If you have owned a garage door opener long enough you have probably experienced pressing the button and very little, or nothing, happens. Sometimes you can hear the motor or see some movement, and other times the light won’t even come on. Today, we’ll discuss what causes a garage door opener to fail and what you as a homeowner can do about it.
How to Find The Source Of The Problem with Your Garage Opener
A garage door opener essentially consists of the head unit and the rail system. The head unit contains the circuitry, gears, an electric motor, and is essentially the brain of the opener. The rail system runs from the head unit to the door, connecting the two.
The openers you will often see today are likely to be belt-driven, chain-driven, or worm gear-driven (direct drive). There are a few types of garage door openers, but they all do the same job. Some openers are designed to control commercial-size doors, but most of the openers in use today are designed for light residential use. Those are the openers we will discuss here.
What Do I Look For When My Garage Door Opener Won’t Work?
Diagnosing a problem is a fairly straightforward task. Fortunately, garage door openers perform a basic function, so when they don’t perform that function the cause is usually simple. That doesn’t necessarily mean correcting the issue is within the skills of a typical do-it-yourselfer, however. Knowing what you can safely perform and what should be left to professionals is important.
When diagnosing a problem with an opener, asking yourself a few key questions can help narrow down the suspected problem. Here are a few common issues and how to identify them.
Problem #1. The Interior Wall Panel Doesn’t Work
- Check to see if there is power to the opener. If the opener has power, the safety sensors may have sensed either an obstruction, or cannot see each other. Most sensors have lights to let you know they are working. If they are not illuminated, or are flashing, check for a broken wire, re-align the sensors, and wipe off anything that could block the light.
- If the opener does not have power, the most likely cause is a tripped circuit breaker. Locate the circuit breaker, turn it off until it clicks, and turn it back on. If the circuit breaker instantly turns off again, there is a short in the electrical system that must be corrected before proceeding.
- If the opener runs normally, but the door won’t open, a common cause will be an issue with the carriage. The carriage will be an odd shaped unit attached to the chain, belt, or worm drive and will have the red emergency disconnect cord hanging from it. Check to make sure the cord is engaged by pulling down and back on the cord. If the carriage looks damaged, or the emergency disconnect cord will not engage, the carriage is damaged and should be replaced.
- If the emergency cord is engaged, check if the belt or chain is moving. If it isn’t, the issue is likely internal to the opener and you should contact a professional.
Problem #2. Garage Door Won’t Close
If the opener runs and the door tries to close, but suddenly stops and reverses, the problem is usually either too little downward force from the opener, or an obstruction is blocking the sensors from seeing each other. The first solution is to eliminate the obstruction if there is one and re-test. If that is not the cause, the door itself may be causing an unusual amount of friction. This happens as doors age, bolts loosen, and components stretch.
- First, check all the bolts in the rollers on the door and if any are bent, won’t roll, or seem to be scraping the track, replace them. Most large home improvement stores will have standard parts available.
- Lubricate any moving parts of the door with a spray lubricant. The pros use silicon or lithium grease. The use of mechanic’s grease or oil is not recommended, as these lubricants will trap dust and grime, making the problem worse over time. Read our guide on what parts of your garage door you should lubricate regularly to avoid issues in the future.
- Once all the parts are determined to be in working order, locate the down adjustment knob on the head of the opener. If needed, turn the knob a notch or two towards the arrow and retest until the door fully closes.
Pro Tip. Do not lubricate the inside of the track. Doing so may cause the rollers to simply slide instead of roll.
Problem #3. Garage Door Sensor Lights Are Off or Blinking
The safety sensors essentially send a beam of light across the floor where the door touches the concrete. Regardless of the reason, if this beam of light is broken, the opener will not work and the overhead light will flash. This is an extremely important safety feature, so don’t ever try to bypass it.
Each sensor will have a glowing light if it is connected to the opener. Different manufacturers use different color lights, but if one or both sensors are off or flashing, it indicates that the opener must not be used until the issue is corrected.
This is usually just dirt on the lense(s), or a misalignment of the sensors. Just a quick swipe with a damp cloth will often fix the problem. However, if the sensors have been bumped out of alignment, check to make sure the bracket(s) are not bent. If one, or both are they can usually be gently bent back to their original position.
If neither of these corrects the alignment, you can loosen the bolts holding the sensor to the bracket and align them manually. On most brackets, a simple turn of a wingnut will allow the sensor to be adjusted. The pros will typically move one sensor at a time until the sensors align.
Problem #4. Door Gets Stuck
If your garage door is closed and refuses to move, but the opener appears to be working, the usual culprit is a disconnect of the drive system from the door. Here’s a checklist of possible causes:
- Check that the emergency cord is engaged.
- Ensure that the door is not locked.
- Make a visual check of the track and rollers. Confirm that there are no broken parts causing friction.
- Look for a broken spring or slacking cables. If your door has torsion springs, they will be located directly over the door. The majority of systems have one or two springs, so if yours appears to have three or more, you have a broken spring and it must be replaced. Most pros will recommend replacing both springs, because when one spring fails, the other will usually follow. If your system has extension (side mounted) springs, look for slack in the cable, as it should be taught. There should also only be one spring on each side, so if you see two spring sections on the same side, your spring is broken and must be replaced.
- If you have recently performed work on the door, the spring system, or the opener itself, an adjustment to the upward force of the opener may be required. These adjustments are often done with a simple turn of a knob or screw on the opener. Make a small adjustment and retest the operation before more adjustments are made.
Problem #5. Opener Doesn’t Turn On
- If your opener seems to do nothing when you use the wall panel, the exterior wall panel, nor the remote control, it may be getting no power. As mentioned previously, check the breaker first, as this is the most common cause. However, you can also check the plug and make sure it hasn’t worked its way out of the outlet. More often than not, the outlet is actually facing the floor, so all the small vibrations can cause the plug to become just loose enough to disconnect. Simply unplug it, wait ten seconds or so and plug it back in to test it.
- Another common cause is dead batteries in either the exterior wall unit or the remote control. This seems like a silly problem to fret over, but busy families may need to change out the batteries more than once a year. It is a good idea to replace the batteries in both once a year anyway, because many people use their remote control almost as a door key. If you are the type that does, and your batteries are dead, you don’t want to get locked out of your home over something easily preventable.
- A feature found on some openers will allow you to lock your opener when you are away from home using your keypad or remote. This is to prevent any stray radio signals from opening your door unexpectedly. If you plan to be away from home and utilize this feature, a smart move is to set a reminder to turn it back off when you return.
Problem #6. Opener Makes Weird Noises
The opener should not make weird noises on its own. If you hear a whirring noise, or if the opener sounds like it is in a bind, stop the opener and investigate. One of the most common parts on an opener to fail is the belt, or chain, depending on your system. When it fails, there is usually a grinding noise near the head unit. Sometimes the issue is a broken belt or chain, and sometimes the drive gear inside the head unit shears off. All openers will have a small door, or very often, a removable light cover. This is easily identified as the location of the light bulb. This is also a likely place for the drive gear. On some openers, this gear is plastic and occasionally snaps off a tooth. If this happens, it will have an effect similar to a broken belt or chain. In either case, the repair is best undertaken by a professional.
If you have a direct drive opener making noises, the issue is usually with the drive gear and the repair is best undertaken by a pro. These units utilize a worm gear, which is just a very long screw. In these systems there is no belt, nor chain, reducing the number of moving parts. This makes diagnosing a problem easier, as a simple visual inspection will often reveal any issues.
Proper Maintenance Is Key
Garage door openers are a small, but highly useful aspect of our daily lives. When one fails to operate, the results can be frustrating and highly inconvenient. Making regular inspections at least once a year can alert us to potential issues lurking around the corner. A simple visual check and yearly lubrication of our entire garage door system will often prevent many of the common problems described here. As with any home repair project, addressing small problems before they can become big ones is always your best bet.