A couple weeks ago, when I debuted the Ghost Ride The Whip Box at the '09 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza LeMons, I decided I needed to roll my Crown Vic's balky driver's window down all the way… and heard a terrible CLUNK!
Owners of Ford Panther platform-based vehicles can tell you exactly what that nasty popping/clattering sound inside your door means: you've busted another window regulator mechanism. Normally, you just push up on the glass until the window closes and then just live with a nonfunctional window (a pain in the ass when you have to deal with toll booths, but tolerable for a while) until you get the motivation to deal with the regulator.
Unfortunately, the last time I'd replaced the regulator I'd gone with a cheapo Chinese-made aftermarket unit (which made even Ford's corner-cutting/low-bidder parts quality seem top-shelf) and the tangle of busted pulleys and tangled cables ensured that window was locked in the down position like it'd been epoxied into place.
Normally, that wouldn't matter so much, since the P71 Police Interceptor Crown Vic came with drunken-arrestee-friendly, piss-proof rubber "carpeting," so no problemo if the car got rained in overnight at the motel parking lot. Unfortunately, I had a trunk and back seat full of bribe booze, in addition to a really cool Khyber Pass Copy of a Martini-Henry rifle given as a bribe by a Crown-Vic-racing Afghanistan War vet. If I wanted to leave that stuff in the car back in notoriously meth-addled Willows (in order to avoid schlepping it all to our upstairs room after being pummeled by the whines of racers for 18 exhausting hours at the race), I'd need to find some way to get the window to roll up. Sure, the tweekers can always break your window, but I believe in making it slightly harder for them.
The problem that I needed to get the window closed in the time between packing up all the Penalty Box gear and the food hitting the table for the Annual Saturday Night Arse Freeze-A-Palooza Pasta Feast at the Team California Mille Compound in the paddock, because those Alfa Romeo dudes can really cook up an outstanding meal (when they're not frantically wrenching on their fleet of Alfettas). The food may not be quite as good as the sublime Cajun Shrimp Boil-stravaganza we get courtesy of Piranha Racing in Louisiana and Texas, but it's so damn good that I didn't want to miss a single minute of it.
So, I borrowed some tools from the Evil Genius trailer and removed the door panel… which promptly fell apart into shards of plastic, because I'd already had the thing off at least five times in the past. You see, (if I may plagiarize from ex-automotive journalist and general automotive cynic Jay Lamm here) the difference between finicky European cars and Detroit cars goes like this: with a British or Italian car, different stuff breaks all the time, and you'll need to fix something new within a few days of fixing the last failed part. With a Detroit car, you'll fix the same thing over and fucking over. With my Crown Victoria, it's the window mechanisms, power locks, and hood latch that fail; during five years of ownership I've replaced or repaired the regulators and/or motors in all four of the windows (numerous times on the driver's window), fixed the lock mechanisms in two of the doors, and replaced the hood latch twice. Other than those things, the car has been quite reliable.
Anyway, I was able to cut the cable on the old regulator, pry the window into the closed position, ziptie the armrest with the window/lock/mirror controls into place (thanks to the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys Peugeot team for the zipties!) and get some pasta, though I was in a pretty sour mood by the time I'd finished cursing those cheapskate bastids in Dearborn, because the reason the door panel fell apart was that Detroit makes such items to be easy to install… the first time. After the warranty expires, who gives a damn that all those fragile plastic hooks and snaps will break off the second time you pry them open?
The Ford Panther uses a cable-and-pulley arrangement to pull the window up and down; the heart of the regulator is this spiral-wound pulley, which bolts to the motor and operates in much the same manner as the "endless loop" mechanism of an 8-track audio tape. The problem with this setup is that the cable has at least four points at which a minor failure in a plastic component will cause it to jam, which will make the considerable torque of the motor start to break stuff. Sometimes the cable just pops off one of the pulleys in the regulator, which means you just have to rethread it, but usually everything gets shattered all to hell and you need to replace the entire unit.
The previous time the driver's window regulator had broken, I ordered a $25 aftermarket replacement, figuring it couldn't possibly be more crappy than the factory Ford unit. Oh, was I wrong! It looked like a bomb had gone off inside my door, with busted regulator parts rattling around like 10-fen coins in the pocket of an underpaid Shenzhen factory worker.
I didn't feel like handing big bucks to a Ford dealer for a factory replacement, since I knew it would break within a couple of years anyway, so I headed to the junkyard to find a car with an original regulator assembly. You have to figure that a regulator that stayed functional for a decade has beaten the odds and was built on a good day at the factory. Here's a '99 Police Interceptor that already has the door panel off!
How can you tell when a Crown Vic still has the original window regulator? Easy! Look for the rivets holding it in place. Yes, rivets, because an assembly-line worker can apply a rivet in 0.8 fewer seconds than he or she could fasten a nut and bolt, and seconds mean money! Sure sure, the regulator will fail in the not-to-distant future, but leave that problem to some future slack-jawed grease monkey to fix, because we got to move these widgets out the door!
That means that you pack some special hardware in your junkyard toolbox: a punch and hammer to drive the mandrel through the rivet, and a battery-powered drill to drill it out.
To make things more fun, the glass itself is riveted to the regulator's slide, and Ford didn't bother to provide handy access holes to reach the rivets like those goddamn Japanese do in their cars. Try not to break the glass!
At least the top of the regulator is held in with good ol' nuts. This is the only part of the regulator-removal process that doesn't give you a headache.
You've got two rivets holding the bottom of the regulator in place and two more on the glass. Punch and drill!
The old rivet backs clank to the bottom of the door's innards, where they'll rattle around if you don't feel like slicing up your fingers fishing them out.
Oh yeah, don't forget to bring your Torx bits to the junkyard, because that's what you use to separate the motor from the regulator.
I thought about buying the motor as well (since I've had a couple fail in my P71), but the ones in the car seem to be working well, so I cheaped out and left it in the car.
Success! $18 later, I'm on my way home.
When you replace an original Crown Vic window regulator, you need to substitute screws or bolts and locknuts for the old rivets. This makes for some around-the-corner work with a wrench to get to the nuts, but it's not too difficult. Here's the busted Shenzhen Special regulator coming off.
It's much easier to deal with maneuvering the regulator out of the door if you remove the glass completely.
The aftermarket regulator is now out. I feel like an idiot for installing this crappy component in my car, knowing at the time that it would be sure to fail within a year or so. Lesson learned!
Attach the regulator slide onto the glass, guide the motor shaft into the main pulley, reinstall the Torx screws, and it's looking good. Powering up the ignition and cycling the window indicates that it's functioning correctly.
Now I need to find a junkyard door panel that matches my interior, because this one is pretty rough from all the removal/installation cycles and the additional sheet-metal screws I've had to install to hold it in place. It does the job, though!