Broken garage door rails are nothing to be ignored. At best they're an inconvenience, and at worse, they're a serious risk to you and your family. Garage doors require a delicate balance to function correctly, so when one part breaks then more parts tend to follow.
Don't neglect your rails to the point of needing to replace more parts than you have to! Stay on top of these familiar, easy to fix issues and save yourself from future headaches. Of course, the first step to fixing our rails is finding them.
You may have had a hard time finding a satisfactory answer to this question.
What’s the difference between rails and tracks?
Is there a difference at all?
After traveling deep enough down the rabbit hole, you’ll find that yes, there is a slight difference. Just as a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square, the same applies to rails and tracks.
The word rail refers specifically to the middle track, the one that attaches to your garage door opener on one end, and the wall above the door on the other. Tracks can also be the ones located on the sides of the door, but today we're only interested in the rail!
Every rail has a piece that slides along it called a trolley.
Trollies are identifiable by the metal arm that attaches them to the top-middle of the garage door. The motor in the garage door opener causes the trolley to move backward or forward along the rail, guiding the door open.
There are three main types of garage door rails which correspond to different classes of garage door openers; Screw drives, chain drives, and belt drives.
Each type comes with its own set of pros and cons, as well as challenges.
The concept of screw drive rails is simple. A track with a metal rod, threaded just like any other screw, runs along the ceiling from the wall above your garage door to the garage door opener.
The rail has a trolley with teeth in it, and the trolley connects to the door with a metal arm. As the rod rotates, it pulls the trolley by its teeth and allows the door to open.
Here is an example of a screw drive rail.
Screw drive rails are becoming less used over time, which tells you it might be time for an upgrade! They are cheaper and less noisy than chain drive rails, but they’re also less durable and unable to hold as much weight.
If your trolley gets stuck when you try to open the door, chances are that the teeth inside the trolley have worn out.
You'll know the teeth are reaching the end of their life when the trolley runs visibly less smoothly along the rails. Fortunately, replacement trollies run $ to $$ and are quick to install.
First, you'll want to detach the arm from the trolley by removing the bolt that connects them. The tools required vary between models, so use your best judgment. You'll need a ladder, though.
When you remove the bolt make sure not just to let the arm drop. Guide it slowly down with your hands, so it rests against the door.
Next, to remove the old trolley and replace it with a new one, you'll have to disconnect the rail from the wall above the garage door. The rail is attached to the wall with a mount, so remove it from the mount by loosening the nut holding it together with a wrench.
Now you should be able to slide the trolley off the rail and replace it with the new one. Put it back together the same way, and voila!
If all went well, your garage door should be functioning correctly once more. Remember to keep your rod lubricated to reduce erosion on the trolley teeth!
Chains are the most common type of rail because they're durable, hold weight, and are only moderately expensive. The downside to these is that they’re very noisy, especially if you forget to lubricate them regularly.
Chain drive rails function much like an electric bicycle. Sprockets are at each end of the track. The motor in the garage door opener rotates one of the gears, while the other allows the chain to move around the track in a circle. The chain pulls the trolley attached to the door with the metal arm and allows the door to open.
Here is an article from Family Handyman about diagnosing problems with chain drive rails.
Does your garage door open smoothly but sounds noticeably louder than it used to? Try lubricating the chain!
Not only will regular lubrication reduce noise, but it will also increase the life of your chain by preventing wear and tear.
While chains on garage door rails should have a little slack, they shouldn't be so loose that they're jumping off the rail or smacking into it, making a ton of noise. Luckily all you need to fix them is a wrench and a ladder.
Facing the garage door, check the left side of the trolly for a bolt connected to the chain. Remember the trolley is the piece that slides along the rail to help guide the door open.
Loosen both nuts on the bolt, tighten the one closest to the garage door tighter than it was, then tighten the other one. The chain should now have less slack in it.
Play around with the tightness to find the perfect amount of tension in the chain.
If your chain does jump off the rail and is no longer rotating around the gears, it's still an easy fix.
Simply create slack in the chain by loosening the nuts where the chain connects to the trolley, just as you would when tightening the chain.
Next, place the chain back around the gears at each end of the rail and tighten the nuts back into place. Make sure to the chain has the proper amount of tension to run smoothly.
When the rail is not functioning properly, check for a crunching sound coming from inside the garage door opener itself. Do you hear it? Chances are the gear inside the motor needs replacement.
You require a model number in order the necessary parts to fix this issue. Locate the number on the garage door opener and contact the manufacturer or go online.
The process of replacing motor gears varies between models, but step one is always to disconnect the opener from its power source. For step two, unscrew and remove the case from the opener so you have access to its inner parts.
Next, locate the worn out gear connected to a plate at the top of the opener. Take out the screws holding the plate in place, and remove the small gear connected to the main gear.
Once the main gear is free, lift it straight up and out of the motor. You'll notice that the top plate of the garage door opener comes with it.
Free the top of the plate from the chain and finally, replace the old worn out gear with the new one. Then, put it all back together!
For more information, we suggest you consult a how-to video on YouTube such as this one.
Belt drive rails work just like chains but are made of rubber reinforced with steel. Strong and durable, yet smooth and quiet, they are the height of garage door luxury!
As you might’ve guessed, they are more expensive than chain or screw drives. The belts will need replacing every so often.
A great example of a high-quality opener with a belt drive is the Chamberlain B970.
You'll know when your belt needs replacing when your door won't move, and you've ruled out other possibilities, such as your garage door opener not getting power.
Replacing a belt is a little more complicated than everything else we've discussed, so you should refer to your opener manual or a how-to video that gives you step by step instructions.
The process involves disconnecting the opener and rail from the walls so they can be laid out on the floor. From there the belt can be removed and replaced. Here are example instructions of a product from the Chamberlain Group.
Rest easy knowing that belt replacement only happens every ten years or so! Garage door openers that use belt drives require much less maintenance in general. Don't let the complexity of belt replacement scare you away!
While we've covered the most frequent issues to occur with garage door rails, many things can go wrong with the opener itself.
All moving parts are subject to wear and tear. Circuit boards can give out, and wires may need replacing. Any of these could prevent the rail from working the way it should.
The best way to identify problems with the garage door opener yourself is to understand how they work beforehand. We suggest studying your manual and finding information about your model on the internet.