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How to prevent your garage door opener from falling on you

Published February 3, 2013
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Eric Lai answers readers’ auto questions every week for Wheels.

Q: A friend’s garage door opener came crashing down one day. Luckily, her car wasn’t parked underneath at the time. What can I do to prevent this from happening to me?

A: Normal vibration from opener use can cause fasteners to come loose over time if not properly torqued. To prevent this, tighten mounting nuts as much as possible by hand during installation. Place a wrench on both the nut and bolt, and tighten evenly without overstraining.

Other ways to keep fasteners together:

-Use a thread-seal product like Loc-tite.

-Use an anti-slip nut, which has an integral soft plastic ring that prevents it from slipping off freely.

-Add a second nut after the first. Hold first nut in place while tightening second “lock” nut in place.

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Basically, if an opener’s mounting nuts are properly tightened in the first place, there shouldn’t be a problem. To be sure, check fasteners a month after initial installation, then visually inspect semi-annually after that.

Alternatively, use any of the methods above as redundant backup. I have secondary “lock” nuts and I also looped coat-hanger wire through my opener and support bracket mounting holes as a fail-safe. (That is, if all else fails, the looped wire will hold the opener up if the bolts ever fell off.)

Periodically check the opener rail mounting above the garage door as well. On one of my units, normal vibration eventually broke loose the wooden stud the metal rail was mounted to. This caused excessive flexing during use and the opener rail almost came crashing down.

Garage door openers can be dangerous if not properly maintained. Unit should reverse on closing if it contacts an object or the electric-eye, if equipped, is disturbed. Test the safety-reverse by placing a two-by-four on the ground in the door’s patch. If door doesn’t reverse on contact, lower the “closing force” setting on opener.

The dangling cord on the opener rail is a safety feature – do not cut or tie it up. If cord is pulled, door will detach from opener mechanism in an emergency. For example, if a person/animal is trapped underneath the door or you need to open the door manually during a blackout.

If there’s no secondary entrance to your garage, install an emergency release cable (available at hardware stores) on the garage door.

If your garage door doesn’t open and close freely by hand, have it fixed. Don’t set your opener’s “closing force” to maximum to correct for a bad door. Excessive force settings can quickly destroy the opener’s internal plastic gears and creates a potential deathtrap for children and animals if trapped underneath door.

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