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How Does a Garage Door Work?

Electric garage doors assist you in quickly getting inside your garage. However, have you ever sat down and wondered how one works? Probably not, and most of us really only pay attention to this wonderful invention when something within it malfunctions or breaks. There are reasons it pays to know more about them, and this guide helps you better understand the basics of how a garage door works. 

The Electric Garage Door: Understanding How It Works


You open and close your electric garage door a lot, and ballpark estimates say this piece of gadgetry performs that action an amazing 1,500 times a year or more! But, more importantly, you may be selling yourself short if you don’t know how its technology operates. In other words, understanding how a garage door system’s parts, mechanics and operations work, can help you better troubleshoot problems when things go on the fritz.  

A few of the benefits of knowing how your garage door operates include learning how to take care of your garage door better. For instance, you’ll be able to figure out when you require maintenance, identify worn-out hardware before it gets to be too bad, and be able to communicate more effectively with garage door technicians. 

Types of Garage Door Operators


Whether you are shopping for a new garage door operator, feel like troubleshooting, or simply want to know more about the one you have, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with all the different systems available. The reasons for knowing more about them are many, and who knows? You may even want to upgrade your system sometime down the road. 


Also, bear in mind that many people call the garage door operator an opener, but the two are separate things. The garage door operator is a piece of equipment fastened to your garage ceiling with pulleys or other mechanisms. The pulley is then activated to lift & lower the garage door. A button, remote or keypad is the component that signals the garage door operator to lift the garage door open. 

Here are a few popular types of residential garage door operators to consider: 

  • Chain-Drive: One of the least expensive garage door operators and its system consists of a chain that attaches a trolley to the motor. Chain drives are bulky and loud because they vibrate quite a bit and have a good deal of metal-to-metal contact.  
  • Belt-Drive: Belt drives offer a good smooth motion alternative to chain-drive operators. Belt-drive systems utilize a rubber belt rather than a chain, which allows them to function quietly. 
  • Direct-Drive: The quietest of all residential garage door operators are direct drive operators, and they feature a stationary chain inside a rugged steel rail. They have a single moving part, and it is found in the traveling motor carriage. 
  • Screw-Drive Operator: Screw-drive operators have a trolley that sits on a threaded steel rod. A motor rotates the rod. One main con that it has is it is the noisiest of the residential garage door operators. As for a pro, it doesn’t have many parts, making it easy to maintain.

Types of Garage Door Springs


Garage door springs are made to open heavy garage doors without putting too much strain on the operating system. There are two main types: Extension and torsion springs.

Extension springs extend to assist in opening and closing the garage door. Torsion springs are located on the top of garage doors, and they work in a controlled manner to help lift and shut the garage door. Torsion springs perform this action by winding & unwinding while smoothly sliding into a channel. 

Torsion springs safely last up to ten years, while extension springs are only good for around seven.

Common Garage Door Problems


What follows are descriptions and general fixes for some common garage door problems. Meanwhile, it is always best to play it safe and have an experienced garage door technician make any repairs or replacements needed. Additionally, a professional garage door repair person can often make recommendations that can save you money.

Common Symptom 1: The Trolley Carriage Moves, But Garage Door Won’t Open

The likely culprit here is a broken trolley carriage. The solution is to call a professional garage door technician to have it replaced. 

Common Symptom 2: You Have Power to the Outlet, But There’s No Sound or Lights When You Use the Wall Switch or Remote


This symptom means you probably have a bad circuit board, and a nearby lightning strike is usually behind the one that’s blown out. The fix is installing a new one. A new circuit board for your garage door system isn’t cheap, so make sure you protect the one you get with a surge protector. 

Common Symptom 3: The Garage Door Won’t Open

A common cause of a garage door not opening is a lack of lubricant. The fix is to oil the rail where it contacts the trolley carriage with lube that doesn’t attract dirt, such as a silicone spray. If you have a screw-drive system, you’ll need to lubricate multiple spots along the rail 2-3 times a year. 

Common Symptom 4: The Door Goes Up, But Only Goes Down When You Hold the Wall Switch Down 

The small light on each sensor should light up if there is nothing between them, so if you see this issue, it probably means the safety sensors came out of alignment. If no light is showing up at all, it indicates the sensor needs replacing. A technician can often save you time by using the existing wires, but unfortunately, they may need to replace the entire safety sensor.

Common Symptom 5: The Wall Switch Works Ok, But the Remote Doesn’t

When you see the wall switch works but the remote doesn’t, check to see if the remote’s batteries still work. If the batteries are in good condition and you still get nothing, you will need to get a new remote. If you can’t find one that works for your type of garage door operator, you can buy a universal remote or install a receiver instead. 

Common Symptom 6: The Remote Works Ok, But the Wall Switch Doesn’t

Here we have the opposite symptom than what we saw before, and the fix is to either replace the wall switch or the wires. There are ways to troubleshoot and fix the malfunctioning switch, but the ways can vary, depending on the model. 

It’s best not to test or repair the switch by yourself, even though its wires have low voltage. Instead, have an experienced garage door technician examine the type of switch you have and make the needed repairs. 

Common Symptom7: Everything Works Ok, Except for the Lights


This symptom is an easy fix, and the issue is probably a bad light socket. Therefore, you can easily do this repair yourself. To get at the bad light socket, you’ll have to remove the circuit board, though. 

Removing the circuit board may sound like a complex operation, but it’s actually not. Simply follow these five steps: 

  1. Take off the light cover.
  2. Remove the lightbulb.
  3. Disconnect both the switch and the safety sensor wires.
  4. Remove some screws.
  5. Unplug the board, and…voila! You did it.

Once you’ve removed the circuit board, pop out the bad socket by pressing on the clip holding it in place. Then, remove the two-wire connections and insert the new socket. Make sure you use the correct wattage, or you can make the new socket fail – or even worse, start a fire! 

Common Symptom 8: The Garage Door Operator Makes a Grinding Noise But the Door Doesn’t Budge


If the garage door operator makes grinding noises and the door won’t budge, it means the main drive gear is shot. Your system needs a new one in this case. FYI: this component is the one that most commonly fails on most garage door openers.

Make Us Your Tristate NY Garage Door Company


If you need a new garage door operating system or require maintenance on an existing one, we can help. New York Gates has been protecting businesses and homes with our overhead garage doors and advanced security rolling gates for more than a decade. We serve the entire tri state, including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx & Staten Island. Additionally, New York Gates offers 24-hour emergency services. For more information about that and all the other high-quality products we offer, you can contact us at (718) 614-0616. Alternatively, you can fill out our online form

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