A door lock actuator is a component of the power locking system on a vehicle. If your car, truck, or SUV has power door locks - most vehicles on the road today do - then a lock actuator is responsible for locking and unlocking each door when you press a button on the key fob, a code on an exterior panel, or a switch inside the vehicle. This allows one or all of the doors to be locked remotely. All power locks on a vehicle, including the liftgate, trunk, or entry doors, rely on the lock actuator to physically “actuate” the lock, rather than the driver or occupant having to move a lever or insert a key.
Power door locks (and lock actuators) have been around for decades, however the locking system on newer vehicles relies on computer control from the body control module (BCM, the computer that monitors and controls many vehicle body functions), allowing greater control of the locks. The lock actuator itself is an electric motor that responds to a signal when you trigger the doors to lock or unlock. An arm extending from the motor in the actuator housing moves in and out to engage the lock/latch mechanism inside the door.
If you attempt to lock or unlock the doors on your vehicle but one door does not respond, the fault could lie with the door lock actuator. If the actuator is bad inside a door, the door will fail to lock or unlock remotely (electronically). You might still be able to unlock the door manually with a lever or key, but not with the electric switch or key fob. The problem could be constant or it could be intermittent, happening only occasionally. A failing lock actuator might cause the lock to work sluggishly. If the lock actuator is bad, you might also hear a strange noise coming from inside the door when you lock or unlock your vehicle. In some cases, your alarm system might be triggered randomly if a lock actuator is failing.
Symptoms related to a failing door lock actuator - lock is inoperative, lock is slow to respond or sluggish, the lock works intermittently - can also be attributed to a dirty or damaged lock/latch assembly, an electrical wire in poor condition, a bad switch, or even a problem with the BCM. It is important to get a proper diagnosis in order to determine if the lock actuator is the culprit.
To replace a door lock actuator on a vehicle, a technician will need to access the component inside the door. That means removing the interior trim panel by removing hidden screws and gently prying plastic clips before carefully pulling the panel from the door. Once the panel is loose, electrical connectors must be unplugged and the lock and latch rods or cables removed without damaging them.
On many vehicles, the door lock actuator is a separate component from the door lock/latch assembly. But on others, the actuator is integrated into the latch. In such cases, the entire lock/latch assembly must be disconnected (unplugged and detached from the lock and latch rods/cables) and removed from the door. If, however, the actuator is a separate component, the actuator is unbolted, the wiring is unplugged, and the actuator arm is disconnected from the lock/latch so that it can be removed from the door.
Once the new lock actuator is inserted, reconnected, and fastened in place, the trim panel is reinstalled. The technician must take care to avoid damage as the rods, cables, and electrical connections are made. Finally, the lock system is tested before the door is closed to ensure proper operation.
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