A window regulator provides a convenient way to operate your car windows. But how does it work and how is it made? Read on for a detailed insight into how a window regulator works, its purpose on a car, and the different parts that make it. This will give you an idea of what happens when you push a button (or rotate a crank) to move your car windows. For those looking to buy the car part, you will find help from window regulator price details at the end of the chapter.
To begin the guide, here is the window regulator definition.
What is a car window regulator?
A car window regulator is the part that elevates and lowers the window. In other words, it allows you to control the window position. The mechanism is usually located behind the door panel, bolted to the door frame. To access it, you have to remove the panel and, in most cases, a moisture barrier.
Window regulators come in different designs. Two of the most popular types are cable-based and lever-based mechanisms. A window regulator mechanism is also either manual and operated by rotating a crank, or electric and powered by a small motor.
The window regulator assembly has to support about 25 pounds of glass. As such, its parts must be sturdy enough to withstand the weight. At the same time, the mechanism must be lightweight enough to avoid weighing down the car and affecting its performance.
To ensure strength and low weight, window regulator manufactures use both metal and plastic parts to make the device. The metal parts can be steel or aluminum, sometimes even brass, depending on the desired durability and performance features.
Window regulators move different windows in a car. As a result they’re usually identified by the type of window or position in a vehicle. In the front, there’s the driver side window regulator and the passenger side window regulator. At the back, you find the driver’s side rear window regulator and the passenger side rear window regulator.
Because window regulator specifications vary based on position, the mechanisms are usually sold by their position names. The rear window regulator for example, moves a smaller window than the driver window regulator and may not be as powerful.
Next is a look at the window regulator assembly parts.
Parts of a Window Regulator
A window regulator assembly is composed of many different parts. These parts vary according to the type of the mechanism or the method of operation. One window regulator will have a cable and pulleys, another gears and moving arms or levers. However, any window regulator, regardless of type, consists of these 3 main parts: drive mechanism, lifting part, window rail or track, and the window bracket. The window regulator parts are explained below.
This is the part that powers the mechanism. In a manual window regulator, the drive is a crank mechanism. The crank gear moves a larger semicircular gear which, in turn, actuates a set of arms. The arms are attached to the window so that their movement raises or lowers the glass.
In an electric window regulator the drive assembly is an electric motor. It’s usually simple, permanent magnet motor that runs off a 12-volt source. When you press a button, the motor activates and moves gears or cables to elevate or lower the window. The window regulator motor is the reversible type, which means a change of polarity causes its rotation to reverse.
The lifting part is the mechanism that, when powered by the crank gear or motor, moves the window. Just like the drive assembly, the lifting mechanism of a car window regulator can be two different types. The first one uses a gear and arms to move the window, and can be manual or electric.
The other type is cable based. Most window regulators today are this type. The mechanism consists of a length of cable on a reel and pulleys. The cable is connected to both the drive assembly and the part that holds the window. Depending on the direction of pull, the cable will raise or lower the window.
3. Track or Guide Rail
The window regulator track is the part that guides the window as it moves up and down. It’s also called the window regulator rail and consists of a long metal sheet. Some types of cable-based mechanisms come with two rails, others a single rail as shown in the image below.
In lever-based mechanisms, the window track is a horizontal piece that supports the window while allowing the arms to move the glass up and down. In both mechanisms, the track must be strong enough to prevent bending and is usually made from metal. .
4. Window Regulator Bracket
This part holds the window itself, allowing its up and down movement. The glass is normally bolted to this part. In a cable mechanism, the window bracket slides on the rail using a plastic slider and carries the glass along with it.
The window regulator bracket in a lever-based mechanism supports the glass as the arms move it up and down while sliding on small wheels. Check out the image above that shows the window bracket on a window track.
Window Regulator Types
Different cars use different types of window regulators. These are categorized based on two criteria: method of operation and type of mechanism. They are:
- Manual window regulators
- power window regulators
- Cable type window regulators
- Scissor type window regulators
Manual Window Regulator
Also called a mechanical window regulator, this type is the most basic. It’s also commonly used in older cars or modern budget models. The manual window regulator depends on the human effort to work and uses a small handle that you rotate with the hand. The crank connects to a small gear which, when rotated, moves a larger gear to lift operate the window mechanism.
With fewer parts and no electronic components to worry about, manual window mechanisms are easy and cheaper to maintain. They also fail less often, and offer a higher level of reliability than the electric types. However, the effort required to operate them can be a disadvantage to physically-challenged passengers. Manual window regulators also do not allow the use of convenience features such remote operation and automation.
Power Window Regulator
The power window mechanism is also called electric window regulator and most common in modern automobiles. Unlike the manual type, this one uses a small but powerful motor to operate the assembly. The motor is either part of the mechanism or separate and replaceable. Power window regulators are activated by pressing a button on the door or from a central control that allows the driver to open and close (or even lock) all windows. Check out the image above.
The power window mechanism is more efficient than the mechanical type- and more convenient use. Other advantages include the effortless operation, inclusion of safety features such as anti-pinch, and the clever electronics that allow central controls for all windows. The anti-pinch technology prevents the window from accidentally squeezing an obstacle, such as a passenger’s hand.
On the downside, these mechanisms are more expensive to maintain. Power window regulator parts such as the motor, ECUs, wires, switches, and buttons tend to fail too often. Support parts too, such as fuses, relays, and other electronic components. That means more frequent servicing and expensive repairs than when using a manual regulator. Nevertheless, the convenience offered by power windows cannot be dismissed.
Cable Type Window Regulator
The cable window regulator types are the most common today. As the name suggests, these mechanisms consist of sections of cable tensioned between a reel or drum and several pulleys or rollers. Cable-based window regulators can be manual or powered. Most are electric and use a motor to wind and unwind the cable. The cable then moves the window up and down a rail (some mechanisms use two rails depending on the required strength of the assembly).
Cable-based window regulator types, despite being complex mechanisms, contain fewer parts and take up little space. They also weigh less and suit the requirements of modern cars for lightweight components. But the cable often wears too quickly and may even snap. The many plastic parts may also break and expose the mechanism to damage.
Scissor Type Window Regulator
The scissor type window regulator mechanism derives its name from the design. It resembles a pair of scissors, and consists of two main arms that cross in the middle. Both arms attach and slide on the window track by means of small wheels. One of the arms, the larger one, features a large toothed plate at one end, as shown in the image above. During operation, the gear moves them arm to expand and collapse the assembly.
Scissor type window regulators can be manual or electric. Their metal parts make them sturdy and durable. The mechanism has its drawbacks. One of them is the many metal parts that make it too heavy. These parts also take a lot of space when compared to the cable-based window regulator types.
What Does Window Regulator Do
The method of operation depends on the regulator type. A window regulator without motor works differently from a powered one, for example, and contains different features. A cable based mechanism, on the other hand, uses different parts from that of a scissor type. Here is what happens when you press a window regulator button or rotate a crank to move your car window.
Manual window regulator
A manual window regulator is normally operated by rotating a handle located on the door. Most often, the assembly is the scissor type and consisting of levers and gears. The handle is a crank that operates a small gear. The small gear, in turn, rotates a larger gear plate.
The gear plate is attached to a large arm that crosses a smaller arm in the middle. When it moves, the other arm also moves. The ends of the two arms are connected to the window tray, or the part that supports the window on small wheels. As the two arms move up and down, the window tray moves with them to lift and lower the window.
Power Window Regulator
A power window regulator is usually either cable based or scissor type and operated by pressing a button. The button is responsible for closing the circuit that supplies voltage to the window regulator motor. The motor is a 12V DC motor. When activated, it spins and either rotates a gear or winds/unwinds a cable depending on the type of mechanism. The button offers two options; to lift or lower the window.
In most cases, power windows use central control buttons that allow locking all but the driver window regulator. Other important features of modern window regulators include the convenient i-touch function that allows a window to be opened by pressing a button once. There’s also the safety anti-pinch technology that reverses the window when sensors detect the presence of an obstacle. There are also features to allow opening the window from outside or closing of the windows when the car alarm goes off.
How much is a Window Regulator?
Many factors influence the window regulator price. The most important is your car type, make, and model. One car will use a costly window regulator, another cheaper one. You will also find that different types of the device cost different amounts. A window regulator with motor, for example, is likely to cost more than one without but of the same type.
The brand also dictates price, seeing that manufacturers are free to price their products. Most of the time, popular brands carry higher price tags. You will also find an OEM window regulator to cost more than an aftermarket type. Aftermarket window regulators are often cheaper and popular with car owners looking for affordable parts.
On the auto parts market today, most window regulators cost between $50 and $200. Costly ones may go for several hundred dollars, sometimes up to a thousand. If purchasing an OEM window regulator, expect the price to be on the higher side. Also, if looking for a mechanism to install on a luxury car.
When it comes to saving on the car window regulator cost, you will need to decide whether to go for an OEM and aftermarket type. Make sure that you understand the difference between the two as well as the pros and cons of each type, as explained here.
The window regulator allows you to conveniently open and close your car window. If you have a modern electric window regulator, you can even operate all windows remotely and from the driver’s seat. The car part also comes in different types. Its, therefore, important that you understand how the one on your car works. That will help you to ensure its smooth operation. And if problems develop, the ways to identify and correct them. Find more about that in the next part of this guide.