Has your tailgate stopped working, and you can’t open it no matter how much force you apply? Do you want to know what you should do to fix it? You’ve come to the right place, for we have researched this question and have the answer for you.
Here is a summary of the steps that you can follow to unlock a tailgate that will not open.
- Locate the metal rod that hooks to the latch at both sides of the tailgate.
- Insert a thin but long screwdriver into the gap between the tailgate and the wall of your truck.
- Use the screwdriver to unhook the tailgate’s lock from the latch.
- Once you release the lock from one side, keep it in that position and do the same thing to the other side of the tailgate.
Let’s talk more about the latching mechanism of tailgates in the succeeding sections. Learn how to fix the tailgate latch permanently in the sections below.
Before you continue reading, let us say we hope you find the links here useful. If you purchase something through a link on this page, we may get a commission, so thank you!
How does the locking mechanism of tailgates work?
The tailgate is an important part of your truck’s bed. Opening the tailgate makes it simpler to load most cargo into your truck.
Moreover, modern tailgates include tailgate steps and rail that make it easier to get into your truck while carrying heavy cargo. The backing camera found in many newer pickup truck models is also installed on the same latch area to open the tailgate.
These innovations give the tailgate additional functionality.
Unfortunately, most tailgates are not waterproof. Water can easily get in and corrode the mechanism that opens the tailgate. Even the backing camera can have water and moisture problems too.
There are slight differences in the locking mechanism of tailgates, however, they all work in generally the same fashion.
Pulling the tailgate handle will pull two opposite latches toward the center. The movement of the latches toward the center of the tailgate pulls two opposite rods to the center too. This movement pulls the two locking pins from both sides of the tailgate and releases them.
The tailgates in SUVs use a similar mechanism. However, it is common for SUV tailgates to latch only from one side of the tailgate.
If the tailgate opens upward, the locking mechanism will be at the base of the tailgate. Closing the tailgate will make it latch to a hook at the bottom of the floor of the SUV.
If the tailgate opens to one side, the locking mechanism will be on the opposite side of the hinges. Although for SUV tailgates that open to one side, the latch locks onto a hook that is not below the wall level.
The hook for the floor, on the other hand, should be below floor level. Installing the hooking lock below the floor level ensures that it will not become a tripping hazard.
Common Tailgate Locking Problems
Problems with the locking mechanism of tailgates are usually similar across different manufacturers.
For pickup trucks, the most common problem is the locking clip that keeps the rod in place. This clip is commonly plastic. It prevents the rod and the latch from rubbing against each other. Since these parts are both made of metal, any rubbing will cause wear on these two metal parts.
As the plastic clips absorb the friction from the movement of the rod, they will eventually wear out, crack, and fall off. Once a plastic clip falls off, the metal rod will also fall out of the metal latch.
Once this happens, pulling on the tailgate handle will no longer open the tailgate because the connecting rod will not receive the force coming from the handle.
SUVs can have the same problem. Although SUVs commonly use a steel cable instead of a metal rod, a plastic lock keeps the steel cable in place.
Replacing the plastic locking clip will solve this problem.
Another common problem is rust or corrosion on the hinges.
When the central hinge starts to rust, the latches will no longer move freely. You will notice that the tailgate handle doesn’t freely return after you pull on it. This is a sign that the hinge is starting to rust, and this restricts the movement of the two latches.
When the two latches seize or when their movement becomes too restricted, they will no longer return to their original position after you pull on the handle. This can cause the locks of the tailgate to stay open, and you will have a tailgate that opens but doesn’t stay closed.
A tailgate that doesn’t stay close can be dangerous to trucks because this can cause your cargo to fall off the bed of the truck. This is also dangerous to SUVs because this can give access to the inside of the vehicle.
Additionally, a frozen hinge will also seize the lock. You will not be able to pull the handle to release the lock in this situation.
Spray and soak rust remover on the rusted hinges to dissolve the rust. Once you’ve taken care of the rust, spray some corrosion inhibitor to prevent the hinge from becoming rusty once more.
Keep in mind that it is important to inspect the hinge for rust damage before spending time and money to get rid of the corrosion. If the area is already weak because of rust, it is best to replace it. Additionally, if the hinge is completely frozen, it is best to replace it.
Most truck models allow you to replace the whole latch assembly since the hinge is not removable.
Similarly, the latches that lock the tailgate can seize and prevent you from opening them.
This problem can be from corrosion that prevents the latch mechanism from moving freely when you try to open the tailgate.
Here are some simple steps to get rid of corrosion on your latches.
- Remove the bolts that keep the latches in place to get access to the interior mechanism.
- Spray some penetrating oil to get rid of corrosion. Let it soak for a few hours.
- Check the movement of the latches. If it is still a little stiff, spray some more penetrating oil and let it soak some more.
- Do this as regular maintenance during the wet season to prevent corrosion buildup that will seize the latches.
Another reason why the latches would seize is ice build-up. As we talked about earlier, most tailgates are not waterproof—especially the ones on trucks. Moisture on the latches can cause them to freeze once the temperature drops.
Spray some deicer on the latches to melt the ice and get the latches working once more.
Once you get the latches working, dry them, then spray some lock lubricant to protect the locks from freezing again.
Here is one trick that you can try, but it only works on tailgates of SUVs that have keyholes.
Dip your car key in Vaseline, then insert it into the keyhole of the tailgate. Repeat this process several times to coat the interior of the lock with Vaseline. The layer of Vaseline will protect the lock from accumulating water.
Your locks will not freeze if water cannot stay on the latches and keyholes.
How to fix a tailgate that will not open?
Here are the steps that you can follow to fix the locking mechanism on your tailgate so that it will lock and unlock properly.
Preparing Your Vehicle
- Park your vehicle on level ground.
- Activate the parking brake.
- Set the transmission to Park(P) if your vehicle has an automatic transmission. Alternatively, set the transmission of the vehicle to the first gear if it has a manual transmission.
Fixing The Problematic Lock
- Remove the interior panel of the tailgate. If you’re working on an SUV, use plastic trim removers to remove the panel from the inside of your vehicle.
- In some pickup trucks, you will need to remove the front handle cover first.
- Next, unhook the connecting rod from the two latches inside.
- Remove the bolts that keep the locking mechanism in place so that you can pull it out and inspect it.
- Once you get access to the latching mechanism, identify the problem by checking the list of possible causes above.
- The plastic clip for the connecting rod is almost universal for tailgates that use a connecting rod. It will come in different colors, and the colors often indicate the size of the clip.
- Get a replacement clip that matches the color of the broken clip to get the right size.
- If the clip in your vehicle doesn’t have a color, get the part number to get the right replacement.
- Follow the solution for the different possible problems above to take care of your tailgate lock permanently.
- Reassemble the lock after you fix the issue.
There are several possible reasons why the tailgate of your vehicle will not open. Determine the root cause of the problem to fix it permanently.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might find the articles below equally enjoyable to read: