How Power Door Locks Work

By: Karim Nice

Inside the Actuator

This actuator can move the metal hook shown in this photo to the left or right. When mounted in the car, it is vertical, so the hook can move up or down. It mimics your motions when you pull the knob up or push it down.

­­­The power-door-lock actuator is a pretty straightforward device. ­

Inside the power-door-lock actuator

This system is quite simple. A small electric motor turns a series of spur gears that serve as a gear reduction. The last gear drives a rack-and-pinion gearset that is connected to the actuator rod. The rack converts the rotational motion of the motor into the linear motion needed to move the lock.


One interesting thing about this mechanism is that while the motor can turn the gears and move the latch, if you move the latch it will not turn the motor. This is accomplished by a neat centrifugal clutch that is connected to the gear and engaged by the motor.

Centrifugal clutch on the drive gear

When the motor spins the gear, the clutch swings out and locks the small metal gear to the larger plastic gear, allowing the motor to drive the door latch. If you move the door latch yourself, all of the gears will turn except for the plastic gear with the clutch on it.