Car windows depend on a device called a window regulator to open or close. Surprisingly, we rarely think about the part until it stops functioning. The window regulator on a car is a frequently used component. As a result, it wears quickly and may break down when you least expect. Learn how different regulators work and how to select the best for type for your car in this detailed guide. To start us off, the window regulator meaning.
How Window Regulators work and How to choose the Right One
What is a Window Regulator?
The window regulator is a device (electric or manual) that raises or lowers the glass in car windows. It’s usually mounted in the space behind the door panel and held in place by bolts and screws. Spaces on the body of the door allow for insertion or removal of the regulator assembly
Most regulators today are electrical and equipped with an electric motor. These are operated by a switch mounted near the driver or on a door-mounted panel. A few are manual and worked by a hand-driven crank fitted to the door.
The car window regulator has a long history. The first version of the device aappeared as early as a century ago, in the 1920’s. Regulators of that time were simple parts and mostly manual. Fast forward to the present, and device is a lot more sophisticated. Today’s window regulator mechanism incorporates complex electronics and auto controls.
The window regulator function is to allow the window to open when needed and close when required. It helps the occupants of a vehicle to lock out weather changes such as or let in fresh air. In emergencies, a working regulator allows for exit through the window. A window that closes properly also prevents theft.
Window regulator design varies from one manufacturer to another. It’s also different for different vehicles and working mechanisms. That said, the device features similar main components. A typical window regulator assembly consists of these parts
- Lifting mechanism
- Window tray, and
- Drive assembly
The tray holds the glass in place and allows it to move up and down as required. The lifting mechanism is the part of the device that’s responsible for the rising and lowering of the window. It exists in different constructions. The drive assembly contains the parts that cause movement. Now that you have an idea of what the regulator is and the basic parts it uses, let’s now see how it raises and lowers a window.
Window Regulator Operation: How does a Window Regulator Work?
Before answering the question, it’s good to note that window regulators exist in different designs. There are also those that you operate manually and the types that are powered by an electric motor. The working mechanisms of the device, therefore, vary depending on the type that you have installed in your car or truck.
When you have a powered regulator, pressing a button activates a motor. The motor then spins to operate a drive mechanism. The mechanism then lifts or lowers the window. A manual system employs a crank that mounts on the door and features a hand-operated handle to rotate.
The drive mechanism consists of gears. These connect to the lifting assembly, which is often a scissor-like structure, rack gear, or a set of pulleys and cables. The scissor-type mechanism expands to raise the window and collapses to lower it.
In a pulley-cable setup, the drive assembly winds or unwinds a cable along pulley grooves. The movement then raises or lowers the glass. A rack gear system uses a pinion to work the window upon or down.
Because the regulator has many components, it’s usually lubed. Window regulator lubrication helps to reduce friction and prevents excessive wear of the moving parts. It also allows a smooth and noiseless operation of the assembly.
Window Regulator Types
Auto parts manufacturers make different types of window regulators. The device can be classified in two ways: based in the operation method and design or construction, as indicated below.
Based on the operation method
- Manual or mechanical
- Electric or powered
Based on the design and construction
- Scissor/lever type
- Cable type
- Rack and pinion type
Manual Window Regulator
Manual window regulators, as the name implies, are hand-driven. They are an older technology and mostly found in older model cars. Recent cars with basic parts and functionalities may also come fitted with these types of regulators.
Manual regulators are low-cost parts since they do not come with the extras of a motor and electronics. But they have their downsides. Unlike the powered option, the manual regulator can only be operated from a crank on the door panel. That can be inconvenient since only the passenger seated next to the window can open it.
A manual regulator has the advantage of simple design. It’s easy to maintain, seeing that it comes with fewer parts and no electrical connections. The regulator is also less costly to repair, replace, or diagnose. But despite the advantages, this window regulator type is rarely used in modern vehicles. The powered option has taken its place for the convenience and comfort it offers.
Power Window Regulator
These use electric power to raise or lower the glass of a car window. The drive setup features a compact but powerful electric motor and a set of worm and spur gears. The drive mechanism is designed to offer gear reduction. As a result, the small motor ends up providing a large amount of driving force.
The power window regulator is equipped with a worm gear to prevent accidental opening of the window. The gear allows movement in one direction only. It’s also the reason why you cannot use your hands to force a power window open.
Power windows offer the advantage of sophistication. They can be used with sensors, which makes them more versatile. One of them is the “anti-pinch” technology used to detect obstruction in the path of the glass. Instead of closing and breaking or causing an accident, the window stops on sensing an object.
Scissor Type Regulator
These, like the manual regulators, are rarely used today and mostly found in older vehicles. The regulator, as the name suggests, uses a scissor-like mechanism to work. It consists of main arm connected to a window holder in one end and a large geared plate on the other.
A smaller arm crosses the main arm on a hinged point in the middle. Both arms connect to the window glass tray, sliding on a set of wheels when raising or lowering the window. The scissor-like structure expands to open the window and vice versa.
Scissor-type regulators can be manual or powered. When powered, the regulator uses a small motor and worm gear. The worm gear teeth mesh with those of the large plate, rotating it to open or close the mechanism.
Most scissor-type regulators use a separate motor and offer the advantage of replacing a damaged motor. Some come with the motor integrated, though. Manual versions of the regulator use a crank to rotate the plate.
Scissor type regulators often fail at the moving points. These include the wheels where the arms slide and the hinge at the center point where the arms meet. Window regulator wheels mostly wear down and break, causing the window to tilt. The hinge may also wear over time and cause a noisy regulator and tilted window.
Cable Type Regulator
The cable regulator is the most popular version of the device and usually found in newer cars. It uses a mechanism consisting of a metal guide or guides, wire cables (or toothed belt), window bracket, and several pulleys. Construction of the regulator varies across manufacturers.
In some cable window regulator types, the mechanism uses a single guide in the center, often supported by smaller guides on the sides. Others use two guides at either end. The cable suspends the window. When pulled, they move on the pulleys to raise or lower the glass that makes the window.
Cable type regulators are mostly powered by a motor, with only a few using manual cranks. In the powered type, the motor spins to operate a drive mechanism. The drive then winds the cable to raise the window and the other way round.
Cable type regulators are more compact than the scissor types. They, therefore, allow more space for other car accessories such as curtain airbags. The regulators are also lighter and suited for the weight reduction features of modern cars.
The disadvantage of cable regulators is their complexity. They contain more parts than the scissor types and are difficult to service or diagnose. These types of regulators often fail when the pulleys or cable wears down. The support guides also do break, causing the glass to tilt or wobble.
Rack and Pinion Regulator
This type of window regulator design uses a geared metal shaft called a rack and a second, round gear called pinion. The pinion is contained in a plate, and forms the regulator’s drive mechanism. During operation, the pinion gear rotates and causes the rack to move linearly. The movement raises the wheel.
Powered rack and pinion regulators use a motor that can reverse the direction of spin. When required to lower the window, it spins in the opposite direction. These regulator types are not as common as the scissor and cable versions. However, they remain an option for the device that opens and closes car windows.
Window Regulator Problems
The window regulator on a car or other vehicles contains many moving parts. As you can expect, these wear quickly and cause the device to malfunction. A damaged regulator may fail to raise or lower the window. In worse scenarios, the glass may fall to the bottom of the space inside the door. Here is a list of common problems.
Lifting mechanism damage
It can be a broken window regulator guide, broken gears, or rusted parts. Loose components, too, that cause the window to open or close crooked. Damage often happens when debris finds its way into the door.
Window regulator parts get rusted when water gets into the door. In regulators that use cables, the pulleys that hold and guide the cable may get worn excessively over time. The pulleys themselves also wear the cables, causing them to fray or even snap.
Drive mechanism issues
These affect the drive that operates the lifting assembly regardless of whether you have a window regulator with motor or without. They are mostly broken gears or plates, loose connections, slackened cable or worn components.
Drive failure may appear as window regulator noise, low window speed or no movement at all. Most parts of the regulator are irreplaceable, including those in the drive mechanism. If damaged, you need a new regulator.
Power window regulators fail when electrical connections and electronic components develop problems. Loose or torn connectors, and burnt components are the most common problems. In a majority of cases, the motor itself burns out, rendering the entire device inoperable.
A burnt motor is replaceable but only if separate from the regulator. That’s often the case with scissor-type regulators. Not so with most cable types where the window regulator and motor form one unit. Electrical failure is the main drawback of powered regulators.
Window holder failure
The bracket that holds the window may get broken, leading to a malfunctioning regulator. That happens due to debris lodging in the window track. The wheels on the bracket may also wear excessively as to cause the device to malfunction, among other problems.
Window regulator diagnosis involves removing the door cover to examine the different parts. The electric system is also tested, including the motor circuit. A window regulator without motor circuits and parts is easier to check. You only have the lifting components to look into to.
Most problems require replacing the regulator. A few can be corrected or changed such as a slackened cable or worn pulleys. Some motors are detachable and, therefore, replaceable to fix problems with the device. In most cases, replacement is the only or better option.
How to Buy a Window Regulator
Manufacturers build window regulators to fit specific vehicle types and models. Finding the right model, therefore, requires that you be conversant with the factors to consider. Choose the device following these guidelines.
1. Use your car details such as type, model, and year of manufacture to find the right regulator to buy. That will help you ensure compatibility. Many window regulator suppliers have the option to search for the part using the details. You only have to input them in a search box on their websites.
2. Establish the kind of regulator you need. There’s the manual and powered type. Powered regulators offer more comfort to use but cost more. They are also modern and the norm for modern cars. Other options include choosing between cable, lever, and rack/pinion regulator types.
3. Consider the brand, too. Some brands are more quality than others. Some are more affordable while offering an acceptable level of performance or lifespan. Researching the different companies can help you make the right decision.
4. The car window regulator price varies. You may want to scout for deals, especially if replacing several pieces of the device.
5. If considering to install the device yourself, you may want to opt for a window regulator kit instead of those that come as a single unit. You also need manufacturer instructions concerning the process to install the assembly or window regulator manual. Some are sold with one, others without.
Window Regulator FAQs
Q1. What causes a window regulator to raise or lower the window crooked?
A. There are many reasons. The glass may have fallen off the holding bracket due to looseness, or the window track may be damaged. If you have a manual window regulator, the sliding wheels may be too worn. For a power regulator, the problem could be a worn motor or drive mechanism. One of the regulator guides could also be broken and causing the glass to tilt.
Q2. Why does the window regulator click and fail to move?
A. Small rocks and debris may have lodged in the spaces between the regulator parts, causing the mechanism to jam. You could also be having a bad motor, blown fuse, or bad relay. The only way to confirm the source of the problem is by having the regulator checked. This should be done by a qualified person, especially if it involves electrical tests.
Q3. How long should a window regulator last?
A. Window regulator and motor lifespan depends on usage; how frequently you adjust the window. The assembly contains many moving parts that wear quickly if used too often. With time, the window may start to roll slower than usual, or even fail to open at all. You can extend the regulator’s lifetime by following these tips.
- Applying lube to the moving parts. Although the assembly comes already lubed, some problems can be fixed or prevented by replacing the used grease. Window regulator grease is readily available at most auto part shops
- Regularly cleaning the window to remove debris such as leaves, dust, and other materials. These often cause the regulator assembly to jam when they reach the moving parts
- Checking window sweeps and other places for damage. Damage allows weather changes such as snow and ice to freeze the window and cause it to jam. Opening the window in such situations would strain the motor and cause it to burn out. It could also lead to breakage
- Lubricating the window tracks to prevent sticking and possible damage to both for regulator and glass
- Not forcing the window to open or close if the assembly is jammed unless you want your window regulator broken
Q4. Window regulator Vs. window motor, what is the difference?
A. The window regulator is the mechanical part or assembly that opens and closes a car window. It does so with the help of a motor or without. The window motor refers to the motor that rotates the regular drive mechanism. Some regulators use the motor as an integral part, others as a separate and replaceable component.
Q5. What are signs that a window regulator is failing?
A. You can easily tell if the device is going bad by observing how it reacts when you operate it. Bad window regulator symptoms include the following.
- Unusual noise as the window moves up or when moving down
- The window rising slowly or even jamming when you try to raise it
- Window not closing fully
- The glass moving up or down crooked
- Window falling into the space behind the door panel
- The motor in a power window regulator turning in but the window fails to move us or down
Q6. Can you repair a window regulator?
A. Window regulator repair is not a common practice. The regulator assembly contains delicate moving parts, with most components connected as one piece. The parts also often fail at the same time, making repair almost impossible. That said, there are large parts that you can replace without installing a new regulator. These include the pulleys in a cable-type regulator and a few other parts.
The window regulator motor is also replaceable if it exists separate from the main unit. Other problems that are fixable include loose cables. These are normally tightened at the mounting pulley without even replacing the entire regulator.
Q7. Can you replace a window regulator yourself?
A. You could. Window regulator replacement is a fairly simple process if you have an idea of how it works and how it attaches to the door. In spite of that, we recommend having a qualified person do the job. The process involves using many different parts, such as fasteners and other components. You also have the door panel and protective foil to remove.
Most window regulator installation problems are caused by wrongly placing the device or improper replacement of the foil. Some parts, such as mounting clips, could end up breaking. The foil may also leave spaces if installed unprofessionally and lead to rusted regulator parts.
Q8. How much is the window regulator cost?
A. Window regulator price ranges from $40 to $200 for most models. The device is often sold as a pair or fours. It’s also common for the regulator to come as a single unit or kit. A window regulator kit comes with the extra parts needed during installation. Prices differ depending on whether the regulator is manual or powered, among other variations.
Q9. What is the window regulator replacement cost?
A. Installation labor cost is often in the range of $50 to $200. Depending on the type of car, it can be more than that. The regulator itself costs different amounts. The total cost to replace the assembly, therefore, varies and ranges between $100 and $400. Some car owners opt to do the replacement themselves.
Q10. Can you replace a power window regulator with a manual type?
A. You can. Many people who do it cite cost as the main reason. Manual window regulators are inexpensive, easy to install, and even easier to maintain. They do not have electric parts (including the pricey motor), which lowers their price considerably. There also no electrical faults to worry about the entire lifetime of the regulator. A mechanic will easily install a manual regulator in the place of a powered one.
Having control of your car windows helps you ensure a safe and comfortable cabin. It’s a necessary feature for every automobile. You can only close and open car windows at will if you have a working window regulator. This guide should help you ensure a functioning assembly of the device. It should also help you find the right regulator on the market when you need to replace one.