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Garage Door Cable 101: Repair, Set up, Replacement

So you step into your garage, press the button, and your garage door doesn’t open. Upon inspection, you notice there is slack in the spring and cable that wasn’t there yesterday. What do you do now? You can always call a repair service, but that can be expensive and may take a while. Fortunately, replacing a broken garage door cable is well within the skills of an average do-it-yourselfer, and can be both a cost-effective and rewarding project.

What Do Garage Door Cables Do?

The purpose of the garage door cables is to connect the spring system to the door. 

There are two primary types of garage door spring systems, the first uses a torsion spring, and the second uses an extension spring. 

In a torsion system, the springs are located on the wall above the door with a metal bar passing through and uses one cable on each side. 

In an extension system, there are two cables on each side. One passes through the spring, while the other lifts the door. This cable uses a pulley to transfer the lifting force from the opener to the door. 

Are There Different Cables For Different Garage Spring Systems?

Depending on your particular door size and design, replacement cables are generally readily available. You will want an exact replacement cable, so if you cannot find one locally, search online. Do not attempt to use a cable not designed for your system. 

Garage Door Cable and Pulley Replacement Kit Including 2 Pairs of Galvanized Aircraft Cables - 3/32" and 1/8" Diameter, Two Heavy Duty 3" Sheaves, 10 Fasteners for Overhead Sectional Garage Doors

How Do You Know If Your Cable Is Broken?

If you have ever had a garage door cable break, you are among the masses. If your garage door opener operates, but the door won’t open, chances are good either spring has broken, or a cable has. The telltale sign will be slack in the lifting cable. Often the cable will be wound around something, due to the movement of the door.

How Do I Know If I Need A Professional?

If you are handy, a do-it-yourselfer, or just want the challenge, chances are good you can replace your cable yourself. However, if you do not feel comfortable around tools, or feel uncomfortable even attempting the job, call a professional. Although the process is not complicated, it can be dangerous.

So How Much Of This Project Can I Do?

If you have tackled home improvement projects successfully in the past, replacing a broken garage door cable should be well within your capability. The job only requires a few tools and some basic know-how. Diagnosing, removing, and replacing the cable can easily be done in an hour or two.

Pro Tip: Although you may only have one broken cable, it is a great idea to replace all of them at the same time. Since the cables are likely all the same age, chances are very good the other cables will soon fail as well. Replacing old, unbroken cables makes them all the same age, eliminating surprises in the near future.

How to Replace Garage Door Cables

As mentioned earlier, depending on the style of garage door you have, there will be either one or two cables in the kit. The first step in removing and replacing the cable is to determine which type of door you have as mentioned earlier. 

On the bar will be either one or two large springs running parallel to the door. In an extension design (the most common), the springs will be perpendicular to the door, running parallel to the tracks. 

How to Replace a Torsion Spring Lifting Cable

Step 1: Safety measures

As with any home improvement project, the first consideration is always safety. This is especially true when working with garage doors. 

When dealing with something as heavy as a garage door, it is always a great idea to have help readily available just in case you need it. Proper safety precautions, such as eye protection and gloves, are critical for this type of project.

Step 2: Remove the cables

  • Next, open the door as far as it will open and place a step ladder under the door. Take two pairs of locking pliers or C-clamps and lock them onto the track just below the last roller. This will prevent the door from trying to close unexpectedly. 
  • Determine which side has the broken cable and start on that side. Above the upper corners of the door will be a winding drum on each side. This is probably where you will find what is left of your broken cable. Along the outer edge of the drum, locate the end of the cable resting in a notch in the drum. 
  • Carefully unwind the cable and remove it. The other end of the cable will be looped around a pin located on the bottom of the door, along the outer edge. Remove the cable from the pin.

Step 3: Install new cables

  • You are now ready to install the new cable. Your new cable should look exactly like the original, down to the diameter and length. If your new cable does not, you have the wrong cable. If you do have the wrong cable, remedy this before proceeding as an improper cable may wear quickly.
  • If your cable looks good, locate the end without the loop and place it back in the notch on the drum. Being careful to use the grooves in the drum, wind the cable in the same direction as the original until there is just enough left to reattach it to the pin on the bottom of the door. 
  • Slide the looped end of the cable onto the pin. You can now remove the ladder and clamps and test the operation. Don’t worry if you see small spaces between the winds of cable on the drum. After a couple of cycles, the cable will align itself into the grooves on the drum.

How to Replace Extension Spring Lifting Cables 

Step 1: Open your garage door and lock it

The replacement procedure for extension spring cables is essentially the same as with torsion cables. 

However, since you are now working with only one cable (per side), there will be pulleys involved. There is no winding drum with extension cables, but a simple “S” hook that attaches the cable to the track. 

Again, open the door as far as it will go and repeat the ladder and locking plier procedures onto the track on both sides of the door. This will create slack in the cable, allowing it to be removed. Now remove the “S” hook from the track and the pulley.

Pro Tip. Take special note of which direction the old cable traveled in the pulley. An easy way is to just take a photo, or use the other side to determine the direction. Although the cable will work either way, if the cable is wound backward on the pulley, the cable will twist during operation. This will likely increase noise and decrease the life of the cable, so take the time to install the cable correctly.

Step 2: Install new cable

Prime-Line GD 52262 Extension Spring Cable Set, 1/8 in. x 13-1/2 ft, Galvanized Carbon Steel, Pack of 2
  • An extension cable will have a loop on one end. There will be a pulley attached to the frame near the door and another one at the end of the spring.
  • Following precisely the same path as the old cable, hook the looped end of the cable around the pin on the bottom of the door. 
  • Being aware of the direction, wind the cable around the pulleys, and connect the cable to the frame. If everything looks good, you can now remove the clamps and ladder and test the operation.

How to Install the Safety Cable On An Extension Spring 

The safety cable in an extension spring system prevents the debris from a broken cable from flying all over the garage. This is important because when springs break they are usually under tension. 

This tension is released when the spring breaks and these metal fragments can be dangerous. The safety cable also provides support for the spring, preventing it from shattering if it contacts the floor.

Fortunately, the process to replace the cable is simple:

  • The cable will be attached to the track (usually with an “S” hook) on the end closest to the door and either tied or bolted to the other end. 
  • Detach both ends and simply pull the old cable through the spring and discard it.
  • After confirming the cable is correct, install the new cable by connecting it on the rear side, passing it through the cable, and reattaching it to the track using the “S” hook.

Pro Tip. When attaching the safety cable to the frame, try to align the cable as close to the spring as possible before passing it through the spring. Although the safety cable will still function, either way, a well-aligned cable will reduce friction with the spring when the door is in operation.

Can I Prevent the Lifting Cable from Breaking?

Although you cannot completely prevent a cable from breaking, regular maintenance of the system will add years to its lifespan. Cables usually break due to either age or damage. 

The best way to add years to your system is to keep everything in balance and well lubricated. There are many parts that move when the door is in operation and each one can add friction unless it is operating properly and lubricated.

A common indicator your system needs some attention will squeak when the door is moving. Although the cable itself does not need lubrication, the other components (such as the pulley, springs, and opener) will. 

Sticky rollers, unlubricated springs, and the opener can all cause unwanted noise. A good shot of silicon or graphite will usually reduce any wear that would cause problems later.

A Safe Job Well Done

A safe garage door can provide not only many years of service, but also peace of mind. Few things are more annoying than an inoperable garage door, but fortunately, repairing broken cables doesn’t have to be a nightmare. If this job is for you, just keep a few important things in mind. Remember to take your time, use the correct parts, and most importantly, stay safe.

Title Image from Garage Doors Reno Sparks

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