How to Open a Car Door That Won’t Open From the Outside or Inside

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We’ve all been there. No matter how much you shove or yank on it, your car door just won’t open. It’s a huge inconvenience, especially if you’re holding a toddler or a bag of groceries and in a hurry. 

Today, we’re going to talk about how to open a car door that won’t open from the outside or inside. For such a straightforward problem, there are a surprising number of possible causes. We’ll cover the most common ones and what you can do to fix them. 

Different Reasons Why Your Car Door Won’t Open

selective focus photo of gray vehicle door handle

1. Rust and Dirt Buildup

If your car door doesn’t open, it might be due to rust or dirt buildup on or within the locking mechanism. Rust happens when the iron comprising your car oxidizes. It’s a natural chemical reaction, and there’s only so much you can do to prevent it. 

You might notice that rust spreads more quickly if you live somewhere the roads are salted in the winter. Salt speeds up the chemical reaction that results in rusting. 

Dirt also builds up naturally. Your car travels a lot of miles, and it’s bound to happen. 

Things You’ll Need:

  • WD-40 or another rust removal spray.
  • A screwdriver, examine your car to determine whether you’ll need a flathead or Phillips. 
  • Pliers.
  • A wire brush or something sturdy to scrub with.
  • A cloth.

How to Fix It:

You’re going to have to remove your door panel to get to the locking mechanism. It’s not as much of a pain as you might think, and even beginners at DIY car repair can do it. With a screwdriver, you should be able to pry up the trim pieces of the panel. From there, you can remove any plastic covers hiding screws.

That done, you can finally use the screwdriver for its intended purpose. Different vehicles will require different amounts of disassembly before you can access the locking mechanism, so be sure to find a guide for your specific make and model.

Once you have access to the locking mechanism, clean it with the rust removal spray, brush, and cloth. Look for a spray that has rust inhibiting properties to ensure your work lasts a long time. 

2. Faulty Lock System

If your door lock itself is faulty, it might take some time to diagnose the exact cause of the problem. There could be a problem with a wire, fuse, or the solenoid of your lock. If you can unlock your car with your key but the power locks aren’t working, this might be your issue. If so, it’s best to have a bit of prior knowledge before attempting to fix it. 

Things You’ll Need: 

  • Patience. A lot can go wrong with power locks, so some testing will be necessary. 
  • A replacement for the faulty part once you’ve identified it. 
  • Screwdriver of some sort.
  • Pliers.

How to Fix It: 

If none of your door locks are working, look to the fuse box first. Then check to see if the door lock switches are functioning. If all but one of them are, the problem might be that door’s solenoid. If that’s not the case, listen to the lock when attempting to engage it. The noise you hear could tell you a lot.

Once again, remove the door panel so you can access the locking mechanism. Determine which piece of the mechanism or part around it is causing the malfunction. 

When you have identified the problem, replace the part and redo the tests to ensure everything is working properly. 

3. Wiring Issues

Wiring likely isn’t what comes to mind when you think about cars, but it might be why your car door is stuck. Surrounding your car’s frame is its wiring harness, which carries electrical impulses throughout the car’s body. 

When you open or close your car door, the wires in the harness bend. Over time, wires can fray and become loose. When this happens, your door might get stuck. 

Things You’ll Need:

  • Stranded wire rather than solid, designed for use in an automotive. 
  • Crimping tool or soldering iron. 
  • An insulator made for automotive use. Note: do not use regular electrical tape. 

How to Fix It:

Locate the loose or broken connection. The wiring harness will be within your car’s paneling, so you’ll have to remove it to address the problem. From there, either crimp or solder the broken connection back together and wrap or seal it with some sort of automotive insulator. Because of the high temperatures the area may experience, the adhesive on regular electrical tape won’t hold for long. 

4. Broken Handle

This problem is pretty self-explanatory. The handle of your car door is where you exert most of the force it will experience, so issues can occur. There are three main ways a door handle might break. 

In the first, the handle itself might break. This will be immediately obvious. The other two parts that might be affected are the rods and cables involved in the handle mechanism. 

Things You’ll Need: 

  • If the handle itself is broken, you’ll need a new one to replace it with. 
  • If the rod or cable are broken, you’ll need replacements for those.
  • Painter’s tape. 
  • A Phillips screwdriver. You might need to use a Torx driver or socket wrench instead. 

How to Fix It:

If you’re replacing the door handle, put painter’s tape around it. This trick will decrease your odds of scratching the paint. Then, remove the original handle. Pay careful attention to how it was attached.

Install the new door handle, making the same electrical connections and other links.

If the rod or cable has become detached, reattach it. It’s an easy fix. If they’re broken, they’ll need to be swapped out.  

5. Structural Damage to the Door

Structural damage usually occurs as the result of an accident. You won’t have to guess if that’s what’s wrong because it will be immediately apparent. In most cases, it’s best to consult a professional because the damage may be more extensive than you realize.

Things You’ll Need:

  • Depend on the amount and type of damage.
  • A wrench, although the size and type depend on your car.
  • A screwdriver might not be necessary but could come in handy.
  • Potentially a replacement door.
  • Tools required to reconnect the wiring. 

How to Fix It:

If you are set on repairing the damage yourself, the steps will depend on what’s wrong. You might simply have to reconnect the door latch, or you may have to replace the entire door. Every accident results in unique damage, so do your research before you get started. 

6. Deadlock

Some car models are equipped with what’s called a deadlock. A deadlock keeps your door lock from being undone from the inside. It’s meant as a measure to prevent enterprising thieves from getting into your car. However, it can cause some problems if you don’t realize you activated it or have lost your keys.

Things You’ll Need: 

  • Your keys or key fob.
  • Alternately, a good locksmith.

How to Fix It: 

Sometimes undoing a deadlock is as simple as clicking the unlock button on your key fob twice or manually disengaging them with your key. Other times, if your key fob isn’t working or you’ve lost your keys, your best bet is to call a locksmith. It’s not worth the time, effort, or potential damage you might cause trying to fix it yourself. 

If you have your key fob, but it’s not working, check the battery before you panic or start to stress about the cost of calling a locksmith. 

7. Automatic Lock

Remember when doors had keypads? The modern version is a keyless fob that unlocks your car when you’re within a certain distance or press a button. They’re convenient, right up until they’re not working. In most cases, it’s the key fob at fault, not your door. 

If you replace the key fob and still experience issues, return to number three and check out the wiring. 

Things You’ll Need: 

  • New batteries for your key fob.
  • New key fob. 

How to Fix It: 

If your key fob appears to be dead, try replacing the batteries. If that doesn’t work, purchase a new one and have a professional program it for you. That will solve the majority of your issues with an automatic lock. 

Safety Precautions to Keep In Mind When Fixing a Car Door

Repairing your car door is relatively safe to do. However, there are still some safety precautions you should keep in mind. 

  1. Read the factory manual. 
  2. Don’t work alone.
  3. Wear protective gear like gloves, safety glasses, a dust mask, and sensible, closed-toe shoes. 
  4. Exercise caution when working with the wiring. 

Repairing your own car is fun, cost-effective, and an excellent way to learn new things. It’s also challenging at times. If you ever feel out of your depth, always take your car to a trusted mechanic or contact a locksmith. 

Sometimes, doing your own repairs isn’t feasible for your timeframe or current skill set. That’s okay. It’s what keeps garages in business.

Hopefully, you’re reading this article because you like cars and not because you’re standing in the rain and locked out of your vehicle. Either way, we’re glad to have you here with us today. We hope you’ve enjoyed our discussion of how to open a car door that won’t open from the outside or inside.

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