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Troubleshooting A Garage Door For Smooth Operation

There is nothing broken on my sectional garage door... you know, no parts laying on the floor... but it doesn't open and close smoothly any more. How do I figure out what is wrong?

If you follow this procedure, you will definitely find the source of your problem. Or, more likely, problems. Rarely does a malfunctioning garage door have a single problem. Just a more obvious one. Let's go!

Look for the obvious...

Before you get too involved with hard-core Natural Handyman-style troubleshooting, look for simple but easily overlooked problems, such as a garden tool leaning against or interfering with the door, or something hanging on the wall hitting the door. Nothing, huh? Okay, let's delve more deeply into handyman heaven!

Tighten everything down before replacing parts...

Over years of use, garage door bolts loosen. Vibration and shrinkage in the door itself can cause this. So get out a wrench and tighten everything down. Do this with the door in the down position with the garage door opened disconnected, so that all door panels meet properly. Odds are you will even find a few nuts missing. Replace them. If you have a very loose hinge, and it can be repositioned, try to center the hinge over the joint between door panels. Be sure that the line of the hinge follows the line of the seam between the panels.

Look at the door tracks... are they still securely bolted at the wall and ceiling? There should be at least an inch of clearance total between the door and the track. I say total because the door moves slightly left and right as it travels. It may be very close to or even lightly touch the track at some points. This is normal and not a problem unless the door actually binds on the track. If it does, then a spring tension adjustment may be needed to even the door's movement. Read on!!


If any part is extremely rusty, especially cables or springs, you may want to forestall the disaster of a snapped cable or spring and replace it now! Always replace springs in matched pairs, never separately. You will almost definitely imbalance the door and cause binding if you replace only one spring.


One of the most common garage door hardware problems is worn out pulleys!

There are four pulleys on a garage door frame, two mounted in a stationary position on the frame above either side of the garage door frame, and two moveable pulleys attached to the springs on either side of the door. To detect wear, you should take the spring tension off the pulleys. You do this by opening the door fully until the spring begins to droop down. Put a clamp on the track to hold the door up.

If you have a garage door opener, use it to open the door and then unplug it to prevent accidental activation!!

There should be very little movement in the pulleys except their rotation. If they do not turn smoothly or wobble, replace them. The stationary pulleys get the most wear, because the cable exerts sideways force on them (graphic left). If one has become excessively worn, I always replace both.

Amazingly enough, the moveable pulleys attached to the springs often last twice as long as the stationary pulleys!!

Rollers are a little harder to check than pulleys.

Make a visual inspection of the rollers. The rollers consist of a wheel mounted to spin easily on a metal shaft. The metal shaft should move freely within the hinges. Often the lowermost roller shafts tend to seize up because of accumulations of rust and other glop. Spray on a little WD-40® and work them loose. Replace the rollers if this procedure is ineffective

Excessive bearing wear, as with the pulleys, cause the rollers to bind against themselves and against the garage door track. Do any seem to be twisted or off-center? Do they wobble? Move the door up and down and try to observe if any rollers seem to bind. Do it with the garage door opener disconnected, since the strength of the opener can mask a bad roller. Does the door move smoothly? At what point does it start to hang up?

More often than not, if it is a roller problem, it will occur when the bad roller is in the curved part of the track, sometimes even binding on the seam between the parts of the track. Replace the defective roller(s). See the next question on this page for more detail on roller and hinge replacement.

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