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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Debugging Mobile Windows

Not the kind that runs on your phone. I’m not sure there is any debugging of the hot mess that is Microsoft products.

The father-in-law has two F-150 pickups (yes, both are white) for use on the farm. The slightly newer one is a 1994 model, and was fairly luxurious when it was new… power everything, cloth seats, and so on. Nowadays, it’s a truck. It looks like a truck, and smells like a truck.

So on Monday, I came home from work to find the nose of one F-150 plugging the hole in the garage that’s reserved for the Miata. “The driver’s side window is all the way down,” the wife told me, “and I can’t get it to go up, and I don’t want it getting rained in.” So, in a valiant effort to reclaim the garage space I worked so hard to clear for my own vehicle, I gathered screwdrivers and other tools. I figured to pull off the door panel and push the window up. I didn’t get the entire panel off, but got the top loose enough to grab the window. With a little pulling while hitting the up button, the window bounced but did slide up. I parked the truck off to the side, put my car in, and promised the wife I’d give it a fair shot to make a permanent fix come the weekend.

During the week, I Googled “1994 f150 power window repair” and “remove 1994 f150 power window motor” and found a ton of forum postings and a couple videos. Funny how O’Lierly was ranting about how bad the Internet is on Fox Spew this week (the father-in-law insists on watching that crap, which comes on around the time we eat… and that might explain why I’ve had indigestion all week… but I digress), when I was using it to figure how how to fix a vehicle he would approve of. So come Saturday, I was armed with both tools and enough knowledge to be dangerous. With EJ at my side, we pulled the truck under a carport and got to work. The only screw that required the impact driver was the one in the door handle, but it wasn’t long before we had the panel popped off. Of course, there was a sheet of plastic, that felt like the same material in a heavy-duty garbage bag, glued to the door itself, so we peeled that away and decided to duct-tape it back up when we were done.

Here’s where things get interesting. On these trucks, Ford seals the power window motors behind sheet metal, but leaves dimples over the two bolts that are covered. With a 1/2" drill bit, a heavy duty drill (of which we have several, remember), and a little WD-40 as lube, we had access holes.

“What do you think that slot is for under this hole?” EJ asked me, pointing to a cutout below the lower hole.

“Maybe it’s to stick a piece of cardboard in, to catch the bolt if it falls off,” I suggested. “Actually, that sounds like a good idea.” Instead of cardboard, I used the lid from an empty McDonald’s drink that was laying off to the side. And a bolt fell, and the lid caught it. (Score one for me, huh?) So we got the motor out, and I pulled the cover off…

Crumbles are good on cake.
Inside motors, not so much.
And asked EJ, “You think that might have something to do with it?”

“Yeah, probably.”

I learned a few things about power window systems, yesterday. First off, I’d always assumed there was some kind of belt drive connected to the motors. I figured that belt was slipping and needed to be tightened. EJ had torn a few doors apart and knew better, but it seemed like a good assumption at the time.

The second thing I learned was, that triangular space in the plastic gear (the one under the metal gear) is supposed to hold three cylindrical rubber bumpers. That makes sense, it provides some “give” when the window hits the top or bottom. But in this motor, after a mere 19 years, the rubber had hardened, then crumbled.

One of the things I’d learned online was, the plastic gears are replaceable (that is, you can get just that part), instead of having to replace the whole motor (or the entire “regulator,” as it’s called, the motor and the scissor jack that lifts the window). So hi ho, off to AutoZone we go.

“Um, I don’t think you can buy just the gear,” said the counter dude. I pointed at the “power window gear kit” selection on his screen. “Oh.” So he punched up inventory, suggesting I buy the entire regulator for $129. “We don’t have one in stock, but they do at the Keith’s Bridge location. Or we do have the motor, $47.” Bah. The gear kit (gear and bumpers) was $20, and Keith’s Bridge isn’t that far away. We had to listen to the same surprise that they carried just the gear kit, and he went back and found it.

Triumphant in the hunt, we drove back to the manor, where I have some clear workbench space. Out with the old gear (after wrestling with a snap-ring), in with the new. I found that by putting in two bumpers, slipping the metal gear on, then wedging in the third bumper, I was able to cram it all in. Put everything back together, no leftover parts, put it back in the door, and test. Window went up, window went down. Hooray! We duct-taped up the plastic sheet, greased the slider track under the window, then put the door panel back on. All done, except to carry home all the tools (of course).

The wife got to test it shortly after, as some of the cows were being noisy and we had to shift them to another pasture. She rolled the window down and up several times, looking through the light rain to see what was going on. Everything worked just as it was supposed to.

I wonder how long it will be before we have to do the same thing on the passenger side.


  1. The power window in our 2000 Grand Caravan is dying. I suspect it's the motor, though, as it will move intermittently if you wait a bit.

  2. There might just be a track that needs grease. If you can hear the motor before the window moves, it's probably the gear, though.


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