It's common to see older cars with misaligned windows unable to roll down evenly. Here's how to fix a drooping window with hand tools and a few bucks worth of parts.
There are lots of reasons why a window will separate from the track it sits on and, if you have a newer car with complex electric systems, you're probably better off taking it to a mechanic if you're not entirely sure what you're doing. For drivers of older cars, the underlying cause is often a weakness with the adhesive holding the window in place. As it ages, the adhesive loses its adhesiveness and elasticity. Roll a window down too fast or let something get in the way and the window will separate.
In our case, the truly hideous sound system installed in our 1986 Volvo 245 was the culprit. The speaker in the front passenger's side was too large for the window and the speaker's magnet was pushing against the glass when the window was in the down position. All of the glass in the car is original, which makes the adhesive holding the driver's side window in place almost as old as I am.
Combine the two and you end up with a window separated from the track and sitting unevenly in the doorframe. If you don't drive in cold or wet weather and keep your car in the garage constantly, this isn't a big deal. If you want to actually enjoy your car but don't want to take it to a mechanic, you can do the job yourself on the cheap if there's no serious damage.
Step One: Remove The Door Trim And Accessories
Old cars are great because you can actually take them apart without special tools or strangely-shaped bits. Assuming you have a normal older car, here are the tools you'll need:
- Phillips-Head Screwdriver
- Stubby Flat-Head Screwdriver
- Binder Clip
- Heavy Grease
- Automotive Amazing Goop
- Glass Cleaner
The order with which you'll remove the pieces of your door depends on what is or isn't there. We've already removed the door pockets on the car because, on this particular model, they tend to fall off anyways. If you've got them, they're typically what comes off first. Appraise the order in which everything was put on the door and work backwards.
In this case, we started with the arm rests. Take your stubby flat-head and remove the small trim buttons covering the screws. Set them aside to a tray or another safe place where you can keep them in order without knocking them over. A dash also works. Remove the screws and place them on the side. Many arm rests have a special lock connected to the door handle so you may need to angle the handle up before removing it.
Next, disconnect the crank for the window (assuming you don't have power windows). On the Volvo, there's a small trim piece covering the screw connecting the crank to the door. Remove the crank and set aside the trim surrounding the base of the crank.
If you have an in-door speaker you may want to remove it before you take the door trim off so you don't rip any of the wires off. If you're careful you could theoretically disconnect them after taking the internal piece off, but we don't recommend this. If you've got a cover, take it off and unscrew the speaker. Carefully separate it from the door and the disconnect the two wires at the base of the magnet, making sure to remember which wire connects to which contact (they should be different sizes on older car, but better safe than sorry). Set aside.
The final piece to remove, on most cars, is the lock cover. This should screw straight off.
Making sure your window is in a down position, just in case, remove any latches and screws holding the door panel in place. In the case of our Volvo, there are numerous clasps and fasteners to detach. We slowly take them off one-by-one, working carefully not to rip any off. If you end up with a stuck clip try gently prying it out by using your flathead or the proper trim removal tool if you're Mr. Moneybags to get pressure beneath the clip.
Lift the inner door panel at the base and set it aside in a dry, clean place.
Step Two: Prep Insulation And Identify Problem
Pull back any plastic sheeting or foam insulation and clip it to the top of the door using a smooth-sided clip like a clothespin or a binder clip. Reconnect your crank (don't worry about screwing it in) and see if the window is disconnected from the track. Carefully roll up the window and roll it down and see if the window is connected or disconnected. If it's connected but still droops, you've got a broken track and may need to seek professional help or, if you're skilled enough, try to replace it yourself.
Most likely, the window is merely separated from the track. As suspected, this is the case with the Volvo's window. We can roll the window up and the track catches the window and puts in place (mostly). When we roll it down the window leans and catches on the door while the track continues to roll into the door. Roll the window back up and, if it holds in place securely, leave it there for the next two steps.
Step Three: Grease Any Dry Moving Parts
While you've already got the door off, identify any moving parts that may be dry. This car sat in a dry and dusty part of West Texas and is therefore bereft of most grease and moisture. A little dab on moving metal parts and a couple of screw holes that appear to have a hint of rust will help you avoid other problems down-the road.
Step Four: Re-Adhese The Track
A look into our wagon's window track reveals a cracked and rough surface with little of anything resembling glue or tape. This is actually a good thing as most sealant adhesives work better on non-smooth surfaces. After quickly cleaning out any dirt or grime from the track, take your bottle of adhesive (in this case, Automotive Goop) and run it carefully along the track. If you've got a small nozzle this makes the process easier. We don't, so we carefully work the bottle through the gap in the door. Try to fill the track about halfway with the adhesive so it doesn't all fall out when you place the window inside of it.
Most of these products require you let the glue sit for a few minutes before sitting the window inside of it. Use this time to wash your hands before you get goop, grease and other gunk on the window.
Step Five: Drop The Window In The Track
It helps to have two people working on this job, with one person holding the window level with the door low enough to view the track as it reconnects with the base. The other person can then guide the track upwards with the crank, firmly applying pressure, while the window fits into the track. If any of the adhesive leaks out try snagging it early with a towel so you don't have to go back with acetone later to remove it. When you roll the window up, make sure it lines up evenly with the door and sits in the window gasket. If there's a slight difference, as there is with our Volvo, try angling the door in the correct direction while raising the tray.
Clean any adhesive off and push the window all the way to the top so it's held-in-place at each portion of the gasket. If it looks good, leave it alone for a while. Most adhesives only need a few hours to dry, but it's best to give it more time than less.
Step Six: Reconnect The Panel And Pieces
If everything looks good, reconnect the door and all the accessories (handles, cranks, et cetera) in a reverse order being careful to make sure you don't end up with any extra screws are parts. Since you've been touching the window with your dirty hands, you may also want to clean it.
Step Seven: Wait... Enjoy
Once again, don't play with the window until you're sure it's set. It would be a major bummer to go through all this work and then have to redo it because you couldn't wait to roll down the window. Once everything is set, if you've done the job right you'll have a working window again, all for a couple of hours of work and less than $10 in parts.
Bonus Step: Fix The Speaker
Because the hideous, eventually-to-be-replaced speaker was pushing against the window we decided to do a quick fix. Before reattaching the speaker we added a few washers between the back of the frame and the door. It's a good, temporary way to avoid repeating the same problem while we contemplate what to do with the door speakers.