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I have a 1997 Toyota Corolla that I've been keeping as a spare/project car. Although the car runs reliably, it will need a new engine (it seems to be burning coolant), but until I get around to that, there's plenty of little things to fix on this car to make it more pleasantly usable as a spare for when one of the daily drivers breaks down.

This week's project is to get the passenger front door to friggin open.

  • It's locked
  • There are no power locks on this trim level
  • The key won't turn all the way to unlock the door
  • The inside pull knob won't lift all the way up to unlock the door

If the door was open, it would be a breeze to remove the door trim panel and access the locking mechanism and troubleshoot from there, but one of the screws is inaccessible with the door closed, as are the 3 edges of the door trim panel that are secured by "christmas tree" fasteners.

How do I get this door unlocked?

  • A picture would help – Zaid Dec 12 '16 at 20:35
  • It turned out to be a plastic "collar" whose job seemed to be to hold the unlock button lined up. The collar was cracked, so instead of sliding in and out of it's opening, it was catching on the opening and jamming the whole works. I simply removed it. See my answer on how to remove the door panel for access. – tlhIngan Dec 12 '16 at 20:46
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    Good job with the Q&A – Zaid Dec 12 '16 at 20:46
  • crowbar or jaws of life :) – Old_Fossil Dec 12 '16 at 23:52
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    I agree with @Zaid. This is an excellent example of a self-answered question. Thanks for taking the time to write the answer once you figured out the problem. It's helpful for the community. Hopefully others will see it and not be afraid to share the answer to their own question! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Dec 13 '16 at 20:20
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Well, here's what ended up working.

  1. From inside the car, roll down the window.
  2. There's a piece of rubber weatherstripping along the outside bottom edge of the window, pry it out gently with a flat head screwdriver. It's only held by little tabs.
  3. Remove the inside door handle. It's 1 screw, then you need to slide the handle assembly forward (there are 4 L-shaped notches behind it that slide in backwards holding the assembly on, so slide forward to remove)
  4. With a flat head screw driver, pop the top cap of the door-attached armrest off.
  5. Now you have access to 2 screws. Take 'em off.
  6. Many trim levels have manual crank windows. Take the crank off. The best way is to grab a rag, slide it up between the crank and the trim panel and slide it left to right until "the stupid clip" pops right out. The window crank just pulls off after that.
  7. With a flat head screwdriver, pry the top of the door trim panel up and over the unlock button. The top part of the panel is not held by anything, it's just hanging over the metal frame of the door by 5 little lips. Yes, it will stretch enough to clear that unlock button.
  8. Between the door trim panel and the steel door frame, there's a tin reinforcement "thing." It was held at the bottom by those 2 screws behind the armrest, the top is being held by about 5 little clips. Gently pry them open with a flat head screwdriver while pulling the tin reinforcement up.
  9. The door trim panel is quite bendy, push it into the car to get enough clearance to remove the black tin piece.
  10. At this stage, you need to remove the plastic "vapour barrier." If you don't have enough clearance between the door trim panel and the steel door frame, push the door trim panel further off. There is a screw between the door and the dash that you can't get to just yet, but the rest of the door is only held on by "christmas tree" fasteners. If you have a generic trim removal tool, pry those fasteners off from the inside. You can work your way most of the way down the door.
  11. Now, remove the "vapour barrier." Work from the edge (I only used my fingers) and pull on the glue, not on the sheet.
  12. This exposes a steel reinforcement held on by 4 bolts and a nut. They are all 10 mm and should be accessible by pushing the door trim panel enough.
  13. With that steel reinforcement removed, you have access to the locking mechanism inside the door. Put some light on it, play with the key and the unlock button, look for what the trouble is. Once you get the door unlocked, get the door open and remove the rest of the door trim panel.
  • thanks heaps, same problem in not being able to get door open. once in and liberal doses of wd40 and freed up rusted mechanism cheers – gerry Nov 3 '18 at 21:09
  • Same problem with a Suzuki swift where first the lock arm and then the central locking mechanism broke leaving the door permanently locked. After pulling the door trim off into the inside (which thankfully is possible in this car) it made it possible to access the cable for the lock, by grabbing this with long-nosed pliers and wiggling it while also hitting the button on the remote it finally opened. – izak Dec 3 '18 at 15:05
  • Thank you for the description. This worked to get the passenger door of my 1999 Toyota Corolla to open. I was able to get at the mechanism and push down a metal part that for some reason (probably loss of lubrication) was stuck. – alfredo May 26 at 3:02

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