How to Install an Outside Door Handle on a 1995-2000 Dodge Avenger
There are two kinds of Dodge Avenger owners: Those whose plastic door handles have snapped off in their hand, and those who will have their door handles snap off in their hand. Mine came off about 3 weeks ago, and I soon tired of tugging on a shoelace tied to the inside handle, that is if I remembered to drape it outside the door. So I researched the very helpful ASOG web site forum, printed out a lot of tips and procedures, read over the (less helpful) Chilton Manual procedures, wrote a step-by-step procedure of my own, and set to work.
The following is my procedure, updated by actual experience gained in a task that took me over 5 hours to do. If you follow this procedure outlined here, you should be able to beat me by a substantial margin.
Since writing this in August, my passenger door handle also snapped off. There are a few different things about the passenger door repair, which I have added to this procedure.
Get the door handle assembly from your local Dodge or Mitsubishi dealer. (Left door P/N MR712045, right MR712053, at least for 1999, probably other years too) It will be cheaper by almost $10 if you claim to have a Mitsubishi Mirage of the same year, in my case a 1999, and get the identical part from a Mitsubishi dealer. I would advise against getting a used part, because the plastic gets brittle with age and heat, at least mine did in the southeast Texas climate. The unpainted assembly comes in black (or white) and must be painted. I found an exact match in Dupli-Color ® at O—Reilly’s for my bright red Avenger, masked off the working components and spray-painted the handle and bezel (4 coats). Let dry for overnight, and then roll up your sleeves.
Tools you will need
- Phillips and blade screwdrivers
- Door panel "pop" tool or wide, thin pry tool
- Sturdy box or child's stool 10 inches high or less
- Needle-nose vise-grip
- 10 mm socket wrench (optional)
- 10 mm flat box wrench (required)
- Tools to disconnect negative terminal of battery
Door Panel Removal
I thought this was going to be tough, but it turned out to be very easy. Be sure the window is UP before you disconnect the battery (if you have power windows).
1. Disconnect the negative terminal of the battery. The loss of power will cause your clock to need resetting, but not the other settings on the radio. This was the only consequence I detected for disconnecting the battery.
2. Remove 4 Phillips head screws, two on the leading (forward) edge of the panel, two on the aft (rear) edge. (See diagram)
3. Gently pry up a little cap at the bottom of your arm rest pull cavity, and remove the Phillips screw you will find beneath it.
4. Pull inside door handle toward you, and remove the Phillips screw you will find behind the handle.
5. Use a screwdriver tip to gently pry the plastic liner that surrounds the inner door handle and manual door lock. It will pop loose, then remove it.
6. There are 8 plastic push-in clips that secure the door panel. A broad bladed "pop" tool is available at most auto parts stores and Wal-Marts that makes the chore of loosening the panel easier, but you can get by with a screwdriver. Pop the 6 clips (you can't see them, of course) located along the bottom edge of the door panel first, the two on top will pop loose all by themselves when you swing the panel up a short distance (not too far, you've got wires going from door to the door panel)
7. Position the box to support the panel when it's loose from the car.
8. Gently pull the door panel up and out to release the top edge of the panel from the inner window sill. Balance the panel on the box a few inches away from the door, so you can see behind it. NOTE: The Chilton procedure calls for disconnecting the inner handle linkage. There is no reason to do this that I encountered and I didn't do it.
9. Look behind the panel to see a bundle of wires going to a white electrical connector on the bottom of the button box that controls locks and power windows (diagram at right).
10. You have an option at this point:
A. Remove 4 screws (use a mirror to see them) on the sides of the button box and just let the box dangle (disconnect it after taking it off the door panel if you want to); or
B. Unplug the connector. If you elect to do this, the connector has a locking tab between the socket and the inside wall of the door panel, and is a little hard to access. Press this tab inward into the socket with your finger, it is similar in action to the tabs on telephone cord connectors, and use a small screw driver to nudge the connector loose. Remember automotive connectors are almost always easy to connect, and hard to disconnect!
The panel may be set to one side. You will find a possibly loose piece of Styrofoam sound deadening. It may be in place, or it may be dangling off the panel or perhaps stuck to the door. It was secured at the factory by three small screws, but screws without big washers and Styrofoam tear loose very easily. I duct taped my lump of Styrofoam back in place.
Pause to admire the goo slathered all over the inner door surface, ostensibly to secure the plastic weather seal in place. They used WAY too much, and the stuff runs down from under the panel and onto the door sill to end up soiling my pants and more importantly my wife's pants and pantyhose unless I keep after it with charcoal lighter. Take a few minutes sometime in this job to take off the excess goo with charcoal lighter fluid and a putty knife! You will find it pooled in the bottom of the door panel, too. Peel back the plastic from the top rear area of the door. This is where you will be doing "keyhole surgery" (I'm not kidding).
1. The handle assembly is secured to the door by two 10 mm bolts. The outer one is on the surface of the door edge, above the latching mechanism (see diagram at right). Remove it using a 10 mm wrench, socket, or Phillips screwdriver.
2. The inner bolt is visible through a peep hole in the door, or by peering up through a larger opening just forward of the peephole. It's dark up in there and a good flashlight is necessary. You are looking through the bottom of the door glass where it bolts into the power window assembly, when you look through the peep hole. The bolt is just above and aft of the lock cylinder. You will also note a wire C-clip or keeper that is positioned around the socket for the lock cylinder. There should be a new one on the handle assembly you bought, so you can study how this clip is attached (See diagram at right, and note location of inner bolt)
3. Remove the C-Clip by prying either the top or bottom out of the groove. Use a small flat blade screw drive under the C-Clip wire and just pry it up (or down) out of the groove. Use a needle nose pliers to then grab the lock cylinder socket and remove it the rest of the way. Be careful not to disturb an electrical assembly on the end of the cylinder (if you have the factory burglar alarm) or to undo the rod which runs down into the latch assembly on the door from the lock cylinder. (Updated by Rich Starr with Rodger’s approval.)
My handle assembly was so brittle removing the clip broke off the top part of the lock cylinder socket. No matter, the handle assembly will be discarded anyway. Keep the clip as a spare.
4. Use a 1/4 inch drive ratchet with a 10mm socket to remove the inner mounting bolt. (This works much easier than an open end or box end wrench; updated by Rich Starr with Rodger’s approval.) If it falls down into the door, there's plenty of room down there to retrieve it.
5. The handle assembly is now loose in the door. Move to the outside of the door and gently move and wiggle the handle assembly away from the outer surface of the door, enough to see the plastic clip that keeps the gold-colored rod (extending up from below) attached to the metal arm on the handle assembly. When you pull up on the handle, this arm moves down and actually unlatches the car door via the gold rod. There's a lot of play in this rod, but be careful not to bend where it slides up and down on the top of the latch assembly. Study how this clip and the rod go together (See diagram below), because you're going to have to insert the rod and fasten the clasp on this clip on the new handle largely by feel.
NOTE: In order to do the next step, you may have to break off some more of the handle assembly to bring it out enough to get to the gold rod where it attaches to the metal arm. That's OK because this assembly will be discarded anyway. Just don't bend the gold rod or its linkage. [Tony added that one shoudl definitely follow Rodger's suggestion on removing the door latch assembly. “It made it possible to connect the gold connecting rod outside the door instead of trying to do inside the door, which is next to impossible.”]
6. Open the clasp on the clip and then pull out the rod. You get a new clip with the handle assembly, and I would be suspicious of the old clip's condition. The clasp opens if you insert the blade of a screwdriver between the ends of the clasp and pop it.
7. If the lock cylinder hasn't come out by this time, push it out of the handle assembly with your finger. The rod connecting to the latch assembly will keep the cylinder in the vicinity of the door handle. You can now take out the old handle assembly.
Installing New Handle Assembly
1. Be sure that the gold rod clip clasp on the new handle assembly is open. Note whether the longer tab on the clasp is toward the inside or the outside with respect to the door. The driver door clasp longer tab is usually on the inside, the passenger door longer tab is usually outside (because they use the same clip on both sides of the car). Study how the clasp works, using a screwdriver shaft to stand in for the god rod. As you will see, pushing on the longer tab is how the clasp is closed. You can only push on the tab if it is toward the inside. You can’t reach the tab to close the clasp if it’s on the outside. There’s simply no room inside the door cavity. Use the procedure for passenger door below, if the longer tab is on the outside.
2. Loosely place the handle assembly into the hole in the outer door panel, and hold it in place with your fingers as you move to the inner side of the door. Verify that the gold rod is in position to be plugged into its hole on the arm on the handle assembly, as shown in the sketch above. It helps to put a bit of masking tape or scotch tape on the clip to keep it in position for the gold rod to move into the clasp on the clip with the end of the gold rod going into its hole.
3. Driver Door Repair: If you—re doing a passenger door repair, skip down to 3A below.
Move the lock assembly out of the way (DON’t disconnect anything) to give yourself a little more room. Holding the door handle assembly flush against the door, temporarily install the outer (door edge) 10 mm bolt.
Somehow wiggle your hand up into the area to position the gold rod end around the clasp and into the hole in the clip that goes through the metal arm. This will take patience and determination. Eventually, you will get the gold rod into the arm, with the clasp around the gold rod (it took me about 30 minutes). Then with your finger push the longer end of the clasp toward the smaller end until you hear it "snap" closed. If you can’t get your hand in there far enough to close the clasp, refer to Step 5A below. It will help you if you practice the clasp closing a few times with the old handle assembly clip. The sound of the clasp closing will be a very satisfying moment for you! Take out the outer 10 mm bolt and go to step 6 below.
Note: make no attempt to try and insert the gold rod into its clip and close the clasp outside the door before you mount the handle assembly! It may look as though you can do this, but the geometry simply will not allow you to connect the gold rod and then install the handle. I tried for over an hour to find some way to wiggle the handle into position after connecting it to the gold rod. I don’t think it can be done, without bending or breaking something. Since I am an industrial engineer, I tried to fathom how the handle was installed and connected on the Mitsubishi assembly line in Illinois. The procedure described here would be much too time-consuming for a line. I think the handle is installed before the inner wall of the door is welded in place, but that’s a guess. Isn’t it sad that such a poorly designed part also had no maintainability engineering!
3A. Passenger Door Repair: If you—re doing a passenger door repair, skip down to 3A below.
3A. Move the lock assembly out of the way (DON’t disconnect anything) to give yourself a little more room. Temporarily install the outside 10 mm bolt to hold the handle assembly in place.
4A. Somehow wiggle your hand up into the area to position the gold rod end around the clasp and into the hole in the clip that goes through the metal arm. This will take patience and determination. Eventually, you will get the gold rod into the arm, with the clasp around the gold rod (it took me about 30 minutesboth times.)
5A. If the longer tab on the clasp is toward the outside of the door (as it most likely is on a passenger door handle), take out the outer 10 mm bolt, and gently pull up on the outer lower edge of the handle assembly enough to peek inside and up to see the gold rod in its place, with the clasp open. Reach in to push on the clasp tab to close the clasp. When you hear the "snap," you will be very glad!
Note: make no attempt to try and insert the gold rod into its clip and close the clasp outside the door before you mount the handle assembly! It may look as though you can do this, but the geometry simply will not allow you to connect the gold rod and then install the handle. I tried for over an hour to find some way to wiggle the handle into position after connecting it to the gold rod. I don’t think it can be done, without bending or breaking something.
Both driver and passenger doors
6. Insert the lock cylinder into the lock cylinder socket. It’s keyed to go in with the keyhole vertical. The lock cylinder rod to the latch assembly keeps it from rotating very much, anyway. Be sure to do this before the next step, because there is not enough clearance between the window and the lock cylinder socket to insert the lock cylinder after the handle assembly is bolted in place. Re-install outer 10 mm bolt.
7. Install the C-Clip before installing the inner mounting bolt. This is very important. The C-Clip is very hard if not impossible to install if the inner mounting bolt is installed first. Using your hand, place the top wire of the C-Clip into the top groove. Using either your fingers, a small flat blade screw driver, or needle nose pliers pop the lower, wire of the C-Clip into the lower groove. You may have more patience and force capability, but be careful not to brute force anything around that flimsy plastic, or damage the lock cylinder and its electrical assembly mounted on the back of it. Remember that the "ears" point inward toward you.
8. Install the inner mounting bolt. Start it by using your fingers. You may have to loosen the outer mounting bolt so you can align the inner hole properly. Be patient, you will be able to get it started by hand. Once it is started screw it in as far as you can by hand. Use a 1/4 inch ratchet and 10mm socket to finish tightening the outer mounting bolt first and then the inner bolt.
Re-installing Door Panel
1. Inspect all the push-on door clips to be sure (a) there are all present and (b) undamaged. Any car-part store has such clips in stock. I made sure they stayed in place by putting a bit of duct tape around their mountings to keep these little plastic parts from slipping out as I reinstalled the door panel.
2. Smooth the plastic liner on the inner door back into place. If the goo won't hold, use some duct tape.
3. Rest the panel on the box by the door, and re-connect the electrical connector to the button box. The locking tab goes next to the panel inner surface, and the connector will click right into place. Alternatively, if you just unscrewed the button box, re-install it.
4. Taking care not to put strain on the wires, tuck the upper edge of the panel under the rubber trim at the top of the door sill. If you start at one end and tuck it in, the whole panel edge will pop into place.
5. Swing the panel downward, you will hear the 2 upper door clips engage, and then with the heel of your hand hit one end of the bottom of the panel, progress forward to the other end. The panel is back in place.
6. Install the four edge screws, two on the forward (front) edge and two on the aft (rear) edge of the panel.
7. Pulling the inner door handle toward you, work the inside handle liner back into position and install the screw that holds the liner in place.
8. Install the screw at the bottom of the arm rest pull cavity. If your car is like mine, the plastic around that screw has broken away with 5 years of pulling on that armrest to close the door. I put a big washer around the screw and painted the screw and washer black to camouflage it.
9. Reconnect the negative terminal of the battery, run the engine with no accessories on for a few minutes to re-program the central computer. Test door controls to be sure they once again operate. If they don't, you didn't connect the wires back up!
That's it. Your door handle will probably last longer, if you adopt a procedure I have: use the handle just to operate the latch. As soon as the door comes open, use the edge of the door to open the very heavy door. That handle is just too flimsy to move that much mass without breaking sooner or later, as in fact it does.
— Rodger Koppa, College Station, Texas
I owned a 1999 Sebring LXi and experienced the same broken handles. I purchased a 1998 Avenger with the same issue. I figured out if you take out the 3 bolts under the exterior bolt for handle (which is the locking hinge) the entire unit will slide down to make it easier to get the handles out of the door and to install the new ones. One side took me 3 hours then I figured this step out and the second handle took me 30 minutes. Great directions by the way.
— Matthew Greene
Thanks to Rodger Coppa for the instructions on the installation of the Dodge Avenger passenger door handle! His instructions were right on target! My husband and I tackled this job for my daughter's car. I found the door handle at the local U-Auto pull it yard, new, in the box for $28 (the Mitsubishi Eclipse door handle fit instead of the Mirage as stated). The Dodge dealership price was $89! I went to the Local Auto Zone and picked up the door "pop" tool for $5.99. It worked beautifully, and did not
break any panel clips. I did not need the mirror at all. We did however need to break the ears off the clip that holds the lock mechanism in place and taped it because it was near impossible to put that c-clip back on. Otherwise, this was an easy project. The worst thing about all of it was the inside bolt that you have to loosen in the "keyhole" work. We did use two sizes of flashlights, a large square one and a regular one. Thanks again to Rodger for his time and effort to write this entire procedure! I could not have done this without those instructions.
— Karen and Robert Mullins, Bossier City, Louisiana