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It’s something we take for granted… being able to open the door to our vehicles. But what happens when the handle breaks? How much does it cost to fix? Read on with this car door handle repair cost guide to learn more about your handles and the price to repair them.
There are few more frustrating experiences than trying to get in or out of your car only to realize that the door handle has failed. The door handles are one of the most abused pieces on an average vehicle. They get slammed, yanked, and touched dozens of times a day. Given this cycle of use and abuse, it is no surprise that they are also one of the more likely to fail parts on many cars. Broken car door handles are annoying, but the solutions are often easy to put in place. It is vital to go through a proper process of diagnosis, parts sourcing, and repair.
Vehicle Door Handle Parts Explained
To diagnose a malfunctioning door handle, let’s first talk about the anatomy of a typical car door handle and locking mechanism.
Often, an issue that may seem like a broken handle may actually be a simple bent rod or malfunctioning actuator. Therefore, it is valuable to take a few moments understanding the components, so you know what to repair and what parts to order.
Of course, most vehicles have both an interior and an exterior door handle. The interior handle is prone to failure because they are generally made of weaker materials compared to exterior handles. Further, many vehicles have designs that lead to the handle being used as the method of closing the door. This pulling force can put a lot of wear on the handle and lead to premature failure.
Diagnosing a broken interior handle is generally a straightforward process. When they’re broken, you can usually see the damage. The most common method of failure is for the lever itself to snap, or for the hinge-base to fail. In either case, if you have a visual failure of the interior door handle, you will need to source a new unit.
Luckily, modern cars favor a modular design. This means that whichever sub-component fails, you replace the entire mechanism. The method of replacing the interior door handle depends on the specific car. Often, the steps for removal are non-obvious but straightforward. For example, it is usual for there to be hidden fasteners that must be removed. Because of this, the best practice is to research your specific vehicle. There is information available for repairing almost any car or truck using a manual, a model-specific forum, or an online video,
Interior Door Handle Repair Costs
Much like the cost of cars themselves, the price of a replacement interior door handle can vary. For mass-market economy cars, these parts can often be as little as $20. For rarer or more luxurious models, the cost can be much more – over $250USD.
If you find that your vehicle falls into the latter category, numerous options allow you to complete a more cheap repair.
Used parts can be a great option here. If you can find a gently used part, it can have as much life as an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) part.
For many cars, junkyard/salvage yard parts are also a great choice.
Junkyards generally operate one of two ways. Some yards are so-called “pick-a-part” yards, which require you to remove your own parts. Other yards maintain an inventory of cars and extract the needed parts for you. In either case, junkyards are an excellent way to maintain quality while saving costs.
Often, replacing an interior door handle is a simple DIY job. If you lack the tools, time, or desire to work on your own car, you’d be better served taking it to a reputable mechanic.
The average shop price should be between $50 and $200 to replace an interior handle. Expect more if you have a luxury car or complicated features.
Compared to interior handles, the construction of an exterior door handle tends to be more robust. Thus, they are generally less likely to fail. However, the outer handle lives a much more difficult life in terms of being exposed to dust, temperature, and sun. Especially in freezing climates, it is not uncommon for the exterior handle to become brittle and crack. Or, only through continued use, the materials can fatigue and fail.
The replacement procedure for removing and replacing an exterior door handle is rather simple.
There are a couple factors to consider.
First involves the key to your car.
If the failed door handle is on a front door, then you must account for swapping out the lock cylinder so that your original car key will still operate the door.
In a car with keyless entry, this may not be necessary. Still, it is advisable to maintain the outside locks of your vehicle as a backup in case of a keyless system failure.
If your handle has a key, make sure to save the mechanism from the old lock so that it can be swapped over.
A second consideration is the paint color.
Unlike the chrome-plated handles of yesteryear, most modern door handles are painted to match the exterior color of the car.
Thus, any replacement part purchased new will have to be painted to achieve a stock appearance. This process alone can cost $300+. Buying a used door handle from a car of the same color can make the process easier.
Exterior Car Door Handle Repair Costs
As you would expect, the cost of a replacement exterior door handle has a lot to do with the specific car. For an available model, a used replacement can cost as little as $20. Unfortunately, prices that low are not universal. For a luxury car, expect to pay upwards of $300 for a new exterior door handle, plus around $200 for paint. If the job requires replacing a door lock-cylinder, expect to spend another $50.
For many cars, replacing an exterior door handle is a DIY job. However, some modern cars can make the process more trying. It is best to research what is involved in completing the job so you can judge for yourself whether the task is within your skill level. If you choose to go the professional route, expect to spend around $100USD in labor to have the parts replaced.
Lock Actuating Rod Cost
If there is no visible damage to the interior or exterior door handles, but your door still refuses to budge, here’s the other parts to check.
Often, a stuck door is caused by the lock remaining engaged even though the car has been unlocked. Power door locks work using a device called a solenoid (or actuator), which is essentially a small electric motor. The solenoid pushes on an actuating rod, which in turn unlocks the door.
If your door doesn’t open, try pressing the unlock button while listening. If you can hear the characteristic “click” of the motor, but the lock does not move, it is likely that you have a bent or broken lock actuating rod. Luckily, this is a cheap or even free repair. However, it does require removal of the door panel and the adjustment of some delicate mechanisms. DIY’er may want to get some help to diagnose and repair this issue.
Lock Actuator/Solenoid Replacement Price
A failed actuator is another common cause of a stuck door.
If you press the unlock button and no noise comes from the door in question, the actuator has likely failed. These can often be replaced as a single component, and they usually are quite economical to replace. If your actuator is broken, expect to spend between $30 and $75USD for a new replacement.
While replacement is not a complicated job, it can be a frustrating and delicate operation. Thus, this is a job that might be best to leave to a professional. The good news is that a skilled mechanic should typically charge less than $50USD to complete the job, depending on the car.
Central Control Mechanism
What if none of your doors will unlock? If you find that every door in your car is stubborn when you attempt to unlock your vehicle, the most likely culprit is an electrical problem.
Modern vehicles are a complex network of integrated electrical systems. Often, the culprit in charge of a failed locking system is a device known as the “body control module.”
Different manufacturers use different terms for this part. Still, it is a small computer module that tells the lock solenoids when to move.
While the physical replacement of this component is simple, many vehicles need the module to be reprogrammed. This is a job that can often only be done by a dealer. Thus, expect to spend at least $200 for a replaced and reprogrammed body control module.
What if your rear interior door handles have ceased to function, but there is no visible damage? Before diving into the diagnostic tool, check that the child lock has not become engaged.
The child lock is a small metal lever on the edge of doors that deactivates the interior handles. This protects children from accidentally opening the door. This switch can trip, causing a frustrating problem. But luckily, the solution is instantaneous and free.
Repair vs. Replacement
For those on a budget, there is a temptation to repair a door handle rather than replace it. This is possible in some cases, but it is a rare option.
Interior Car Door Handle Repair Cost
As previously mentioned, the most common failure for an interior door handle is for the handle itself to shatter or crack. Despite the small size of most interior door handles, the lever itself must withstand a great deal of force. Thus, most attempts to glue or otherwise repair such a failure are likely to fail again soon. It is also essential to keep in mind that an interior door handle is an important safety feature of your car. In the event of an emergency, you need to be able to exit your vehicle safely. Thus, while some repair attempts may be successful, it is a better idea to replace the offending component.
Exterior Car Door Handle Repair Cost
Similarly to an interior door handle, exterior handles typically fail by cracking. Sometimes they’ll fail due to a weak component during manufacturing.
Most mechanics will simply swap in an entirely new exterior car door handle.
Installing a new or used component is almost always the more economical long-term solution.
Who Can Fix and Replace Automobile Door Handles?
Because door handles are ultimately a form of lock, many people assume that locksmiths would be the logical choice for a repair. This is only true in certain circumstances. If you need a handle re-keyed or the locking mechanism itself repaired, then a locksmith will likely be able to help you. However, most locksmiths are unequipped to do more significant repairs to a vehicle.
Most mechanics will be willing and able to help you diagnose and replace any component of your door system that you need. Further, most mechanics are happy to work with customers to find used parts or otherwise come to an economically viable solution. Simply explain the problem and your needs, and your mechanic should be able to offer a solution quickly.
Symptoms of a Broken Handle
As discussed before, the locking and opening system of a car door is quite complicated.
Thankfully, the diagnostic process is relatively straightforward and can be done by you or your mechanic.
How to Prevent Broken Vehicle Door Handle Repairs
After solving your door handle issue, the next question is how to prevent failure in the future?
The solution is to use your door handles with as much care as possible. Especially on frigid days, materials can become brittle and more prone to fail. Thus, use extra care not to force your handles on winter mornings. Regarding interior handles, never use the opening handle itself to pull the door closed. This puts unneeded stress on the handle in a manner that it was never designed to withstand. Instead, always close your door using the frame or a designated grab-handle.
Having a car with a broken door handle is an annoying and inconvenient situation. However, the diagnosis is simply a matter of following a few steps. In most cases, the car door handle repair cost is a cheap and easy process. Just make sure to take your time and research the parts. Despite the inconvenience, a broken handle does not have to become an expensive ordeal.