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I just came back from a week out of town and noticed my garage door opener isn't working. When I press the button it moves about an inch then gives up.

I tried disconnecting the electric opener and opening it manually but it's suddenly incredibly heavy to move manually (didn't use to be this heavy). I was able to move it a few more inches using a huge amount of effort, but I couldn't get it open further than this so I put it back down.

I've checked all the wheels on the sides of the garage door and they're moving smoothly, but just in case I sprayed WD-40 on them. Didn't make any difference.

Any idea what this could be? How can I fix it?

enter image description here

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    A question with a picture that allows us to see the problem and answer the question - good job! +1
    – Ecnerwal
    Jun 6 at 23:24
  • When you get this replaced have them replace the large single spring with two slightly smaller ones, that way if this happens again to one spring you will still have SOME lift.
    – gnolt
    Jun 7 at 19:01
  • Yeah, pretty sure there's not supposed to be a gap in the middle of the spring. :)
    – Martha
    Jun 8 at 16:03
  • Please bear in mind that WD-40 will tend to remove lubricants, and isn't a lubricant itself. There are plenty of videos available showing how to correctly apply grease. Jun 9 at 14:07

3 Answers 3

78

Your torsion spring broke.

enter image description here

Whether these are DIY or not is debatable.

That they can kill (or merely injure/maim) you if you lack adequate care is a fact.

That one needs to be replaced.

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    (carpenter of 20+ years; consider myself reasonably mechanical, and there's no way you could convince me to diy this job.) Jun 6 at 23:26
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    It's a huge amount of stored energy (it lifts that door you struggle to lift without its help) and is subject to sudden and violent release while you are of necessity in close proximity to adjust it and store that energy. Your search engine of choice will find enough of the gory details if you ask it to.
    – Ecnerwal
    Jun 7 at 0:53
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    The door weighs maybe 300 lb. The spring has to be wound up enough to carry that weight. When fiddling with it, if it unwinds suddenly on you, the entire 300 lb is suddenly transferred to the loose end of the spring or of a cable attached to it, turning it essentially into a bullet. It's not hard to become good at this but if you will only do it once or twice in your lifetime, it's not worth the risk.
    – jay613
    Jun 7 at 1:37
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    Bonus: this repair is usually pretty cheap. I can't even remember what I paid the last time I needed one, because it wasn't enough money to be of note, maybe $200 with the service call.
    – KMJ
    Jun 7 at 3:34
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    I tried to replace it myself and almost died. The bars for locking the door in place while working on if failed and of course the door fell as well. I will strongly suggest having a professional do this for you.
    – Sergio A.
    Jun 7 at 19:52
17

I work on truck sized garage doors.

The spring is broken and fully unwound. You can tell because of the white line spray-painted on at the factory while it's unwound.

Doors are actually balanced.

People with garage door openers often have never operated the door by hand. They think the power opener lifts the full weight of the door by brute force.

Not at all. Doors are counterweighted so that if properly maintained, you can move the door with your thumb from any position to any other position, and it will just stay there. If it doesn't stay there it's broken. Capische?

So you have a counterweight. Down, the door is very heavy. But as the door rolls up, it gets "lighter and lighter" as part of it goes horizontal. So it must be a variable-weight counterweight. Fortunately, springs are good at that.

There is lethal "stored energy" in a door.

One way or the other, there's a ton of energy stored.

  • If the door is down, the spring is wound tight.
  • If the door is all the way UP, the spring is slack but the door is ready to drop like a guillotine!

It's the same amount of energy.

I never unwind a spring without raising the door fully and screwing some bolts and nuts through the track so the door can't come down. Then I'm dealing with an unwound spring with only a few pounds of force on it.

If you need to service the spring with the door down, i.e. because of a spring replacement like here, that's adventurous because you'll be messing with the full force of the spring. You can do it with winding bars if you have 2 of them and they're right fitting (NO sloppy-doppy 1/2" bar in a 5/8" port in that cheap pot-metal casting; if that thing cracks the spring releases explosively). I don't recommend that for the novice; getting spring tension right is tricky and you don't want to over-crank a spring beyond its spec.

And watch those lifting wire spools at both ends. If slack appears there, they just love to hop right off the spools, at which point the door will drop violently. It works as long as the door and spring are the only 2 things acting on that shaft. A fool with a winding bar, or a badly designed opener, can make a guillotine.

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    I have a 10x10 foot "commercial" door. They had better insulation and more size options than "residential." I don't have an opener. I don't want an opener. I don't need an opener. It opens/closes quite easily by hand.
    – Ecnerwal
    Jun 8 at 0:43
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    Garage door guy, huh? For trains... that have airplanes in them, while really you're supposed to be doing their taxes.... but with a degree in EE, so there isn't anything you can't do, except be a writer, which is what you really want, but won't take the pay cut.... I'll figure it out eventually.
    – Mazura
    Jun 8 at 2:54
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    @Mazura Jack of all trades, master of none... Adam Savage is my hero. youtube.com/watch?v=Z3Viv88ZOFA Jun 8 at 5:04
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I learned something the hard way: the torsion springs do better when oiled. That won't stop your spring from breaking like this, but it definitely reduces the wear and tear on the spring so it lasts longer. One of those maintenance things that is seldom mentioned.

After you get it replaced, buy some good grease or oil for it.

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  • +1 Which reminds me of an NSFW joke... Jun 9 at 14:29
  • This one probably didn't lose much life, as I see little in the way of rust on it, and preventing rust (thus surface pits, thus stress concentrations from those surface pits being where cracks start) is the primary benefit of greasing them up, AIUI.
    – Ecnerwal
    Jun 9 at 20:57

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