Common Garage Door and Opener System Problems

 

The following eight problems make up about 80% of all of the repair calls I go on.  They can all be prevented or at least mitigated.  Read on to find out how to prevent damage and save on repairs when one of these problems comes up.

 

Broken Spring

Broken garage door springs are the number one cause of failure to open.  If your door won’t open and it feels heavy when you attempt to lift it manually, it is most likely a broken spring.  There are several types of spring systems, but they all do the same thing – they counterbalance the weight of your door, making it feel light.  Your garage door is actually quite heavy.

The most common and best spring system is the torsion spring system.  It lifts your door by reeling up lift cables that are attached to the bottom corners of your door.  The spring(s) turn a shaft that has a cable drum attached to it, positioned above the outside edge of the door.  The drum acts as a spool, picking up the cable and lifting the door.  A door is properly balanced when it has the correct springs lifting it.  It will have a consistent, light feeling travel that allows a manual user to both open and close the door with relative ease.

Springs fail due to metal fatigue as a result of winding and unwinding.  On most residential doors, the spring turns seven to eight times each time the door is opened and closed, thus completing one cycle.  All springs have a specific predetermined cycle life.  The most common torsion springs in use for residential repairs are 10,000 cycle springs.  They last seven to ten years at typical usage rates.

High cycle springs are often available upon request, and may be well worth the extra money.  If you will get double the lifts for less than double the price, you are making money on the deal.  If you use your door a lot and you don’t want to have a broken spring for a really long time, talk to your garage door company about 30,000 cycle springs.  It may require adding a third spring to the door (if it is a very heavy door), but it could be well worth it.

Broken Garage Door Torsion Spring Diagram

Most people elect to have a professional replace their spring(s), but it is something that a motivated do-it-yourselfer can manage, and can result in savings of over $150.  It is critical that proper safety precautions be followed.

 

If your garage door will not open, DO NOT START TURNING THE DIALS ON YOUR GARAGE DOOR OPENER.  People do this all the time and destroy the top section of the door, and sometimes the opener, too.  If the source of the problem is a broken spring, the door will not move, and most openers have the power to bend and break the top door section at the opener arm attachment point.  If your door model is no longer in production this could mean you need a whole new door.  If you have multiple doors, you may have to replace them all if you want them to match.  It could cost you  several thousand dollars!

 

 

Safety Eye Problems

The second most common reason homeowners call a garage door company, safety eye problems, are also the easiest to fix yourself.  Avoid the price of a service charge (at least $80 for a good company), the wasted time, and feeling dumb when you see that you could have done it yourself easily.  It’s usually the alignment, but even if you need a new set of eyes it is a simple do-it-yourself project (don’t worry, its low voltage, nothing dangerous or complicated).  And you will save at least $100 between the cost of a service charge and a healthy markup on the eyes.

If your safety eyes are misaligned, obstructed, broken, disconnected, or otherwise malfunctioning, your door will not close.  The safety eyes have no impact on the door opening.  On most systems you can override safety eye problems by holding down the button on the wall control inside the garage (this will not work from the remotes or keypad).  You have to time it just right and release your finger when the door hits the ground, but you should be able to get the door closed.

Most safety eyes have lights that indicate whether or not they are making a proper connection.  Genie brand eyes usually have a green light on the sending eye, and a red light on the receiving eye.  The red light will blink if the eyes are misaligned or blocked.  If the light is out on one it means there is no power to it – check where the wires attach to the back of the eye, sometimes the screw down terminals get loose.  If you find a broken wire, just strip a new end on it and reattach. The Genie GSTB-R STB-BL Replacement Safety Beams, Black, Pack of 2 is the current design, and works for all Genie and most Overhead Door garage door openers with safety eyes.

The safety eyes manufactured by Chamberlain are identical to LiftMaster and Sears/Craftsman.  There is one type for older openers from the mid and early 1990's called the 4373LM, and another that has been in use since the late 1990's called the 5034LM.  The pictures below are links to the product listing.

5034LM: in use since lat 1990's:

4373LM in use 1992-late 1990's:

 

Both types have a green/yellow receiving eye that will go out and not blink or do anything when obstructed or misaligned.  This makes troubleshooting more challenging, as you can't tell an alignment problem from a power source problem by looking at the eye (as you could with a Genie).  On most of the older 4373 eyes, the sending eye is the same color green/yellow as the receiving eye.  On the newer 5034LM eyes, the sending eye is orange.

These eyes also have an annoying flaw in that the receiving eye indicator light will flicker nearly imperceptibly when the eyes are slightly out of alignment.  The door will close some times, but not others, and it is very hard to tell that there is a safety eye related problem by looking at the receiving eye.

Keep in mind that sometimes the wiring running inside the wall is done in such a way that the safety eyes wire from the opener to one of the eyes, then from there over to the other eye (as opposed to two straight runs from each eye back to the opener).  There will be two wires sticking out of the wall on one side, and one on the other.  If there is a problem with the eye on the side with one wire not getting power, the source could be at the double wire connection by the eye on the other side.

 

Stripped Gear

If your door won’t open, but the springs are fine, it’s probably a stripped gear.  If you own a chain drive garage door opener manufactured by Chamberlain (LiftMaster, Sears/Craftsman, Chamberlain, etc.) it is pretty much guaranteed to have a stripped gear someday.  You can tell it has happened because the drive chain doesn’t move but you can hear the motor going.  It sometimes happens along with a broken spring, but happens from age and total usage, too.  Fifteen years seems to be the average age when it happens.

Repairing this is usually a safe bet, if everything else has been working fine up until now.  But it is also a convenient time to replace the whole thing with a new opener, especially if you want a quieter model or smart phone connectivity.

This is a slightly tricky, but satisfying do-it-yourself project that has very little downside risk.  If it gets screwed up, just get the new opener and at worst you wasted the price of the gear and sprocket assembly, under $30.  It should save over $120 to do it yourself.

PRO TIP:  You can extend the life of your gear by lubing it once every couple years.  You may be able to find grease from Chamberlain online, but the same grease that is sold under the Genie brand for use on their screw-drive openers works.  The same gear is in many Chamberlain made belt drive openers, too, and should also be lubed.

How to Lubricate a Liftmaster 4220 Gear with Grease

Pictured above is a new gear after it has been greased.  Use about 1/4th this amount when you lube it once every three years.  There is no need to take the motor off , just apply grease to the exposed part of the gear with your finger.

 

Failed Sprocket

This is another failure that is specific to Chamberlain (LiftMaster, Sears/Craftsman, Chamberlain, etc.) chain drive openers.  It happens when the bearing supporting the drive sprocket wears out.  At first, you may notice the chain starting to hang lower than before.  It can also be loud, and may cause the door to shut off during mid travel for what seems like no reason.  Eventually the sprocket will break off, and the chain will no longer move, but you will hear the motor running.

The repair involves replacing the “gear and sprocket assembly”, the same part as the stripped gear.   Repairing this is usually a safe bet, if everything else has been working fine up until now.  It is also a convenient time to replace the whole thing, especially if you want a quieter model.

Same as above for do-it-yourself.  Just be sure to clean out any metal shavings that have dropped inside the motor cover.

PRO TIP:  Clean and lubricate the bushing that the bottom of the sprocket shaft rides in.  This can be a point of annoying chirping sounds and eventual failure, especially if the shavings from a failed sprocket bearing are left in there.  Clean with household cleaner, dry it, then spray with silicone or white lithium spray lubrication.

Garage Door Opener Gear Replacement Tip

 

Stripped Genie Screw-drive Trolley

The most common failure on Genie and Overhead Door brand screw-drive openers.  The aluminum teeth, which engage the screw, strip out.  It usually makes a horrible grinding sound as the door fails to open.  This sometimes happens along with a broken spring, especially on openers where the force sensitivity is turned up too high.

If you hear a small grinding sound two or three times as the door travels, this is the teeth showing signs of wear.  They make a small but noticeable noise as the trolley crosses the points where the screw is spliced together, which you can clearly see if you look closely.

Easy do-it-yourself with big savings potential, especially if your opener is on hangs that are at least 12 inches long.  This allows the room needed to unhook the opener from the mount above the door, push back a little, and slide the trolley right off the front of the rail.  Slide the new one back on and reattach to the wall mount.  Done.  Save at least $100.

 

Broken Cable

Broken cables are one of the more common garage door parts failures.  Usually, just one side breaks, and the door ends up sitting crooked because all of the power of the springs is now lifting up on one bottom corner only.

Most people hire a professional because the springs have to be released in order to safely work on the cables.

Pro Tip:  People often think that the cables are broken when the real problem is a broken spring, almost always on a single-spring door.  When the spring breaks, there is nothing keeping the cables tight and they both fall loose.  If both cables have come loose at the same time, look above the door to see if the spring is broken.  This is critical information to have when you are finding out about prices, warranties, etc.

 

Stripped Screw-drive Coupler

Most screw-drive openers from Genie, Overhead Door, and Chamberlain (LiftMaster, Sears/Craftsman, Chamberlain, etc.) have a coupler that connects the motor to the screw.  If the coupler strips out, the motor will run but the screw will not be turning, and the door won’t move.

This is a cheap little part, but if you have very low clearance between the top of the opener and the ceiling the whole thing may have to be uninstalled to access the part, then reinstalled, making it more expensive than one would expect.

If the opener hangers are at least a foot long this is a pretty easy do-it-yourself job with the potential for savings (at least $100) if you do it yourself.

 

Remotes Don't Activate the Door

If you click your remote or keypad and nothing happens at all, the first thing you should do is check to make sure that your garage door opener wall control hasn't been "locked".  Many wall controls have a lock switch or button that, when engaged, deactivates the remotes and keypad.

If that doesn't fix it, try changing the battery.  If it does turn out to be the battery, it probably won't require any programming and should work as soon as the new battery is installed.  Once in a while it is necessary to reprogram, but this usually only comes up if the battery has been dead for years.

If neither of these approaches fix your problem, you could just have a broken remote.

There is one last possibility however:  You could be experiencing outside RF (radio frequency) interference.  If this is the case, it may be very difficult to find the source.  If your remotes don't work at all, or only from certain random places interference could be the culprit.  Look at the little l.e.d. next to the learn button on the garage door opener motor.  If it is blinking or flashing contstantly, that indicates that the receiver on the circuit board is picking up a signal.  For example, when things are working properly, it lights up for the moment when you click your remote.  If it is blinking or flashing erratically that means it is picking up a signal on a similar frequency (don't worry, it won't cause your door to open).  You may need to install an external receiver that operates on a different frequency.