How to Test the Most Important Safety Feature on Automatic Garage Doors

Garage doors are the largest moving objects in the typical home, weighing as much as 1,000 pounds apiece. That means they can cause serious injury — even death — if they aren’t properly maintained. Most homes are now built with automatic garage doors, meaning that homeowners need to pay attention to the condition both of doors themselves and of garage door openers (the machines that actually raise and lower the doors). On average, an electric opener lifts and lowers a 150- to 250-pound door more than a thousand times each year.

One of the most important safety features in an automatic garage door setup is the auto-reverse system. This is what prevents the door from crushing something or someone beneath it. When problems arise in this system, the fault can lie either with the sensor “eye” that locates objects under the door, or in the opener itself. There are three tests you can perform to check that your auto-reverse function is working as intended. Do all these at least once a year:

  1. Stationary Object Blocking Eye
    Starting with your garage door open, test your sensor by blocking the eye with a stationary object. Since these sensors are generally low to the ground, an object such as a roll of paper towels works well (a bucket or other cheap garden item would also serve this purpose). Press the close button; your garage door should refuse to descend.
  2. Stationary Object Not Blocking Eye
    Next, place an object such that it is in the door’s path, but does not block the sensor eye. A sawhorse is the easiest choice, though a folding chair or small ladder might also work depending on configuration. Press the close button; the garage door should descend until it touches the object, but then immediately reverse.
  3. Moving Object in Door’s Path
    Finally, select a long item such as a broom handle or rake. Press the close button, then wave the object in the door’s path. As soon as the moving object passes in front of the sensor, the door should reverse.

If your door fails any one of the three tests, then you should carry out further troubleshooting immediately. If the problem is with the sensor, you may be able to fix it yourself. Clean the eye and make sure it is pointing in a straight beam underneath the garage door. If the mounting is wrong, you can get garage door replacement parts from a local supplier.

Barring this kind of simple fix, it’s probably time to call the garage door repair company. If you’ve already been looking at garage door replacement parts, don’t let that tempt you to take on a project that’s really outside your expertise; this is one system you want working exactly as intended.

Do you have any recommendations on choosing garage door replacement parts or hiring garage door companies? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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