A door lock actuator is a mechanism inside of a car door that works together with a power lock system to allow the driver to automatically close or open the lock by simply pressing a button.
Each door has an actuator to control that door’s lock.
Being the parts that operate mechanically once an electrical signal is sent to them, actuators have the tendency to break down over time and will eventually require a replacement.
What’s the Cost of a Door Lock Actuator Replacement?
Let’s take a look at how much a door lock actuator itself costs without any labor included for repairs or replacement.
Actuators are all mostly the same. The only difference being that the older type of lock actuators are stand-alone parts and the newer type are integrated with the car latch.
The older-model actuators have a much lower price than the newer type. Prices will also vary depending on the store where the part is purchased, the brand of the part, and your type of vehicle.
Both the old-model or the new-model door lock actuators replacement parts may be either generic aftermarket parts or OE (original equipment) parts. OE parts are highly touted to be as good as, if not better, than the original part from the manufacturer. The parts are made to exactly replicate the design, function, and form of the manufacturer versions.
However, their high-quality also comes with a hefty price. Generic parts are made with lower-quality materials but have a substantially lower cost.
Here are some of the most popular door lock actuator brands on the market:
- SPAL Automotive
With every variation taken into consideration, the cost for an actuator replacement can range from $5 – $1,188.99. Most of the cheaper aftermarket parts for older vehicles occupy the $5 – $50 range.
You’ll find some pretty good medium-quality parts at the $50 – $100 range, while $500 and up is where the high-quality parts are found.
Once you’ve settled on a part, you have the choice of either bringing the vehicle in for an inspection and letting a mechanic install it or replacing the part yourself. Replacing the actuator isn’t that difficult and if you’d like to save money on the labor, you’ll find a how-to guide at the last section.
Where to Replace Your Door Lock Actuator?
If you’ve chosen to let a professional auto mechanic take care of replacing a bad door actuator for you, there are many different options at your disposal.
The first options are local dealerships in your area. Their mechanics are well-trained to handle any type of actuator issue that your vehicle might have. The downside is that their labor charges are much higher than local shops.
You can also be assured that they will recommend or use OEM-grade parts and nothing that’s cheaply made. If you’re interested, look up the nearest dealership in your area that services your vehicle’s brand and ask for a door lock actuator repair cost estimate or replacement estimate.
Other options include local automotive repair shops. Many of these shops are also authorized and certified by certain manufacturers to perform warranty or recall repairs for that manufacturer’s brand. Their technicians usually work at lower rates so the overall amount that you’ll pay for a replacement will be lower.
A couple of well-known auto repair chains are Pep Boys and Walmart Auto Services.
Keep in mind that whichever business you choose to patronize, the price will vary depending on your vehicle type, the store, and the state where you live.
We’ve compared the labor fees on different auto shops and the estimated price range is around $90 – $190. This range doesn’t include any applicable taxes and fees.
What Is A Door Lock Actuator?
Door lock actuators were built to replace the need to control a car’s locks manually.
Previously, a door lock knob was controlled by hand, usually pushed down for the ‘locked’ position and pulled up for the ‘unlock’ position. Upon pushing the knob down, it would bump a lever which would move into a position that disallowed the door latch’s prongs from disengaging from the strike plate when you attempt to open the door.
In other words, the door-locking action was completely controlled manually via the pushing force of your hand. There was no way to open a locked door from the outside without either entering the car using a different door and pulling the lock up manually; or if all the doors were locked, to unlock the driver-side door using a key and then unlock the other doors manually.
In newer-model vehicles, however, this system was upgraded via the introduction of an actuator which basically replicated the manual pushing/pulling motions that were previously used. It’s a small device that contains a series of gears which are powered by a motor.
When a command was given to lock the door (a button is pressed), electrical signals are sent to the actuator which activates the motor, spins the gears which move a rod, which connects to the latch assembly and locks the prongs. It’s a fairly simple mechanism, but one which revolutionized the locking system of cars.
Originally, the door lock actuator was a completely independent mechanism which was installed behind the car door panel. If it had problems, you could buy a replacement and swap it out easily within 30 minutes. Most cars that were manufactured during the time period when the actuators were invented still carry this configuration.
However, most newer-model vehicles no longer carry a stand-alone lock actuator in the door. Instead, it has been integrated with the latch assembly and was renamed a ‘power lock assembly’.
The reason for this change was presumably to make the manufacturing process easier and faster as well as to save money on the parts that are cranked out by the assembly lines in factories (since a few parts were no longer needed such as the connecting rod and retainer clips).
Some actuators are only mounted on the outside of the latch assembly while others are completely integrated.
The only problem with this configuration is the fact that if an actuator breaks, the entire latch assembly needs to be replaced too. The new power lock assembly part is more expensive and you’ll be paying for something that doesn’t even need to be replaced (the latch).
Since the actuator became integrated, it became harder to troubleshoot and repair the individual part and in most cases, it’s cheaper to just replace the entire assembly.
Symptoms of a Malfunctioning Door Lock Actuator
The most obvious indicator of a bad door lock actuator is intermittent locking.
Intermittent locking is when the locks sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Pressing the lock button may move the locks slightly but not all the way.
In fact, any problem with power locks not working as intended can probably be pinpointed to the actuator.
As long as you can verify that the assembly is receiving power and the electrical wires are all connected, replacing the actuator with a new one will most likely fix the problem.
In other rare cases, a grinding sound may be heard coming from the door panel. This could indicate a problem with the gears or the actuator motor. It’s not common to observe this symptom as the mechanical sound from the device isn’t normally very loud and the door panel is well-designed to block any noises out. Still, if you do hear it, your car has probably got a malfunctioning actuator.
Door lock actuators are parts that simply give up due to old age and wear and tear. Since the motor and gears are constantly turning, the more a car is locked/unlocked and the more it will run and the faster it will die.
Although the end of its life is inevitable at some point, you can help your car actuator to last longer by reducing unnecessary locking and unlocking of the doors. Case in point: the clicker on the key fob. It might be fun for your kids to press it repeatedly but try to prevent them from doing so.
How to Diagnose Door Lock Actuator Problems?
The first thing you want to do is to rule out any electrical interference.
In order to isolate the intermittent locking problem, ensure that the assembly is actually receiving power from the car battery. You can figure this out without having to take anything apart by simply placing your ear against the door panel and locking/unlocking the door.
Listen for the slow movement of gears and any clicking sounds.
Intermittent locking, by definition, means that the locks may sometimes work partially, so this is an automatic indication that the power lock assembly is receiving electrical current and the problem lies elsewhere.
The next step is to open the door panel. It’s usually held in place by screws and you might need to remove the armrest first.
Locate the actuator. If your vehicle is older, it’ll be located somewhere near the bottom portion of the door.
Not easy to miss it. If your car is a newer model, the actuator might be integrated or attached to the latch assembly, which is near the edge of the door.
Once you find it, check the two-wire electrical connectors and ensure that they’re plugged in and don’t have any damage.
If you have an automotive multimeter or testing light, you can check the voltage on the connectors to determine if the motor is faulty.
Unplug the connector side and run the automotive meter while operating the lock in different directions. If you see on your tool 12 volts being run in either positive or negative directions, there’s a big chance that you have a defective motor.
Visually inspect the points where the actuator connects to the latch assembly. Take note of any areas that look rusty or need to be oiled up. A vehicle more than 8 years out of the factory will definitely have worn-down locks which will need to be well-lubricated in order to work well.