver-side window regulators will come as a bit more expensive. They’re sold as separate units, but sometimes retailers offer discounts for front and rear pairs. Also, regulators are sold by vehicle make and model, for instance, Toyota window regulators.
Types of Window Regulators
There are several types of window regulators, based on how they work and the lifting mechanisms they employ. I’ve mentioned manual and power window regulators. There are also cable operated regulators, like most Toyota window regulators and scissor-type regulators.
Manual Window Regulators
These are still found on older vehicles, and rear passenger windows on cheaper variants of newer cars. Manual window regulators use a crank turned by a handle. This is a simple design that has both pros and cons. It’s cheaper to manufacture and service if damage occurs to the lifting mechanism, but needs more effort and time in opening and closing windows.
Power Window Regulators
Power or electric window regulators are found in almost all cars sold new. They are more complex designs than the crank systems used in manual windows. Here a motor provides the power for the lifting mechanism, and electronics do the rest. Motors are usually part of the window regulator, or can come as separate units. The latter are cheaper to service if something goes wrong. Power window regulators operate by a press of a button. Different modes are available. Long presses open or close the window the whole way, and short presses to the desired height. There are also in-built safety features, with windows stopping if obstructed by objects or more commonly, fingers.
Cable Operated Window Regulators
Most power windows use a system of cables or pulleys in opening and closing windows. The cables roll along two rollers fitted with a cable guiding spool so there’s no slipping. This is a lightweight, simple design that is cheap to produce and service, and used in most new cars.
Scissor Type Window Regulators
This kind of regulator uses two intersecting metal arms in the shape of a pair of scissors. They pivot around a midsection wheel to lift and lower the lifting mechanism. Lifting can be manually operated or as is more often the case, use a motor. Scissor type Toyota window regulators are some of the more robust designs, fitted in such cars as the 80 and 100 series Landcruisers, and previous generations of the Hilux, Hi-ace and Camry. They tend to last longer than cable variants, where cables can come undone or snap after prolonged use.
What to Look for When Replacing a Damaged Regulator
I’ve brushed on the common problems affecting window regulators. For manual windows, cranks can bend, jam or break, and the window is stuck where it is. Lifting mechanisms are affected by water, rust or impact in side collisions. Cables can snap or gears jam or crack. Scissor arms though are relatively robust. Electronic issues include faulty wiring, especially on the driver’s side, blown fuses and defective buttons. The motor in power windows can also burn out.
Replacing Window Regulators
Damaged regulators are easy to access by removing the panelling in the door. Though only one of the parts may be damaged, the entire regulator is replaced to ensure proper opening and closing. The rest of the window assembly is fitted to the new regulator. Driver side regulators are often more expensive to replace than the front and rear passenger windows. Also, manual window regulators are much cheaper, and easier to install. When buying consider your make and model, so that everything works smoothly.