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David A. Wright

2002 Toyota Tacoma Door Handle Replacement

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First, whatever happened to the button to start a new thread?  And is this a new thread or a plea for help ("ask a question")?  I'm telling a story here, not asking a question.

Second, my faithful, reliable 2002 Toyota Tacoma TRD 4x4 pickup broke it's driver side door handle.  Been difficult to operate for about a year.  Knew it was going to fail one day.  Center part of the handle broke out, resulting in a gap toothed look.  I had been eyeing an aftermarket replacement handle for a while, so bought it at a local auto parts house.  Kind of afraid to try, as I'm no mechanic, but watched a You Tube video that made it look easy.

No, not easy, but not difficult either.  And the video didn't portray all there was to it either.  But no biggie, I went for it.

Pulling the door apart was straight forward.  But then, the inside door handle broke as I was trying to get the panel off.  I got the bolts out of the outside door handle, the left side (as seen from inside the door), difficult to access as you are trying to get around the lock tumbler, the rod from the inside door handle and the rod going to the inside lock.  By the time I got all apart, it was dark so shut down for the night.

Next day I tried to find an inside door handle at the local auto parts house.  No luck.  Finally had to order it from a large automotive dealership distribution center in Salt Lake City.  Only cost me $29.  But part was located far away so added a week to delivery.

And when I went to install the outside door handle, I found it was cheesy and the tang that is supposed to hold the lock tumbler broke as if it were made of air.  Gobs of Super Glue held it long enough to install (tumbler is actually held fast by left side bolt).  But, left side bolt is impossible for me to get started.  I can't see, and obstacles work against you, and there is no room to get my fingers to turn bolt.  I leave door as is for time being until my new inside handle comes in.  Right bolt holds outside door handle firm enough for temp use.  But, it is not fun to drive truck without panel as it's noisy, I can't operate windows/mirrors/locks.  But it's easy to open door from inside by pulling rod forward.

After I get my new door handle, I have a friend who is a mechanic for Union Pacific Railroad help me.  Quarter inch U-Joint with magnetic socket worked wonders.  I put together the rest of the door, pannel, inside door handle and controls in ten minutes.  Truck is back on the road.  The world is wonderful again.

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Thanks Bob.


Dang!  Double Dang!!  Last night, after dark, and less than two weeks after I got the truck back together again, I went to open the driver door of the Tacoma and ... the outside handle felt akin to a dead fish.  Slop, no door action.  Dang!  Double Dang!! (edited my original language, as I'm keeping this thread PG instead of R here).

I'm hoping that this is a simple matter of the inside rod falling out of the handle and not the handle breaking.  However, due to work hours and inclement weather, I won't get to find out for a few days.  I'm hoping it will be a simple matter of removing the inside panel, popping the rod back into place, clipping it (the Tacoma's clip is built into the door handle and swings over to clip the rod) and reassembling the panel and controls.

If not, then I'm ordering the OEM Tacoma part from the distributor and the heck with the aftermarket cheese.

By the way, for clarification, the inside door handle I bought is an OEM Toyota part.  Based upon what I see, I seriously doubt that the OEM part will be that much more than the wasted $70 I spent on the aftermarket crap.

By the way, I've got plenty of photos of the project that I'll share, but will have to wait until I can get to the library on a day off to send (work computer filters won't let me upload).

Stay tuned to this ongoing issue.

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 I've found an easier way of doing things like this, Dave, I call or text my son. He usually buys the parts and installs them on the RDO after they arrive. Call me a wuss or whatever you want, but it sure saves the obscenities blasting across the desert so bad it makes the rattlesnakes blush!!

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I don't have that luxury, Dusty.  Wish I did.  I hate working on vehicles.

Last night a new thought occured to me, if it becomes necessary to replace the outside door handle again.  I still have the original OEM part and the mechanism still works fine, it's just the handle piece itself that broke out a chunk of the center.  When it broke, I discovered there is secondary ridge that is easily accessed that my fingers fit into when the handle is pulled slightly outward.  If I had known this (it was invisible until the handle broke), I might have avoided this whole fiasco in the first place, because I wouldn't have been pulling harder on the handle but instead using the secondary part to open the door.

Last night I inspected the old handle.  If I take a Dremel tool to smooth out the rough edges, I think I can re-use the original handle again, armed with my new knowledge of how to use Plan B to open the door, thus saving me the cost of a new OEM part.

Of course, if the new problem is found to be caused by the latch rod having simply fallen from the new handle, then it isn't a problem any more.  But I'll keep the original handle because the new one is such an expensive piece of cheese.

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Now for a photo essay of the entire process I described in my first post.

On October 10th, the outside, driver side door handle of my 2002 Toyota Tacoma broke.  It had been increasingly difficult to open the door for about a year.  20/20 hindsight seems to indicate that the latch was in serious need of lubrication and the handle parts were wearing.  The handle itself broke a chunk out of the middle, as indicated by the first photo.

The second photo shows the door panel prior to disassembly.

The third photo shows the back side of the original door handle assembly, after at least one of its two mounting bolts was removed.  The lock tumbler is seen at lower left with its linkage rod still attached.

The fourth photo shows the broken handle assembly with the replacement, aftermarket part.  The lock tumbler is seen next to them.  This was where I stopped for the night, as it was now well after dark.

The fifth photo shows my attempts to replace the door handle assembly on October 11th.  You can see that the door was quite filthy behind the panel, so I took some time to take my air hose to the door, plus wipe down the surfaces.  The OEM plastic film that covers the door cavity is quite thick and was well glued in place.  The small corner that I tore down to access the door handle took some time to carefully open as the glue was tenacious.

The sixth photo shows the new door handle assembly in place but only partially bolted.  The rods for the lock cylinder is in place as well as that for the door latch.  In 20/20 hindsight, I should have taken care to read that prominent MADE IN TAIWAN label, as it was a portent of things to come.

Note the position of the lock tumbler.  Two things.  First, the bolt for the left side of the lock was impossible for me to get in place.  It is just above the lock cylinder.  You must fight to get through the tumbler, its rod, and the rod heading over to the inside door handle assembly (not seen in this photo, but you can see it in photo #3).  I gave up and kept the door handle assembly in place with the right bolt for nearly two weeks while awaiting the arrival of the inside door handle assembly.  Second, note the small ear at about 4 o’clock position on the tumbler.  Toyota provides that plus a tang molded into the back of the door handle assembly to temporarily hold the tumbler in place while the handle assembly is installed.  When the tumbler is attached to the back of the handle assembly, a small twist to the right is to lock the tumbler in place.  The tumbler is permanently held into place by an arm with a hole in which the left side bolt that holds the entire assembly is installed and secured.  The replacement handle’s molded in tang wasn’t shaped correctly and snapped with the slightest twist.  Since I saw that this wasn’t a permanent problem, my temporary solution was Super Glue to hold the tumbler in place.  Wasn’t pretty, but it held for the two weeks the handle was held on only by the opposite side bolt.

Also in the sixth photo, you can see the lever that pushes the rod down to open the door latch.  When the handle is lifted, an extension of the right hand side of the lever past its swivel (the big spring and rod visible) pushes down on the left side of the lever (a small platform is molded into the metal to push down upon, it plainly visible to the right of the rod).  This will be a primary factor in the days to come.

Between October 11th and October 24th, I drove the truck daily sans inside door panel, an outside door handle assembly held on by one bolt and the window/door lock/power mirror switch assembly hanging by its wires.  It was noisy, no place to put my elbow when driving, and just plain ugly.  I could enter the driver side door normally, though gingerly as I didn’t want to strain the handle assembly since it was held by only one bolt.  Getting out of the truck wasn’t a problem, as simply tugging forward gently on the exposed rod ending where the inside door handle assembly should go easily opened the door.

Note the seventh photo.  This was on October 24th at the home of a friend, a Union Pacific Railroad mechanic.  He had just completed installing the bolt that I found impossible, using a quarter inch U-joint with a magnetic socket (bolts are 10mm) and hand turning, then putting on a quarter inch ratchet to tighten.  Took him about two minutes.  This photo also shows that I had just taped up the plastic back to the door using Gorilla brand duct tape.  The plastic cover does help considerably in thwarting resonating noise from the door cavity, plus likely helps somewhat in insulating properties.

The eighth photo shows the job complete.  It was good to have the truck’s door operate normally, restore the usual quietness in the cab.

But, less than two weeks after peace and order was restored to my truck, MADE IN TAIWAN attacked …












On November 4th, eleven days after I thought all was complete with the driver door of my Toyota Tacoma, I left work after dark and walked out to my truck.  When I lifted the outside door handle, nothing.  Just limp feeling sloppiness with no action.  My mind raced.  Was it simply the primary rod heading over to the latch had popped out or did I waste a day’s wage on a defective part?  Inclement weather and work scheduling meant that the answer would have to wait.

On November 7th, on a nice, sunny afternoon, I performed open panel exploratory surgery on my Tacoma’s door.  Look at the first image.  All seems normal.  Everything is intact and the two rods are hooked up.

Reaching around the door and working the latch, I watched.  The rod down to the latch wasn’t moving.  But the lever was.  But it wasn’t moving up and down.  It was moving in and out.  Why?  I couldn’t see.

I retrieved the old door handle, which I hadn’t thrown away yet.  I’m glad I didn’t (note second and third photos).  I sat on a chair in the sun and studied all the moving parts as I worked the handle, in an attempt to understand its inner workings.  I mentioned in my last post how it was supposed to work, but it wasn’t until this moment that I actually understood.  Simple enough concept.

Even with a bright, multiple LED light, it was difficult to see with the new handle assembly installed what was happening to push out the lever, but with enough study it became apparent what was happening, but I still don’t understand how or why.

What was happening was that the extension of the handle that was supposed to push down on the lever was now behind the lever, and the up and down action was simply wedging the handle extension down and pushing the lever out.  I jiggled the lever and found no apparent sloppiness.  I attempted to twist the lever back a bit in hopes to get the handle piece to be back in place on top so it can push, not wedge  But nothing worked.  The lever simply is moving in and out instead of up and down.  I don't know why, except that maybe the handle extension isn't long enough.

Since it is difficult to install the handle assembly, I didn’t pull it out to study it further.  I decided then and there to count my losses and get rid of MADE IN TAIWAN and get an OEM Toyota part (hopefully not made in Taiwan).  I'll put up with having to open the passenger door, reach in to the other side and open the driver door from inside for the short term.  Yes, I might be able to return the defective part, but it would be likely that I’d only get another potentially defective aftermarket part and have to go through all this nonsense again.

So my take away lesson?  20/20 hindsight tells me that since the OEM jigsaw puzzle that created my 2002 Toyota Tacoma TRD 4x4 pickup has lasted and served me faithfully and reliably for the past nearly 14 years since I drove it new off the lot, I’m putting OEM Toyota puzzle pieces back in it if the need arises again.

So now this chapter has ended temporarily until I can get a replacement from Toyota.  When final, I’ll update this thread again.





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OK.  Open door cavity surgery took place Tuesday afternoon (November 17th) to install OEM Toyota outside door handle.  All buttoned up and rocking and rolling.  Hopefully all will work AOK for next decade or two.

I did, however, note that fasteners, rod clips and the like took a beating during repeated and needless open door cavity operations.  One mount clip for the power window wiring connector broke in the process, but if it falls from place, it takes only seconds to reinstall.

Studying the aftermarket replacement handle showed serious flaws in its manufacture that lead to total failure in such a short time.  I learned my lesson.  On hard parts, it will be OEM Toyota in the future.

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Update. In short, all just fine.

Pulling repeatedly the door panel during the operations resulted in four mounting clips too damaged to replace. But I didn't replace them, simply installed the panel with what I had. Panel seems to be doing fine. New handle working as designed. The power window wires and connector haven't come out, but it is a minute job if it does.

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Thanks. The door panel is still missing around three fasteners, but feels firmly attached, doesn’t move around or rattle. I know I can get them here at the auto parts stores, but don’t feel like pulling the panel off and potentially breaking more (to replace three, another three will break, etc.).

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2 minutes ago, David A. Wright said:

Thanks. The door panel is still missing around three fasteners, but feels firmly attached, doesn’t move around or rattle. I know I can get them here at the auto parts stores, but don’t feel like pulling the panel off and potentially breaking more (to replace three, another three will break, etc.).

Makes sense to me... I purchased a set of the most common body clips so I had some on hand, comes in handy.. *IF* I've got the right one.. pretty sure my Jeep is missing one on the drivers door.. no rattle.. no problem!


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