When a garage door spring fails, hassles usually follow. Suddenly you’re late for an appointment because you can’t leave your garage, and it always seems to happen at the most inconvenient moment.
The purpose of the springs, regardless of the design, is to add precisely enough lifting power to balance the weight of the door. When one breaks, opening the door can be difficult, especially if the door is heavy.
WARNING: Although the process of repairing a garage door spring is usually within the skill level of the average do-it-yourselfer, great care must be taken to do it safely. Because of the enormous energy stored in the springs, a careless mistake can injure, or even kill. If you're not sure you can carry out the project yourself, consider hiring a professional.
There are a couple of common types of garage door spring designs, and both do exactly the same thing, just in a different way. We’ll show you how to determine which type you have and what happens when it breaks. We’ll also discuss the process of diagnosing a broken spring and how to replace it with a new one.
What Is A Garage Door Spring And How Does It Work?
As mentioned previously, the main job of the garage door spring is to provide the same amount of upward force as the weight of the door, providing balance. Many doors can weigh in excess of three hundred pounds, so needless to say, either a person or a garage door opener would need to have extreme lifting power without some sort of mechanical advantage. This is the job the spring fulfills.
How To Determine Which Type Of Spring You Have
There are two common types of garage door spring: torsion spring and extension (tension) spring.
A torsion spring will usually be instantly identifiable by its location over the door. A torsion spring will be mounted to the header (the beam supporting the weight of the house) over the garage door. This type of spring produces torque, hence the name. That simply means the spring is twisted, as opposed to stretched. Torsion springs are usually used when the door is large and heavy, and where additional lifting power is required. Many older homes, especially those built in the 1950s and 1960s will likely use a torsion spring, as garage doors of that period were mainly made of wood.
Extension springs are very common due to their simple design and reliability. Tension springs act just like you would expect a spring to function. The spring is stretched when the door is closed, and contracts when the door is opened. Tension springs are common with lighter, smaller doors such as aluminum or steel. Since these doors are popular and cost-effective, they are seen in most homes built today.
What Happens When a Garage Door Spring Breaks?
So how do you know you have a broken spring? If you know what to look for, diagnosing a broken spring is simple. With a torsion spring system, there will usually be two springs, but some only have one. The process will be the same with both the torsion and extension spring design.
Obviously, when a spring breaks the door will be difficult to open. If this happens, you will see two spring sections where previously there was only one. In the torsion design, a metal bar passes through the spring(s). This prevents a broken spring from shattering, potentially sending fragments through the air. If you have more than one section of torsion spring on either side of the metal bar, your spring is broken and must be replaced.
In an extension spring design, there will also be two springs, one on either side. They will extend above and parallel with the garage door track. Tension springs will start at the door and extend in a perpendicular direction towards the rear of the garage when under extension. However, extension springs are stretched when under extension, as opposed to twisted. As such, when an extension spring breaks you will see the cable sagging, and again, the door will be difficult to open.
Pro Tip. After you have diagnosed your broken spring, the temptation may be to just replace the one spring. Keep in mind, however, it is very likely both springs will have the same age and wear. If one spring breaks, the other will likely follow soon. Since most of the effort is needed to disassemble the system, it is a great idea to replace both springs at the same time. Manufacturers know this, and will often sell the springs as a matched pair. This tip also applies to a frayed cable, stripped screw, or any other component that clearly shows wear.
Keep Safety First
- Remember that a garage door can be heavy, so be careful when testing the operation and don’t hurt yourself.
- NEVER let your fingers or loose clothing get between two panels, especially if the door is moving, or can move. The same goes for cables, pulleys, or springs. Any and all of these can cause serious injury or even death, so stay alert.
- Any garage door can fall, so make sure you support the door when necessary to prevent any unplanned movement. It’s very important to stay in complete control of the door at all times.
- As a door opens, more and more of the weight of the door is supported by the tracks until it is fully open. The opposite is also true, so a door will feel heavier and heavier as it closes, requiring more and more effort. Be aware of this before attempting to manually raise a door and ensure you have the support available to raise the door should you need it. A falling garage door is essentially a guillotine, so plan accordingly.
How to Repair a Garage Door With a Broken Torsion Spring
Here is a list of the basic tools required, but the more tools you have the better:
- Eye protection
- Step ladder, or stool
- Locking pliers and/or C-clamps
- Wrenches and/or a socket set
- Duct tape
As mentioned earlier, torsion springs are quite commonly used for heavier, larger doors. As a rule, if the door is closed (and it probably will be if a spring is broken) leave it closed while you repair it. If you have an opener, unplug it. This is the safest way to ensure the opener will not be activated while it is repaired. If the door urgently needs to be opened, just pull the emergency cord on the opener and this will detach it from the opener. However, make absolutely sure the door is on the floor first, because the door WILL FALL. If you have any doubt about your ability to control the door, enlist some help. Torsion springs come in different strengths and the ends are color-coded accordingly. When purchasing your new springs, make sure the color matches the broken ones. This will ensure the new springs will function just as old ones did.
The first step is to remove the unbroken spring. This step is critical as the spring is still under torsion and must be unwound safely. Each spring will have winding holes on the end towards the center of the door. Place a winding bar designed for garage door springs into the winding hole and provide enough pressure to prevent the spring from unwinding. Then, loosen the set screw and slowly and deliberately release the torsion from the spring until it moves freely, using both winding bars for control. Most common springs will require around 30-35 quarter turns to remove the torsion, but the torsion required will vary depending on the door, so consult the manufacturer for advice if in doubt.
Pro Tip. You can use the force of the first bar against the door to make inserting the second bar easier. After inserting the first bar, slowly allow it to contact the door. This force against the door will hold everything in place while you insert the second bar and so on, until all of the torsion is released from the spring.
With all of the torsion released from both springs, they can be detached from the center bracket. Using a wrench or socket, remove the two bolts that pass through the mounting brackets on both springs. Now, move to the other end of each spring and locate the pulley. There will be a cable that winds onto the pulley as the door is closed. The cable will be loose, so just remove it from the notch in the pulley. Next, loosen the set screws (there will be two of them) that hold the pulley to the bar and slide the pulley off of the bar.
Pro Tip. There will be indentations in the bar everywhere the set screws contact it. These usually form a burr, or deep scratch in the bar, and can make reinstalling the pulley more difficult. To avoid this, use a flat-file and gently remove any burrs caused by the screws. This will allow the pulley to slide more freely down the bar and make repositioning the pulley smoother.
New torsion springs will usually come in a matched pair. With all torsion springs the winding direction will determine if spring goes on the left side, or the right side. Each spring will usually have either a red end or a black end. The spring with the red end will be installed on the left side and the spring with the black end will go on the right side.
The installation of the new spring is essentially the reverse of the removal. Simply slide the new spring (taking care to ensure the winding direction is correct) onto the bar and replace the pulley, taking note that the orientation is correct. Now, take the cable and replace it back into the notch on the pulley, and deliberately wind the cable back onto the pulley until there is no slack. Using a wrench, tighten the set screw until the pulley can no longer spin on the bar.
Pro Tip. As soon as you feel the first screw makes contact with the bar, continue for another half turn. Then move to the second screw and repeat. Next, go back to the first screw and make a quarter turn and again, repeat the process on the second screw. This is the general formula the pros use, but in the end, just make sure the pulley cannot spin on the bar. To prevent the bar from spinning during these operations, clamp a pair of self-locking pliers such as vise grips onto the bar. This way if the bar tries to spin, eventually the pliers will contact the wall or ceiling and prevent the bar from turning. Next, replace the two bolts that connect the ends of the springs together in the center bracket.
The next step is to rewind the new springs. This is the inverse of the removal, so great care must be taken to perform the operation safely. Make absolutely certain no body parts are in the path of the winding bars as they make the turns. More and more force will build up in the spring as it is wound, and that force, uncontrolled, can seriously injure or even kill. Pros will stand to one side as they wind the spring, just in case the winding bar gets out of control.
After the appropriate windings are made, simply tighten the set screws as described earlier and repeat for the other spring. To release the winding bar on the last turn, simply insert the second bar and provide just enough force to release the first bar. Very slowly release the force on the second bar and ensure the components stay firmly in place. Now test the lifting ability of the springs by lifting up on the door. Remember, the goal is a balance between force and weight, so the door should open easily and stay in place regardless of where it is stopped. If the door tries to raise or fall by itself, the spring tension can be adjusted using the same steps as during installation. Just loosen or tighten the spring one-quarter turn at a time until the balance is achieved.
How to Repair a Garage Door With a Broken Extension Spring
You will need the same basic tools as with replacing a torsion spring, although the more tools at your disposal, the better. Also note that the individual hooks, brackets, and connectors may vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, but the basic functions and design of an extension spring system should be the same.
The first step will be to determine which spring you need to replace. As with the torsion spring, the spring will be in at least two pieces or stretched and distorted. The spring must be replaced with an exact match and this is done, again, with color-coding. Make sure your replacement spring has the same color on the end as the old one. These will also come in a matched pair, just like torsion springs.
Opening extension spring doors will require the same precautions as a torsion spring door, although the process will be a little different. Tension springs must be relaxed (not stretched) to remove them, so the door must be opened first. This is in sharp contrast to torsion spring doors, which must be closed. For the first step, raise the door and place a ladder (a six-foot step ladder works great for a standard seven-foot door) directly under the door. Then release the emergency cord, freeing the door from the opener. Most of the weight of the door will still be supported by the tracks, so slowly lower the door onto the top of the step ladder. It is a great idea as a second safety precaution to use two pairs of locking pliers, or C-clamps and clamp one onto the track under the last roller on each side. This will prevent the door from moving if your ladder is tipped over accidentally.
There will be a safety cable running from one end of the track to the other, passing through the spring, and tied to the wall bracket on one end. This safety cable will prevent the heavy spring from falling to the floor if it should break. On most doors, this cable will be simply tied to the bracket on the front end and attached to the rear bracket with some form of a hook. It is a good idea to take a photo or mark where the cable is connected to ensure it goes back in the same place during reinstallation.
Pro Tip. For some reason the stranded cables often come unwound on the ends, making working with them more difficult, especially when they are being tied to the wall bracket. To prevent this, simply take a piece of duct tape (or any strong tape) and wrap the end of the cable. This will prevent any unwinding and hopefully prevent a strand from the cable from injuring your fingers. While the cable still has a little extension on it, place a piece of masking tape on the track near the pulley location. Mark on the tape the location of the bolt in the center of the pulley. Since we’re not counting turns this time to determine the force of the spring, the location of the pulley under extension will help gauge the extension on the spring, reducing the number of adjustments needed later.
You can now pull the cable through the broken spring, but it is a good idea to take another piece of tape and secure the pulley to the cable first. This will ensure the pulley is not re-installed backward, which would cause the cable to twist on itself under extension. With the cable removed, the new spring can be installed. Taking care to orient the new spring just like the old one, feed the cable through the new spring and tie the cable back onto the bracket. Simply use the loops on either end of the spring to reconnect the pulley on the front end and secure the other end to the hook on the rear end. This is usually done using an I-bolt for later adjustment, but keep in mind there will be a small bracket and/or hook along the cable to make the connection. Since it may vary from design to design, we won’t go into too much detail. Just remember to replace one side at a time, using the other side as a reference in case you get confused.
Once everything is back together, there will probably be slack in the cable as the weight of the door is still being supported by the ladder. Using the I-bolt (or whatever type of connection your system has), simply tighten or loosen the nut, with the goal being to remove most of, but not all of the slack. This will ensure the door has enough upward force to prevent the door from falling after you remove the ladder. You can now remove any pliers or clamps used to hold the door in place, remove the ladder, and test the movement. As before, if the door wants to rise or fall slightly, just tighten or loosen the nut on the I-bolt accordingly to add or release tension.
How To Prevent Spring Breaking Down In The Future
Although spring breakage cannot be totally avoided, periodic maintenance will help to extend the lives of the springs. The best way to prolong the life of a spring is to lubricate it a couple of times a year. When you hear pops and dings during the opening of the door, it can usually be attributed to a squeaky spring. These noises cause wear, so usually, a quiet spring is a good thing. A typical spring is designed to last for about 10,000 cycles, so if your door gets unusually high use, you may need to lubricate the springs more often.
How To Close The Garage Door With a Broken Spring
If your open door has a broken spring, be especially careful trying to close it. The force needed to close the door will now be unpredictable, so you don’t want to realize too late that you cannot control it and allow it to fall. If you use an opener, the attachment to the opener will be supporting more weight than usual due to the broken spring, so make certain you have enough help before pulling the emergency release cord. When you are prepared, enlist some help and very slowly lower the door. Another good idea is to place a block of wood under the door. This way as the door reaches the floor the block will create a space between the floor and your hands, should you lose your grip. Remember, the door will get heavier and heavier until it reaches the floor, so be extremely careful.
You Can Do It Yourself, But Be Careful
Repairing your broken garage door spring yourself can be very rewarding and cost-effective, but it can also be one of the more dangerous do-it-yourself projects around the home. Remember to always think of safety first. Make sure you have the tools, parts, and help you need before beginning this project, giving yourself the best chance of success. This guide can provide you with a general understanding of the process, but if you feel uncomfortable with any of the steps, professional help is recommended.