Why Won’t My Car Door Close Properly?

A car door that won't close properly is not only a critical safety issue, but also an invitation for thieves to pilfer your car.

Like many parts of our vehicles, the doors are an integral safety system, providing protection for passengers and security from thieves. However, they are often overlooked. Car doors need to open, remain closed when shut and lock on demand to protect precious cargo — you, your passengers and your belongings. Never forget that vehicles with broken door latches could easily eject someone in an accident, especially if the occupants are not wearing seat belts.

How a Car Door Works

A car (or truck) door is made up of many parts that need to operate together to work properly.

The main component is the latching mechanism. Located inside the door assembly, it engages a door anchor, or striker, that is attached to the body of the vehicle, to keep the door closed. Operating the inside or outside door handle releases the latch from the anchor, allowing the door to open. Other parts include the door assembly itself, door hinges, door lock, door latch linkage or cables and, if equipped, electrical actuators and switches that lock or unlock a door.

Things can go wrong that can prevent your doors from closing securely. When that happens, you’ll need to get them fixed, pronto.

Why Doesn’t My Car Door Close?

As you know, it is dangerous to drive your car if the door will not stay closed. Here are some of the most common causes for a door that won’t close properly and what you can do to fix the problem.

Latch issues

A stuck, binding or rusted door latch, or a door latch that was accidentally closed when the door was open, will keep a door from closing. Try spraying some WSD-40 or oil on the latch mechanism. Wait a few minutes and then remove any grunge or grime from the latch with a clean rag. Be sure not to “close” the latch while cleaning away the dirt. Work the door handles a few times and then check to see if the door closes.

Sometimes the latch can close accidentally. Look at the latch position on the door that won’t close and compare it to a door that closes normally. The latch should be in the “open” position (similar to the opening on the letter “C”) to slide over the anchor. If it is in the closed position (no opening), take a screwdriver and gently push up on or rotate the latch while operating the door handle to release the latch.

Car door latch in open and closed positionFamily Handyman

A faulty, worn or damaged latch repair is best left to your mechanic to fix.

Door handles

Door handles are located on the inside and outside of a car door. When you pull on the inside or operate an outside door handle, they either extend a metal rod (or other linkage) or pull a cable that disengages the door latch from the anchor. A binding or jammed door handle or linkage will leave the door stuck in the open position. Leave replacing a malfunctioning door handle, door latch release linkage or a broken latch release cable to the pros.

Door anchor

A door anchor out of adjustment prevent a door from closing. Look at the anchor to locate marks where the latch is hitting the anchor. Loosen the anchor retaining bolts, slightly move the anchor 1/16-in. at a time up/down and in/out. Then retighten and see if the door closes. This adjustment may involve a bit of trial and error.

Door hinges

If adjusting the anchor doesn’t fix the problem, check the door alignment. If the door is drooping or the space between the door and fender are uneven, the door hinges are most likely worn from normal wear and tear; bent from the door being blown open by a blast of wind; or damaged from getting hit during an accident. (It could also be that the door frame itself is twisted.)

Because car doors are a lot heavier than they look, and hinge placement/adjustment is critical, let your body shop deal with this car body repair.

Electronics

A malfunctioning or shorted power door lock motor (actuator) or a shorted door lock switch stuck in the mechanically “open” position can keep a door from closing. Check the fuses and try smacking the door with your hand near the switch and latch assembly to free up a stuck door lock motor.

With door locking mechanical and electrical devices located inside the door frame, making door lock/latch repairs can be tricky. Have a repair manual and specialty tools handy before attempting to fix any door issues yourself.

Cold Weather

Low temperatures, along with moisture, can cause a door lock to freeze solid and prevent your door from opening or closing. The simple fix is spraying the lock with deicer or WD-40 (never use boiling water!).

If you don’t have these items handy, try coating the key with hand sanitizer. The alcohol in hand sanitizer will melt the ice inside the lock. Slowly insert the key, jiggle it slightly if you’re having difficulty getting it in. Leave the key in place for 30 to 45 seconds to allow the alcohol to melt the ice.

The Last Word

Most modern cars no longer have grease fittings, so the “lube” in lube, oil and filter change has become cliché. However, door, hood, trunk, gas fill door and hatchback hinges — even the glove box and console door latches and anchors — still need to be lubed with a drop or two of oil, white lithium grease or dry spray silicone. To help extend the life of your car and make driving more pleasurable and safer, be sure to lube these components as a part of your preventive maintenance routine.

Robert Lacivita
Bob Lacivita is an award-winning auto technician and career and technical educator and freelance writer who has written about DYI car repairs and vehicle maintenance topics, as well as writing state, federal and organizational foundation grants, and helped design a unique curriculum delivery model that integrates rigorous, relevant academic standards seamlessly into technical/vocational training, for more than 20 years. His work has been featured in Family Handyman, a Reader's Digest book and Classic Bike Rider magazine, among others. Bob and his wife lived through 20 years' worth of DIY home remodeling while parenting two (now grown) boys and now relax by watching their three fabulous granddaughters.