Automatic Garage Door Openers: Common Problems and How to Fix Them


According to Gartner, by the year 2022, a typical household could contain more than 500 smart devices. Currently, home monitoring cameras and connected door locks represent some of the most popular smart home devices, owing to the fact that in the U.S., burglary occurs once every 14.1 seconds.

However, in May 2016, Chamberlain Group published a report which revealed that 71% of homeowners worldwide are using a garage door opener, which officially makes it the most frequently used smart home device. Recent studies suggest that they have been used more often than the front door, meaning that remote controls and wireless keypads are slowly but surely becoming the new age front door keys.

Aside from comfort, smart homes ensure security, precisely the reason why a multitude of people opt for automatic garage door openers. If it happens that the garage door does not open (or close), it is evident that the safety of your home and family is brought into question. For this reason, it is important to familiarize yourself with the most common problems you can encounter with the garage door openers, as well as with the ways to address them properly.

Garage Door Opener Features

Since Consumer Product Safety Commission published final rules for automatic garage door openers in December 1992, all garage door openers manufactured on or after January 1st 1993 had to be designed with the revised entrapment protection requirements in mind.

One of the features all garage door openers are required to have are photoelectric eyes. It represents a photo eye feature which detects whether there is an obstacle blocking the door from lowering all the way. It shoots a laser across the length of the garage ensuring that the garage door automatically reverse their movement in case there is a person or an object in the way.

Another handy feature that comes with all garage door openers is a battery back-up system which enables you to use your garage door openers even during a power outage.

Finally, all garage door openers come with remote control and/or wireless keyboard which enable homeowners to control their garage door from a distance. Remote controls can be universal, one-touch button or multiple-button remotes, and depending on the type they can control either one or more garage doors, as well as the lights.

garage door opener troubleshooting

Most common problems with garage door openers

Although garage door opener manufacturers ensure that their products are of top quality and meet industry standards, the fact is that they are prone to damage and malfunction. The following section outlines some of the most common problems and how to solve them.

1. Remote control problems

Almost 50% of all garage door opener users opt for a remote control, and it is important to understand that although wireless, there is a range in which a remote control operates. With that in mind, before looking into other possible sources of the problem, check if you are in the range of its IR signal-sending strength. Also, if the garage door opens with a switch without any problems, simply changing the batteries can do the trick. One other common problem is the damaged antenna, so ensure that it is hanging down from the motor.

If the remote control still doesn’t work, check the plastic covering of the IR unit on the remote control and the receiving unit called the eye. It allows the IR signal to pass through it in both transmitting and receiving and should be polished with a soft damp cloth from time to time. Although most “eyes” are made of plastic resistant to scratching, it can be damaged if dropped and rubbed against the metal or abrasive fibers. In that case, you can opt for specialized plastic polishing substances, but sometimes there is no other solution but to get a new one.

Finally, if all of the above seem to be in order, it’s high time you asked yourself a crucial question: have you tried turning it on and off again? Remote controls for automatic garage door openers can be treated as small computers and restarting the system might just do the trick. This can be done by removing the batteries in the remote for 30 seconds and re-installing them. To reset a receiver, unplug the unit from the wall socket and plug it back in.

2. Wall switch doesn’t work

On some instances, it can happen that the remote control is functioning but the wall switch does not. In that case, you are either supposed to replace the wall switch or the switch wires. To determine which of the two does not work, you will need to unscrew the switch from the wall and touch the two wires together. If the opener runs, it means that the switch is broken. On the other hand, if the opener still doesn’t run, use a small wire and jump those same two wires at the opener terminal. If it runs, it means that the problem is the wire. The voltage in the wires is low, so there is no shock hazard.

3. Photoelectric eyes

Photoelectric eyes are also prone to malfunction, as they are commonly situated between 4 to 6 inches off the ground. In such cases, check whether the cord is attached to the eye, since they can be damaged by a rainstorm or a leak. Furthermore, either dirt or dust can clog the eye and prevent it from shooting the laser beam. This problem can easily be solved with a cleaning tissue.

4. Electricity issues

If the door does not respond to either the remote control or the wall switch, check out the lights. If they are not on, it probably means that the unit is not receiving power. First, verify that the motor unit is connected. Next, see if the outlet is working and check the circuit breaker, fuse or ground fault circuit interrupter to determine whether it is an electrical problem.

5. There is power but no lights or sound

If the electricity is not the problem and your outlets has power, then the issue might occur due to a bad circuit board. This can be done even by a non-professional and it takes no more than 10 minutes. First the light cover should be removed and the lightbulb taken out. Next, disconnect the switch and safety sensor wires, remove the screws, unplug the board and replace it with a new one.

6. Improper garage door closing

With some garage door opener models it happens that the garage door cannot close completely and the lights on the garage door motor flash indicating the issue. If this is the case, simply check the pattern of the flashes in the manual.

You can also try to disconnect the opener and see whether you are able to open the door manually. Sometimes the reason behind improper garage door closing might involve adjusting the travel setting of the door opener. Some can be adjusted with a screwdriver whereas other units have knobs or trip leavers.

7. Loud noise

If your garage door opener makes a grinding noise but the door stays closed, it is highly likely that the main drive gear is faulty. It is a plastic gear that is in direct contact with the worm drive gear on the motor and represents one of the most common components to fail. The replacement is quite complicated since several components need to be taken out prior to getting to the gear itself, so it is advisable to consult an expert. On the other hand, if you feel like you are up for a challenge, follow the step-by-step guide to rebuilding a garage door opener.

If it happens that you hear a loud noise resembling a gunshot coming from your garage door, it is most likely that garage door torsions springs are breaking. In that case, what you should never do is try to force open the garage door since it can be very dangerous. Instead, call a professional or someone who has the right tools to address the problem appropriately and with absolute safety.

8. Garage Door Cables Snapping

What more often than not follows the garage door torsion springs damage is garage door cable snapping, since it releases the immense amount of energy. As a consequence, the cable can damage a vehicle or a wall, or even injure a person.

9. Motor constantly running

If your garage door opener works without any problems, but you notice the motor is constantly running, it is highly likely that the limit switch needs to be adjusted. However, for safety reasons it is advisable to leave this matter to a professional.

10. Trolley carriage moving but the door doesn’t open

Another common problem occurring with the garage door can be a broken trolley carriage. To do this, first clamp down the chain to the rail. This way, you will maintain the location of the chain on the sprocket and speed up the reassembly. Only then can you disconnect the rail from the header bracket. Move the rail off to one side, slide off the old trolley and slide in the new one.

11. Light not working

In the end, if everything functions properly except the light, you might have to remove the old socket. In order to do this, first remove a circuit board. Next, depress the clip that holds the socket in place, remove the two wire connections and install a new socket. Ensure that the lightbulb you are using is of the right wattage, since using the one with the higher wattage than the socket can result in socket failure. This is also considered to be a fire hazard.

Final tips

Regardless of the type of the garage door opener, it is essential to regularly lube the rail in place where it comes in contact with the trolley carriage. Opt for a lubricant that does not attract dirt. When it comes to colder climates, lithium grease is always a good choice since it does not harden in low temperatures.

Furthermore, you should always check for proper chain tension by measuring the distance between the chain and the rail at a certain point close to the center of the rail. If the chain is overtightened, it will put excess wear and/or tear on the shaft and gears. On the other hand, if there is not enough tension, a chain can skip off the sprocket and fall on your car.

Check whether there is an upward bow in the rail that is caused by the door that travels too far down. Reduce the distance the door travels down to prevent them from causing excess wear and tear on the shaft and gears. Ensure that the door travels far enough so that the weather stripping seals the gap between the door and the garage floor.

Finally, when it comes to light, note that the garage door frequencies go up to 360 MHz while the LED bulbs are made to work only up to 300 MHz. For this reason, it is highly advisable to opt for incandescent lightbulbs whenever possible.

Ten Golden Rules

By following the abovementioned advice, you can rest assured that you will be able to handle any issue you might have with your garage door opener successfully. In the end, we can sum up by making a list of top 10 golden rules for fixing the damaged garage door opener.

  1. bulbbRemote control – More often than not, all you have to do is just restart it or change the batteries. If that does not work, clean the plastic covering the IR unit.
  2. Wall switch – You either have to replace the entire wall switch or just the wires. Touch the two wires together, if the garage door opener reacts after the contact, then the problem is the wall switch, if it does not, then the wires should be replaced.
  3. Photoelectric eyes – Often a small obstacle can prevent the garage door from opening or closing, so check even for a spider web. Also, use a cleaning tissue to regularly dust the dirt or dust off the photo eye.
  4. Electricity – Ensure you have plugged the motor in the working outlet. Check the circuit breaker, fuse or ground fault circuit interrupter to determine whether the garage door opener is receiving power.
  5. Circuit board — Remove the light cover and take out the lightbulb. Next, disconnect the switch and safety sensor wires, remove the screws, unplug the board and replace it with a new one.
  6. Garage door torsion springs – When damaged, due to an immense amount of energy being released, garage door cables snap, so ensure that you regularly maintain garage door torsion sprints. Spray down the coil with WD-40 three or four times a year to keep it well lubricated.
  7. Chain tension – Never overtighten the chain as it will put excess wear on the shaft and gears. Also ensure it is not too loose because the chain will skip off the sprocket and fall on your car.
  8. Door travel – Make sure that the door does not travel too far down, since that can cause the upward bow in the rail. Adjust the door to travel down enough for the weather stripping to seal the gap between the door and the garage floor.
  9. Lights – Improper lightbulbs can cause the garage door opener to malfunction, since the garage door frequencies go up to 360 MHz while the LED bulbs are made to work only up to 300 MHz. What is more, using lightbulbs with the higher wattage than the socket can result in socket failure and can be extremely hazardous.
  10. The 10th garage door opener commandment reminds you when it is time to let it go and let the professional take care of the problem. Sometimes you will either lack the experience, knowledge and/or the right tools, which can result in doing more damage than good.

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