What to Do When Your Car Windows Won't Budge

Stephen Fogel
March 21, 2018

Pretty much every new vehicle sold today has power windows. We’re used to this, and take it for granted. Think about it — when was the last time you manually “rolled” a car window up or down? It’s possible you’ve never had to. 

But like all mechanically driven objects, things can go wrong, causing your window to get stuck either up or (worse) down. If you can’t get it closed, your car’s interior will be subject to the weather — not to mention potential thieves. 

Let’s look at why power windows stop working, and what to do about it.

How power windows work

Each window uses an electric motor that is attached to a window regulator, a series of gears or cables and pulleys, that supports the window and keeps it on track. When you press your window switch up or down, the window motor turns the gears, moving the glass the direction you want.

Since your power window system is a mechanical system powered by electricity, problems can be either mechanical or electrical in nature. Tracking down the exact cause of your problem is the key to a quick fix. But there are many challenges involved in the actual repair. Windows can be riveted to the mechanical lift arm, parts can be nearly impossible to remove from inside the door — and there’s always the risk of glass or mechanical parts causing injury.

So, if you aren’t experienced in electrical troubleshooting and taking your doors apart, we strongly suggest that you leave the majority of these repairs to your mechanic. This is not a job for beginners.  

Get it diagnosed by a professional

Electrical problems

Let’s start with electric problems that can befall your windows. Again, anything that involves any kind of disassembly is best left to a pro.

If only your rear windows don’t work

If both rear windows refuse to operate, but the fronts are fine, check the lock-out switch on the driver’s window controls. This cuts off power to the rear windows for when small children are riding back there. It may have been accidentally knocked to the locked position.

Solution: Flip the switch — easy! 

Your window motor has failed

If the power window on your driver’s door stops working, it is most likely the fault of the motor inside the door. The driver’s window is the most heavily used window in your vehicle.

Solution: A replacement motor will solve the problem. Call your mechanic and get it fixed. It should run you a few hundred dollars for the part and the labor.

You have bad window switches

The switches that control each window’s up-and-down movement can wear out or fail. If the switch is unable to make contact and close the power circuit, the window won’t work. This is often the cause of a power window problem on the front passenger window and rear windows.  

Solution: Replacing the switch is a relatively simple process. If you’re handy with electrical repairs, you might want to tackle it. Otherwise, call your mechanic.

Your wiring is defective or broken

Wiring connects the components of your power window system. Over time and many uses, the wiring can break, burn or otherwise get disconnected. This can happen where the wiring connects to the window motors or the switches. The place where the wiring goes from the car body into each door, near the door hinges, can be susceptible to wiring breakage, due to the repeated flexing of the wires each time the door opens or closes.

Solution: Tracking down a wiring issue can take some time and detective work, and may involve taking one or more of your doors apart to find the problem. This is best left to your mechanic.

» MORE: What to do if your windshield wipers aren't working

Mechanical problems

Aside from dealing with the easy window guide, gasket and weatherstripping problems, these fixes are best left in the capable hands of your mechanic.

Issues with the window guides, gaskets and weatherstripping

Depending on the exact design of your vehicle, there will be some combination of guides, gaskets and weatherstripping around your windows. Guides maintain window alignment, allowing them to go up and down smoothly. Gaskets and weatherstripping provide a seal around the window, to keep out wind noise and moisture. These items can dry out, become torn, get out of alignment, and generally cause additional friction that can prevent the window from moving. 

Solution: Torn or loose gaskets and weatherstripping can sometimes be repaired with a weatherstripping adhesive from your local auto parts store. Sometimes super glue will work for this. Check for loose pieces of rubber and remove them. Replacement parts are also available when the damage is too extensive. Lubricate your window guides and channels with a silicone spray to reduce the amount of friction. If you don’t want to tackle this, call your mechanic.

Your window regulator is bad

A failed window regulator mechanism is a common mechanical problem. Various parts of the regulator can wear out or fail. The window will not raise or lower properly, and may even have fallen to the bottom of the door

Solution: Replacing the regulator will solve this problem. This requires removal of the door panel and the disassembly of the system inside the door. The regulator must be disconnected from the motor and the window glass, then replaced with the new one and reassembled. This is a complex and intricate process, and is best left to your mechanic. 

Misaligned mechanism

Occasionally, a bolt or other piece of hardware inside one of your doors can loosen and allow the window mechanism to get out of alignment, keeping it from working.

Solution: Have your mechanic take a look inside the door, identify the problem and reassemble and check everything. If you’re lucky, there may not be any lasting damage.

If you have old-school windows

You may drive an older or simpler vehicle with manual-powered windows. While these systems don’t use electrical motors, switches or wiring, the mechanical parts inside the door are very similar, as are the fixes. Most problems with manual window systems are also better dealt with by your mechanic. There is one easy-to-fix manual window problem, though, that you should be able to handle.

Your window crank fails

The window crank gets used a lot and, over time, it can wear out. The usual focus of wear is the point where the crank attaches to the shaft that moves the window mechanism. This is more likely to happen on the driver’s door, which gets the heaviest usage.

Solution: Replace the broken crank. It’s easy and inexpensive. Replacement window cranks are available from the parts department of your brand’s new car dealer, or from an auto parts store.

Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.