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Back to Garage Door Question List

Garage Door Opener Stops or Reverses When Activated

My garage door opener doesn't close all the time. Well, sometimes it does... then sometimes it reverses at the bottom, sometimes it reverses right after it starts moving. What's a mother to do?

The first thing to check are the electric eyes that are located on either side of the door frame. Their purpose is to detect an object in the way of the door and reverse or disable the opener. If the eyes are not facing directly at each other, they may work intermittently, causing occasional spontaneous reversals with no rhyme or reason. If you don't have these eyes, no one stole them... you just have an opener that was built before the 90's when they became mandatory for all newly manufactured openers.

To check the function of the door...

Disconnect the garage door opener from the door and go through the troubleshooting routine on the garage door repair page.  In fact, you really should read the entire garage door repair article.  It will make troubleshooting later much easier!

Remember that sometimes, a garage door opener can increase the binding in a door just because of the way it pushes the door down. Ever notice how it is easier to pull a wagon over a curb than it is to push it? Same principle. Garage doors were designed to be pulled, not pushed. You may think the door is working OK because it feels OK, but you should still check all components to be sure.

Do any necessary repairs, reconnect the opener and try it out. If you still are having problems, you can make slight adjustments to either the closing force, opening force, or the travel limit adjustments.

  • If the door closes and reverses, it is traveling too far and you should decrease the travel.
  • If the door reverses part way down, and you are sure there is no obstruction or binding, increase the closing force a small amount and try it again.

Some older garage door openers do not have nicely labeled adjustment screws for force and travel limits. In fact, even some of the newer openers manufactured for and resold by your basic garage door company are not user friendly. This guarantees return business... costly minimum charges for diddly adjustments! Unfortunately, I cannot give you specs on every opener and all the configurations, but, if you want to know how I have approached the problem of limit adjustments on an unknown opener, it's really a matter of observation and educated guesses.

CAUTION : This is true, seat-of-the-pants troubleshooting. Because of the power of the motor,
there is always the risk of injury, so you must be very cautious !
If you feel uncomfortable continuing, call a professional!!

  • For a closing or opening force adjustment, look for external or internal springs that may have adjustment screws.
    Understanding how they work will help you to find the adjustment. Most auto-reversers work on the principle of transferring force to a momentary contact switch:

    If there is enough resistance to the movement of the door, this force is transferred back as torsion (twisting force) in the motor assembly. If this torsion exceeds the strength or tension in the springs that stabilize the motor assembly, the assembly twists. A small arm of some sort is attached to and moves with the motor assembly. If the movement is great enough, the arm will strike a switch, sending an electrical signal to the motor to reverse.

    The springs and/or switch may be located on the top of the unit, or inside.  Unplug the opener from the electrical outlet before even thinking about taking the cover off! Once the cover is off, plug the opener in, keep your hands clear, and send the opener through a cycle or two. If you are lucky, it will reverse as always and perhaps give you a clue as to where the force adjustment springs are.

    If you figure out where the adjuster is, simply increasing the tension on the spring will increase the closing or opening force.

  • For opening and closing limit adjustment:

    Look for trip arms or clips attached to the opener chain. These may be metal plates screwed on to the chain, plastic snap-ons dojiggies with flexible metal arms attached, etc. There will be two on the chain, one for the opening limit and another for the closing limit. When you activate the opener, the clips move with the chain, and hit the auto-reverse switch when they reach it. By repositioning them, the switch that they trigger activates earlier or later, thus increasing or decreasing the travel. Simple, but effective.

    Open up the case and look for a screw-type track that moves when the opener runs. Sometimes, the limit switch is activated by the movement of a specially shaped "nut" traveling on this track. When the opener is activated, the screw rotates, causing the nut to move, until it reaches the switch. When the opener reverses, the screw turns the opposite way, and the nut travels back. There may be two nuts on one track... one for the opening limit and one for the closing limit. By adjusting the starting position of whichever nut, the opening and closing limits are set. You know what they say... sometimes you feel like a nut... sometimes you don't!

    Be sure that unit is unplugged before making any internal adjustments. The opener may start and bite you... or worse!! After making the adjustment, plug it back in, keep your hands away, and test your adjustment.

Back to Garage Door Question List

Jerry Alonzy, the founder of Naturalhandyman.com

Written by Jerry Alonzy

Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a. the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation.

As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites. His material appears widely on the web, but primarily on his website... The Natural Handyman. You can also find him on Google+.