Basic Garage Door Troubleshooting

There are a only a few problems that make up about 95% of the calls for professional garage door service.  I will help you quickly identify your problem, and also a few things it probably isn’t.

Before you read this, please make sure you can accurately describe the trouble you are having.  For example, is the problem constant or intermittent?  Does this problem arise opening or closing your door, or both?  Does holding the button on the wall down make it work?

If your garage door starts to open, then stops after a few inches

Almost definitely a broken spring.  When a spring breaks, your door becomes dead weight and the garage door opener can no longer lift it.  Most of the time it will only lift an inch or two, then shuts off as a safety precaution.

broken torsion sring diagram

If your garage door opener is not adjusted properly it may lift the door with the broken spring.  This is bad.  Your door is not meant to be lifted through the shear force of the opener arm pulling on the top section, and frequently the result is a damaged top section that has been badly bent or broken.

It is also dangerous.  If the door were to become disconnected from the opener when it is above the ground (usually by pulling the manual release chord), it will come down like a giant guillotine.

On standard torsion spring systems, you can plainly see the broken spring as in the picture above.  Most doors have one, two, or three springs.

2017-10-17 11.46.58

There is another common spring system called the TorqueMaster (pictured above) where the spring is enclosed inside of a tube.  You will not be able to see the broken spring, but if you pull the manual release (only pull when the door is on the ground as normal), it will be very hard to open the door because you are feeling its true weight (usually at least 100 lbs.).

Note:  If your door has a screwdrive style opener made by Chamberlain, LiftMaster, or Sears-Craftsman, it may just need to be lubed.  Check for a broken spring first, and if everything looks fine, try spraying silicone or white lithium spray lubricant along the length of the drive screw (located in the rail connecting the motor to the wall above the door).  This type of opener, when it needs lube, can mimic the symptoms of a broken spring.

Note:  On standard torsion spring system with only one spring,  it is common for the lift cables on both side of the door to come disconnected and just lay there when it breaks (the tension from the spring is what holds them in the drum).  Many people think they have broken cables, but it is usually a broken spring.

If your door will not close with a single click of your remote or wall button, but will close when you hold the wall button down

This is virtually a guarantee that there is something wrong with the safety eye sensors(a.k.a “eyes” or “sensors” or “photo eyes” or “photo cells” or “IR sensors” or “Infrared Sensors”).  These are the little gizmos located somewhere near the bottom corners of the door.  They project an invisible beam that stops the door from closing when the beam is broken or obstructed, or there is a failure in the wiring or the eye itself.  Most have a visible light on one or both eyes to indicate that a connection is being made, and that the power is on to the eye.

Most of the time it is an alignment or obstruction problem (or the bright sun is shining right on one of the eyes).  Make sure the sensors are mounted securely, nothing is in front of them,  and both are aimed directly across at the other.  Occasionally one of the sensors goes bad or gets broken, but about half the time I go on a service call for a garage door that won’t close, it is because the safety eyes are misaligned.

I also find a lot of safety eyes that are just barely lined up well enough to make a connection — sometimes.  If you are getting intermittent failure to close that can be remedied by holding down the wall control button (which over rides the safety eye sensors), the alignment isn’t quite good enough.  Try again.  And remember to make sure the bracket the eyes sit in is mounted solidly.

Broken or damaged wiring, especially at points where there is a splice in the wire, is another common cause of safety eye door reversals.  The wires usually run directly from each sensor back to the motor where they usually connect to a terminal on the circuit board.  Other times, the wire runs from one eye, to the other eye, then back to the motor.  If adjusting the alignment of  your safety eyes hasn’t worked, inspect the wiring, especially splices or other connection points.

Note:  Most safety eyes have a light on each one to indicate that there is power on, and another indicator light on the receiving side to indicate a connection is being made.  This is handy, as you can rule out a wiring problem if the lights are one.  However, the very common Chamberlain/LiftMaster/Sear-Craftsman safety eye sensors have a silly design where there is only one indicator light on the receiving eye, and it will only turn on if it is receiving a signal from the sending eye.  This makes it harder to figure out if there is a wiring problem or an alignment problem.

Note:  Genie/Overhead Door safety eyes have a green light on the sending eye, and a red light on the receiving eye that should be on steady when everything is set properly.  The red light DOES NOT TURN GREEN, EVER!  If it is on steady, it is getting power and is properly aligned.  If it is blinking, it has power, but is not receiving a signal from the sending eye.

Note:  Safety eye sensor issues only effect the door closing, and will not prevent your door from opening. So if your door is having trouble both opening and closing, there is something else going on, or there could be multiple issues at hand.

So what else could it be?

Here you will find a more detailed explanation of some other common garage door problems.

Also, if you are thinking of calling a professional, you would do well to educate yourself about common rip offs and scams, as well as the differences between types of garage door companies, as well as some steps to take before you hire a professional.