Door Lock Actuator Buyer's Guide
- A door lock actuator is a motorized assembly that is installed inside the door near the lock mechanism.
- It enables you to lock and unlock your car door.
- Types of car door locks include remote key-less systems, manual lock cylinders, and child safety locks.
- Symptoms of a faulty door lock actuator: buzzing sound when unlocking or locking doors, car door lock stops working completely.
- Compare 2-wire door lock actuator and 5-Wire door lock actuator, consider compatibility, and purchase OEM parts from trusted brands to find a door lock actuator that matches your ride.
- Door lock actuators are priced between $423 to $753.
It was only in the 1960s when manufacturers started to reinforce car door designs to consider road safety. The earliest car doors were only made for the sole purpose of covering the car’s opening. Modern car doors feature electrical functions such as power door locks and automatic lock and unlock. For a power door to lock or unlock, it needs a door lock actuator. Along with other parts such as the switch and motor, the door lock actuator makes sure that you can properly lock and unlock your vehicle automatically.
What are door lock actuators and how does it work?
A door lock actuator is a motorized assembly that is installed near the lock mechanism inside the door panel. In some modern cars, it is built into the latch. When the power door lock switch or key fob button is pressed, the actuators change from lock to unlock and vice versa. On vehicles that use a key fob, actuators are monitored by electric controls that only sends electric current if the correct anti-theft code is received from the transmitter.
Door lock actuators need one electric motor, a set of gears, linkage, and cables to operate the lock. The electric motor triggers a series of spur gears. A rack-and-pinion gearset that is connected to the rod then converts the rotational motion of the motor into a linear motion stimulating the lock to move. Most door lock systems can operate all doors at the same time but each comes with an individual locking actuator.
The most common cause of an actuator malfunction is long term use. Since this device is always activated, the electric contacts inside begin to malfunction over time.
Types of door locks
There are different types of car door locks, each functions and unlocks in a different way.
Remote Key-Less Systems
Ford pioneered keyless door locks way back the 1980s, introducing them into the Ford Thunderbird, Mercury Cougar, Lincoln Continental Mark VI, and Lincoln Town Car. These remote key systems use a key fob that emit radio frequency to work. A keyless system will require you to push a button to lock the door, while a car with smart keyless system automatically opens when the driver is within the required proximity.
Manual Lock Cylinders
This kind of door lock works manually. It uses a knob on the inside the car that you can pull up or push down to unlock your door. A manual lock cylinder requires a key for operation.
Child Safety Locks
Most cars are equipped with child safety locks. Basically, this lock is designed to keep a child from accidentally opening the rear doors. Cars have been built with this security feature since the 1980s. When the child lock is engaged, the doors could not be opened by the handles, keeping the child safe.
Door lock actuators can be classified by the number of wires needed for it to work. There are one-, two-, and five-wire door lock actuators.
How will I know that my power door lock actuator needs replacement?
In most cases, you will know that your actuator is faulty because it just stops working completely. Prior to this, you may notice signs such as a buzzing noise when trying to lock or unlock your car. Fortunately, the problem with door actuators are usually isolated to one door so you wouldn’t have to replace the whole set.
It is important to have your door lock system maintained and checked all the time because having a faulty one may put you and your passengers at risk. Aside from the hassles of getting locked inside your vehicle, it also puts you at a greater risk of getting your car stolen.
Selecting a door lock actuator that matches your ride
Do you often find yourself locked in or locked out of your car because your power locks won't work? If you've had it with faulty door locks, it's about time you replace your door lock actuators. Here are a few things you have to remember when shopping for a new door lock actuator.
2-wire door lock actuator vs. 5-wire door lock actuator
If you're more of a control freak and you want to have access to all of your doors' locks, then a 5-wire door lock actuator is a good start. Basically, a 5-wire actuator allows you to manually lock or unlock all your doors just by fiddling with the lock of your front door. This kind of system allows you to have more control over all your door locks, saving you time on locking/unlocking each of your doors separately. Another kind of a door lock actuator system is the 2-wire actuator. Unlike the 5-wire, a 2-wire door lock actuator allows you to control all your doors separately. Do you want to unlock your rear-passenger door to let someone out? With a push of a button, you can unlock that specific door without having to unlock all doors. A 2-wired door look actuator gives you better flexibility when it comes to handling your door locks.
Aside from choosing between a 2-wire and a 5-wire door lock actuator, you should also check your car's compatibility with the actuator before purchasing it. If you're changing from a 5-wire to a 2-wire actuator, you'll need to mount push button switches to your car. This push-button system allows you to control the locks on all other doors separately, with each door having a separate button or switch. But if you're planning to go with a 5-wire actuator, there isn't much need for push-button switches. Also, check if all the other parts of your door lock system are working perfectly before getting an actuator. Some problems you might be experiencing with your door locks may not be caused by a faulty actuator. Installing a new actuator without checking the entire door lock system will just result in the same damage.
Purchasing OEM parts from trusted brands
Offers from online suppliers of car parts are very enticing, and their cheap prices serve as an addictive drug for car owners on a budget. Since you don't really know what you're getting, it's still best to get OEM parts from trusted brands and suppliers. Non-OEM parts are cheaper for a reason--they are made of substandard materials. Some of the complaints from generic door lock actuators is that gears and pins are very fragile and can cause dislodging or misalignment inside the actuator. It's better to pay more for your parts and get the most out of them. It is not worth the cost of replacing them over and over again.
How much does a door lock actuator cost?
Door lock actuators are priced between $400 and $800. This price range does not include labor and other costs. Usually, door lock actuators are sold individually or in sets of two, three, or five, while there are also door lock actuators that are sold in kits. Usually, a door lock actuator is compatible with both the front and rear doors. Make sure to check your car’s user manual to ensure that the actuators you are buying are compatible with your lock.
How to replace your door lock actuator
Power locks are supposed to help you lock your doors without pushing them down yourself, making it very easy and convenient. But if you can no longer lock your doors using the remote in your keys, it's a definite sign that your door lock actuator is broken or had short-circuited. Here are a few easy steps on how to replace your door lock actuator to bring back the power in your power locks):
Difficulty level: Easy to moderate
Things you'll need:
- Phillips screwdriver
- Trim tool
- Socket set
- New door lock actuator
Step 1: Using a trim tool, remove the window and lock buttons from the door panel to expose your door lock system and its wiring. Manually disconnect each switch or button from the wiring harness and set this aside. Some switches or buttons might require you to pry or screw them off. Use a Philips screwdriver to carefully remove them.
Step 2: Unscrew your door panel loose to remove it from the door. Pull the door panel to separate it from the car's door completely.
Step 3: Locate the wiring connector that is attached to your faulty door lock actuator and unclip it for easy access to your actuator. If your door actuator is screwed on, simply unscrew the actuator to release it. If it is held in place by a bracket, push in the arm of the actuator and disconnect it from the harness.
Step 4: Install your new door lock actuator in place. Using your hands, hook the door lock actuator onto the latch rod found on the inside of your door. Secure the actuator in place using the bolts you removed from the old one. Clip back the wiring connector to the body of the actuator.
Step 5: Test your door lock actuator using your key remote. Once you're sure all is working perfectly, reassemble the plastic shield and the door pane to secure everything in place.