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Replacing Door Handles

Door switch cleaning

Recently, a forum member asked about replacing an exterior door handle on a Kia Spectra. His question revolved around removing the old parts and whether he had to remove the door panel to do so.

The short answer is "yes." Replacing door handles is a difficult job simply because most of the parts you'll be removing and putting back into place are cosmetic and expensive to replace if broken. Most of the time, replacing the door handle will consist of from one to five parts. Usually, it is the handle itself that breaks, but it could be a cover or beauty plate (aka "pad") or, rarely, connections to the latch itself.

The first thing to know is that to get to the rivets or bolts holding the door handle in place, you'll have to take the door panel and possibly some accessories off of the inside of the door first. This is where things get problematic for the DIY mechanic who may not be experienced with cosmetic work. The handles, possibly a beauty plate, and various trim pieces will often need to be removed before removing the actual door panel (cover).

Many of these may be held in place with plastic retainers that are easily broken and will likely need to be replaced if they are. In addition, removing those retainers incorrectly can crack or mar the door panel, making it aesthetically unpleasing. Many of these risks can be mitigated by using a door trim panel retainer clip tool, a simple (usually) plastic tool that makes removing those panel clips without breaking them far easier.

Further, upon purchase of your door handle and parts, ask for or buy some retainer clips from your dealer or parts supplier. These are relatively universal and if they do not "show" on the outside of the door panel (they usually don't), they shouldn't be expensive as no color-matching is required. You're sure to ruin most of the retaining clips you remove, so expect to replace all of them.

Once the panel is off, you're ready to tackle the door handle. On late model cars, there are likely electrical connections (door locks, window controls, etc) that should be unplugged. The door handle should be accessible with the window rolled up and will be held in place by screws or rivets. Rivets will have to be carefully drilled out and replaced. Most door handle replacement kits will include these.

For the DIY mechanic, replacing a door handle is a tedious job, but it can be done on most vehicles in an hour or so. An experience body shop technician can usually do it in less than half that time.