You’ve got a Chevy Impala, and the driver-side power window will go down but not up.
The switch looks something like this:
Did I just describe your situation?
The switch probably started getting picky before conking out completely – for a while, you may have had to hold the switch up and then back it off slightly to get the window to go up. In it’s last days, you may have had to bang on the inside of the door while holding the switch up to get it to move.
If I’m describing you, chances are that the contact inside the switch (a tiny metal tab) for the driver side window is burned (and possibly bent).
What causes (caused) this?
Inside the switch, there are 2 tiny metal tabs that pivot when you press the switch up or down. They complete a connection which sends power to the window motor, causing it to go up or down.
The problem is that power windows use a LOT of juice (current), and all that power runs through those tiny little tabs. The tabs heat up (since they’re under-sized), and a spark creates a small burn point every time you hit the switch.
From an engineering standpoint, GM knew about this (it’s been an issue since the power window switch was invented) and had 2 options to deal with it:
- Run the switches to proper relays so they last nearly forever (adding about $3 to the cost of the car), or;
- Accept the fact that if you don’t relay it, the switch will burn out sometime after the warranty’s ended, and you’ll get to charge the customer well over $100 for the replacement.
Guess which one GM went with? (hint: the one that makes them money)
The easy Fix:
It’s worth noting that the “easy” solution is to just buy a replacement switch. Expect $140-160 from the dealer, or around $50 for an aftermarket or used option (an Amazon reseller currently carries them – I actually ninja’ed the image above from Amazon’s site, so you may as well support them by searching there first).
The replacement’s dead-easy if you have a torx screwdriver around and are even remotely handy. Set aside 5 minutes of your day – it’s 2 torx screws, you pop the clips to take the switch out, disconnect the electrical connectors, and put the new one in.
If you’re not handy, a trip to the dealer might be in order. Alternately if you get a hold of a new switch, your favorite local mechanic can probably install it within a few minutes.
WARNING: DO THIS AS YOUR OWN RISK. IT’S EASY TO BREAK/DAMAGE THE SWITCH, AND IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG WITH THE SWITCH, YOU COULD CREATE A SHORT AND BURN OUT A WIRE OR START AN ELECTRICAL FIRE (PARTICULARLY IF A FUSE DOESN’T BLOW FIRST). IF YOU’RE NOT COMFORTABLE DOING THIS, JUST BUY A NEW SWITCH.
Let’s assume you don’t feel like forking over $50-150 just yet and want to tackle it yourself. It’s a little more time consuming, but very possible. You *could* break something, particularly since the thing isn’t meant to be disassembled, but I’ll roughly walk you through it here anyway, as it’s a procedure I just performed.
-Torx screwdriver (sorry, I don’t remember the size – hopefully you have a set). Optionally, a Hex Key of the right side should fit well enough to work.
-Flat screwdriver (small and sharp, preferably)
-TINY flat screwdriver (about the size you’d use to repair prescription glasses)
-Fine-grit sandpaper (wire brush might work too)
-Electrical contact cleaner spray (optional)
- Remove the 2 torx screws you see in the “handle”, then pull the section out.
- Remove the switch assembly. 3 electrical plugs come out, and you’ll use a flat screwdriver to pry it out from from the tabs in the “handle” piece.
- The UP/DOWN (and Window Lock) caps have to come off. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way, and this is the first place you’re likely to break anything. Grip them (get under them a bit) with your fingers and pull hard. I wouldn’t do this if it’s cold out – you’re forcing 2 plastic pieces to come apart that aren’t designed to come off (permanent locking tabs), so your chances are better if it’s warm (and the plastic will be more likely to flex and pop off than to snap).Note that I’ve yanked them off 2 or 3 times and didn’t have any break, but each time I really expected them too. If they do snap, you’ll either end up messing with some glue or buying the replacement anyway.
- You should now be left with a black box. It opens up by prying the lip back from the locking tabs (small screwdriver) as you pull it open. Not terribly hard.
- With the black box opened, the circuit board and switches should just pull out as 1 piece.
- There’s a clear center plastic piece (shaped like an “X”) between the 4 switches. It just lifts out. Once it’s out, note that 1 corner of the “X” is a bit shorter – that side faces the driver switch.
- Another clear piece has to be removed. It’s attached to the driver side switch (it’s why the X had a short-side) and seems to be part of the the window “lock”. Use the TINY screwdriver to pop it out of it’s pegs.
- Now you’re left looking at the switches. You’ll be opening up the driver-switch. Now you see why you really need the TINY screwdriver. You should be able to see 4 tiny “tabs” locking it together. Use the TINY screwdriver to pry the plastic over the tabs as you pull the switch up (a helper can be beneficial). You should only need to unclip 1 side (2 of the tabs) and it should come up.BE CAREFUL when you pull it off – there’s a spring inside, a white plastic pivot, the 2 metal tabs/contacts, and you DONT want them to fall out and/or get lost. Also kinda helpful to know where they go for later, when you have to put things back together.
- Assuming the spring and pivot came out with the switch, you should see 2 metal tabs. 1 of them probably looks REALLY burnt on one side – there’s your problem.
- Pull that “burnt” tab out. Use sandpaper to sand away the black burn.
- Bend that tab slightly (finger or pliers) – basically, you’re bending that burned side so that it makes contact sooner – it’s probably curved “up” a bit, so you want to make it more horizontal. Don’t bend it too much or you’ll create a short when it’s reinstalled!
- The contact point inside is too tough to get at with sandpaper. Your tiny screwdriver is probably fairly sharp, so you can use it to scrape some of the black away. If you happen to have contact-cleaner-spray around, spray some of that in, and it’ll make it easier to scrape it clean.
- Put the metal tab back in. Make sure it’s not touching both contacts at the same time (if it is, you bent it too much). You should be able to pivot it to 1 side. For reference, the *opposite* tab will pivot to the *other* side.
- Ensure the spring/white-plastic-pivot are both in the upper piece, and carefully put it back into place and snap it in. Once it’s in, press the switch (clear top) up & down to make sure it’s moving and feels right.
- Put the rest back together (opposite of removal).
In my case, I also swapped the metal tabs around (think of it as “tire rotation” for the switch) and bent them all slightly to get them all horiontal. I didn’t recommend it above though, as it adds another variable, and the more things you bend, the higher the chance you’ll bend something too much and cause a short.
You should be done. Once you’re at the point where the electrical connectors are plugged back in, you might want to put the key in the car, turn it to ACC, and make sure nothing starts smoking (then make sure the switch works). I recommend doing it before the thing’s completely screwed back into the car because if something’s wrong you’ll be able to disconnect it quickly.
How to keep it from happening again
The good news is that it should work for a few more years now. Other good news is that if/when it eventually does fail again, you should be pretty pro at pulling it apart and getting it working again.
The bad news is that constant heat is just going to make the metal weaker all the time. If it lasted 5 years, it might last 4 more now. Maybe 2-3 after the next repair. Eventually, the metal will be so soft (and worn-out) that you’ll have to spring for a new switch.
In the meantime, things you can do…
- Avoid “tapping” the switch over and over when rolling the window up. Multiple 1-second bursts are worse than a single continuous burst, because that means multiple sparks instead of just 1 (and multiple presses of the button also flex the tab multiple times). For most people, this isn’t an issue, but if you’re one of those people in the habit of tapping the switch up/down until the window’s open the “perfect” amount, you’ll just have to learn to stop.
- Lubricate the window track periodically. You’ll notice that the metal tab controlling “down” wasn’t burnt – that’s because “down” is easy. You want “up” to be as easy as possible to reduce the duration/amount of current that needs to go through the switch to get the window up.
- If you have ice/gunk/etc causing the window to move up more slowly, remove it. If you’re rolling up the window and it gets stuck, don’t just hold the button up – you’ll burn up the switch. Instead, stop, clean out whatever’s blocking it, and try again.
- Try to only move the window up/down when the car’s running. The alternator spits out around 14 volts when the car’s running (you only get 12.5 volts from the battery when it’s off). P=IV (power = current x voltage). More voltage means the window either goes up faster (which means less time heating the switch), or goes the same speed but uses less current. (and current is what heats up the switch).
- If you’re really hard-core about it, you can install a relay near the power-window-motor. It’s a very time consuming process (and you’ll probably have to run new power wires and probably install 1 relay for “up” and 1 for “down”), but the switch will last decades.