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We've got a deadbolt that decided to stop working today. When we turn with either the key (outside) or the lever (inside), the deadbolt moves about 1/2", but no more. It does not retract all the way inside the door, and therefore we can't get the door open.

It's not jammed or frozen, as the movement seems fluid, just not far enough. What would cause this, and how might I go about fixing it?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

You'll have to remove the dead bolt and thumb turn mechanism in order to inspect it. It could just be gummed up in which case it needs to be cleaned and lubricated, but also common is someone forcing the lock and bending a component. If bent, you can try and straighten whatever is bent with a pair of pliers, but if it bent that easily it is probably a low-end deadbolt in which case it's probably better to replace it. A locksmith can key a new deadbolt to your current key if that is a concern. There might also be debris lodged in the mechanism which can be removed.

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I'm definitely thinking it's a low end lock. We've only lived in this house for a month, and we're the first to live in it. Brand new build. –  Chase Florell Feb 20 '13 at 2:57
    
My advice is always to go get a high-security deadbolt (Medeco, Mul-t-lock) –  Steven Feb 20 '13 at 3:26
    
You're probably right. This is a rental, so it wasn't my call. I'm just wondering if I can fix it, or if I need to call someone. I just don't want the hassle of calling it in if it's fixable. –  Chase Florell Feb 20 '13 at 3:43
    
If it's a new build, I'd call back the contractor. –  Chris Cudmore Feb 20 '13 at 15:11
    
Contractor replaced it. –  Chase Florell Nov 22 at 15:43

Ever notice how it was a little difficult to lock and unlock that deadbolt over the years? The stress placed on the bolt from the poor alignment with the frame has caused the bolt to break. Unscrew the lock from behind, manually scratch the bolt back to open the door. Replace the bolt, file the strike.

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It's a brand new house and a brand new lock. We've only lived in this place a month. –  Chase Florell Feb 20 '13 at 2:55

Since you said it's a rental, I'd start by calling the landlord. It's their lock, it's their property, it's their responsibility to fix it (or to authorize you to get it fixed and deduct the cost from your next rent check, or something of that sort).

If you want to try doing something yourself: Dismount the thumbturn and lock cylinder. Looking into the resulting bore through the door, you'll be able to see the deadbolt's mechanism. Try turning its hub with a screwdriver and watch it move. I'm betting you'll see part of the linkage banging into the surrounding wood, and that if you remove a bit of wood there for the linkage to operate it'll solve your problem. (Uncommon but not unheard-of problem; wood shrinks as air humidity decreases, and sometimes things shift enough that a hole bored in midsummer won't quite align well enough in midwinter.)

The other (less likely) possibility is that the bolt mechanism is broken. In which case you'll have to figure out how to retract it, since you can't replace it until you can open the door.

HOWEVER: If the bolt mechanism appears to operate normally with the thumbturn and cylinder removed, the issue is probably one of "timing". There is a limited range of free motion designed into the linkage between lock, bolt mechanism, and thumbturn; this is what allows the lock or thumbturn to retract the bolt without the other turning. The parts need to be installed in such a way that this freedom is at the right point in the locking/unlocking cycle; if you get that wrong, that can produce exactly the symptoms you're seeing where the key or thumbturn stops before it can retract the bolt. The solution in that case is to reassemble these parts correctly aligned, which is a bit of a pain to describe in text and which varies a bit from lock to lock. If you can tell us what brand of lock it is, we may be able to talk you through that.

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