Repair and General Information About Your Imperial's Headlight Doors

 


Imperial Home Page -> Repair -> Electrical System ->Headlights -> Motors


Question from Bradley (1968):

I just acquired a 1968 Chrysler 300 Convertible. I assume it has the same headlight door system as the Fuselage cars that succeeded it at both Chrysler and Imperial levels. The doors work fine for now but I would like to acquire a new / rebuilt motor in case I ever need one. Do you guys / gals rebuild them (if so, is there a source of rebuild kits), do you get them as NOS from some obsolete parts supplier (if so, who do you recommend), or do you acquire them from salvage cars (such as Murray Park in Ohio).

Replies:

From John:

I used to have a '68 300. I do not remember the difference in operation, but am fairly certain the '68 motors work differently than later ones. It seems that there was something about current flow/ground that changed. I currently have '69 and '73 Imperials and a 78 NYB. I am having a relay problem with my '69, and have seen mention of a different relay for late '69 cars, which may be an indicator to when they changed things. Please do your research; it has been nearly 5 years since I had the 300 and I may be mistaken about the differences.

From John S:

Actually, the "newer" one for 69 is after "approx" build date Dec 16th 1968.

From Kenyon:

There are two coiled strips of metal on either end that serve as springs. Follow the actuation rod out to the end and you'll see them. My 73 did the exact same thing, where one eyelid didn't want to go the last 1/4 inch and just hung there.

I popped off the spring on the non-closing side. The motor is probably working harder now, and the door shuts a bit louder on the rubber stop, but I have a spare motor from when I thought the thing was dead (just stuck from disuse). I'll fool around with getting the sping tension to match if the motor ever develops wear problems from only one spring to assist it.

Follow-up question from Brad:

I think I have mine just about perfect (at least for my needs). I opened and closed the doors a couple times. Between each action, I moved the manual opening / closing knob at the bottom of the center mounted motor. I remember from teen age years reading my grandfather’s 1972 Imperial owners manual about the knob for manual operation of the doors. When the doors did not close exactly, I would adjust the door until they were closed. After about 3 round trips of the doors, they now look beautiful and aligned.

My new question: When turning that knob for adjustment (not just manual opening / closing), is there a point of no return (either way) beyond which you will turn the knob too tight or it will fall off altogether? I would not want my improvisational adjusting to cause the motor to no longer have gears hitting gears such that it would not open or close the doors. I have never had one of the motors apart and thus don’t know how they are constructed inside.

Reply from Elijah:

As long as the motor is still attached to the headlight doors, you won't be able to go past the limit of the internal gear travel. I've had several of these apart, and frankly, it's a pretty poor design!

Probably the BEST thing that you can do for this motor is to remove it from the car (which is a lot easier to do than you might think!), turn it upside down so that the knob is facing up, and get as much oil to go down the shaft as you can. The bearings stiffen up over the years. You will be amazed at how much faster, smoother, and quieter your headlight doors will be after doing this.


Question from Leo (1969):

My headlight doors have decided to stay up no matter if the lights are on or not. I am assuming that it is the headlight door relay misbehaving. There are 2 listings in the parts manual one for cars built prior to 12/9/68 and one after 12/9/68. How does one tell which it is? Where is the relay located physically?

Replies:

From Pete:

The headlamp relay on my 70 failed a few years ago after about 12 years of ownership. I walked in the garage and -- "What!" -- the headlight doors were open.

That kicked off a very frustrating experience. The factory SM wiring diagrams are a rat's nest of wires and it was tough to figure out just what made the system work. I traced the wires, though, and redrew the schematic to make some sense of the circuit.

Equipped with a better understanding of the components and their functions, I set about locating each one for testing purposes. Well
that relay is a real bugger to find! I spent quite a bit of time searching through the SM without success so I went to the car. I spent a bit of time there with my feet up in the air and my head under the dash.

Eventually I found the relay. It's at the bottom LH side of the dash. It's above the parking brake mechanism, not mounted to it. It has a funky shaped bracket and is held to the lower "U" channel of the dash by a Phillips screw IIRC. I think I disconnected the battery, the dropped steering column trim plate and the a/c system left outlet tube to get at it. It has a couple of screw terminals so it's best to unfasten and lower it before trying to "unplug" it.

I autopsied my relay to determine exactly what went wrong. It turned out that the tiny, tiny copper wire wound up to make the relay coil had broken.

I found a 72 Plymouth Fury in a junkyard and it had the relay I needed. The bracket was shaped differently, though, to accommodate the different dash design. To solve that little problem I bent back the tabs holding the relay guts to the case/bracket and put the "new" guts in my old bracket. Good as new and still going strong, just like the Energizer bunny.

From John:

The relay is above the parking brake assembly & you practically have to stand on your head to change it. I bought a new one & when I was wiggling the connector on the old one, the doors closed. So I thought just cleaning the contacts was all that was needed. After spending nearly 2 hours on a hot day doing this, it worked fine. About a week later, it stopped working again & had to go through the process again & install the new relay.About 7 years later & the doors are still working with no problems. Someone that knows how to read the build date should be able to tell you when your car was built One thing I under stand is that the early cars didn't have front headrests available, so if your car has them, it would be a later build car.

From Kenyon:

I can't speak to HL doors staying up, but I can speak to them staying down.

Many of these motors refuse to operate if they have been sitting. Mine did, and I was too lazy to install the spare that came with the car and manually operated mine using the knurled knob on the bottom. Open the hood and feel for it under the cylinder of the motor. Have the ignition on and the lights off if lowering, ignition on and lights on if you want the doors open. I did it with the car running, but that might not matter much.

If you don't have the controls set in the direction that you're trying to actuate the manual wheel, the thing could break free and take off on you in the opposite direction and bend a finger or something. You have now been warned about that.

After operating it manually about a dozen times in the course of 2 weeks, the thing worked. I flipped the lights on and off several times and response increased to its current state of freedom and apparently originally intended operation.

I suggest that your car may have been parked for some time with the doors in the up position, and that the motor gummed up in that position? If the car is shut down with the HL sentinel ON, the doors will not retract when the lights are shut off (with no ignition on) by the timer after you leave the car.

I became convinced about the stickyness syndrome after the car subsequently sat for a month and then refused to open up its doors again. Just starting to twist the knob then freed the motor up and they snapped open. Seems like more than 4-6 weeks of inactivity is the max that mine will allow.

Last item: try some contact cleaner on the 2 blade connection plug/socket in the power wire 5 inches from the motor?

-Disregard if your HL doors were working great and crapped out on you all of a sudden.


Question from John (1969):

My recently acquired '69 is always getting power to open the headlight doors when key is on. I have tried unplugging all visible relays under steering column to get the same result. I am not sure that I found the headlight door relay since I would assume the door would not be getting power to open if relay unplugged. Does anyone know where the relay is or have any suggestions as to what I might look for to fix the problem? My thought is that the relay is acting up, but I am not certain of that. The FSM is not much help on the matter.

I have the standard headlight system without sentinel or dimmer.

Replies:

From Aeyn:

I put Sentinel on my '69 in '72 after I tore out the dash and column and wiring harnesses and replaced them with factory with all of the options on them. and the relay does make a clicking noise when it actuates. I think that it is on the right side (been 25+yrs). You MUST remember that the '69 had the sequential from factory for part of the year and is NOT standard. I had to grab the parts book from many a parts man and lookup the seq parts for them as they did not know what to look for. The key in the parts books was to look in the YM column for the required quantity. There is a whole group of items for the Seq system. What is funny is that the car that I had immediately before my '69 was a '70 Cougar (with seq also).

From John:

The headlight doors work by reversing polarity at the motor. I would tend to think that the initial application of power is momentarily causing polarity reversal, very possibly caused by the relay. You might try switching relays between two of your cars to see if the problem follows the relay. This all assumes you know which is the headlight door relay and I can not help there as we are back to my initial problem.

The relay is on the far left above the parking brake assembly. I had the blinking problem & sometimes not opening at all on my '69. Changing the relay solved the problem.


Question from Leo (1969):

My headlight doors have decided to stay up no matter if the lights are on or not. I am assuming that it is the headlight door relay misbehaving. There are 2 listings in the parts manual one for cars built prior to 12/9/68 and one after 12/9/68. How does one tell which it is? Where is the relay located physically?

Replies:

From John:

I am having the same problem with my '69. The manual indicates that the relay should be mounted on the parking brake mechanism, but I do not see one there on my car. Somebody on the list indicated they thought it was on the passenger side behind the glove box, but my car is in storage and I haven't had time to get it and look further. This would be a good possibility as I disconnected all relays on driver side and still had up power to headlight doors with key on. I hope to get to this next week if it ever stops raining here.

From John:

The relay is above the parking brake assembly & you practically have to stand on your head to change it. I bought a new one & when I was wiggling the connector on the old one, the doors closed. So I thought just cleaning the contacts was all that was needed. After spending nearly 2 hours on a hot day doing this, it worked fine. About a week later, it stopped working again & had to go through the process again & install the new relay.  About 7 years later & the doors are still working with no problems. Someone that knows how to read the build date should be able to tell you when your car was built One thing I under stand is that the early cars didn't have front headrests available, so if your car has them, it would be a later build car.

From Pete:

The headlamp relay on my 70 failed a few years ago after about 12 years of ownership. I walked in the garage and -- "What!" -- the headlight doors were open.

That kicked off a very frustrating experience. The factory SM wiring diagrams are a rat's nest of wires and it was tough to figure out just what made the system work. I traced the wires, though, and redrew the schematic to make some sense of the circuit.

Equipped with a better understanding of the components and their functions, I set about locating each one for testing purposes. Well that relay is a real bugger to find! I spent quite a bit of time searching through the SM without success so I went to the car. I spent a bit of time there with my feet up in the air and my head under the dash.

Eventually I found the relay. It's at the bottom LH side of the dash. It's above the parking brake mechanism, not mounted to it. It has a funky shaped bracket and is held to the lower "U" channel of the dash by a Phillips screw IIRC. I think I disconnected the battery, the dropped steering column trim plate and the a/c system left outlet tube to get at it. It has a couple of screw terminals so it's best to unfasten and lower it before trying to "unplug" it.

I autopsied my relay to determine exactly what went wrong. It turned out that the tiny, tiny copper wire wound up to make the relay coil had broken.

I found a 72 Plymouth Fury in a junkyard and it had the relay I needed. The bracket was shaped differently, though, to accommodate the different dash design. To solve that little problem I bent back the tabs holding the relay guts to the case/bracket and put the "new" guts in my old bracket. Good as new and still going strong, just like the Energizer bunny.

From Kenyon:

I can't speak to HL doors staying up, but I can speak to them staying down.

Many of these motors refuse to operate if they have been sitting. Mine did, and I was too lazy to install the spare that came with the car and manually operated mine using the knurled knob on the bottom. Open the hood and feel for it under the cylinder of the motor. Have the ignition on and the lights off if lowering, ignition on and lights on if you want the doors open. I did it with the car running, but that might not matter much.

If you don't have the controls set in the direction that you're trying to actuate the manual wheel, the thing could break free and take off on you in the opposite direction and bend a finger or something. You have now been warned about that.

After operating it manually about a dozen times in the course of 2 weeks, the thing worked. I flipped the lights on and off several times and response increased to its current state of freedom and apparently originally intended operation.

I suggest that your car may have been parked for some time with the doors in the up position, and that the motor gummed up in that position? If the car is shut down with the HL sentinel ON, the doors will not retract when the lights are shut off (with no ignition on) by the timer after you leave the car.

I became convinced about the stickiness syndrome after the car subsequently sat for a month and then refused to open up its doors again. Just starting to twist the knob then freed the motor up and they snapped open. Seems like more than 4-6 weeks of inactivity is the max that mine will allow.

Last item: try some contact cleaner on the 2 blade connection plug/socket in the power wire 5 inches from the motor?

-Disregard if your HL doors were working great and crapped out on you all of a sudden.-


Question from Elijah (1971):

In the past year, my '71 has developed a strange behavior in which the headlight doors "blink" when I first turn on the ignition. When the key is turned to on, they quickly open and close, and then stay closed until I actually turn on the headlights.

I'm at a loss to explain this phenomenon, so if anyone else can suggest a solution, I'd appreciate it.

Replies:

From Aeyn:

I put Sentinel on my '69 in 1972 after I tore out the dash and column and wiring harnesses and replaced them with factory with all of the options on them. and the relay does make a clicking noise when it actuates. I think that it is on the right side (been 25+yrs). You MUST remember that the '69 had the sequential from factory for part of the year and is NOT standard. I had to grab the parts book from many a parts man and lookup the sequential parts for them as they did not know what to look for. The key in the parts books was to look in the YM column for the required quantity. There is a whole group of items for the Sequential system. What is funny is that the car that I had immediately before my '69 was a '70 Cougar (with sequential also).

From John:

The headlight doors work by reversing polarity at the motor. I would tend to think that the initial application of power is momentarily causing polarity reversal, very possibly caused by the relay. You might try switching relays between two of your cars to see if the problem follows the relay. This all assumes you know which is the headlight door relay and I can not help there as we are back to my initial problem.

From John:

The relay is on the far left above the parking brake assembly. I had the blinking problem & sometimes not opening at all on my '69. Changing the relay solved the problem.


Question from John (1973):

Has anyone tried rebuilding their headlight door motors. Mine started misbehaving last year and it is time to deal with it. Also interested in knowing if anyone has a working spare that they would be interested in selling, the '73 motor is different from the '69 in that the square hole that turns the door rod is a different size

Replies:

From John:

Are you sure its the motor & not the relay? After buying an NOS motor for my '69, I discovered the relay was causing the erratic operation. The relay on the '69 is above the parking brake assembly. Not the easiest place to work, but with patience, it is doable. BTW; that was the problem with the relay on my 69. The doors would close, but not open.

From Kenyon:

Mine sticks and appears to be inoperative if left unused for more than 4 weeks or so. Manually operating it one to several times and using harsh language usually gets it unstuck. I'm not interested in parting with my spare, but my car came with one because the doors didn't work. I was too lazy to replace it and manually operated the doors for a couple of weeks and un-gummed the works and have heard similar stories from several others. The motor is pretty robust for the work that it must do, and is also in a protected, dry place, unlike some power window motors that I know.


Question from Nils (1973):

The motor to open my concealed headlight doors works fine when I turn the lights on and opens the doors. But if I switch it off, the motor keeps running (doors closing-the little wheel underneath keeps spinning) and won't stop until I disconnect the wires. After that the doors move up a quarter, like a spring forces them to. Any ideas how to fix that? Is there an 'end switch' inside that motor, so it 'knows' when to stop?

Replies:

From John:

The nylon gear is stripped. I had that happen with a '69 I used to own. I've seen these come up many times on Ebay & purchased a spare for the '69 I presently own.

From Jim:

The ’73 parts book lists a “gear & gasket package, rotating headlamp” - part number 3420864.

From Chris:

The same motor is used on the '71-'72 Dodge Chargers that came with the hide-away headlights. If I'm not mistaken the same motor is used on every hidden headlight Mopar from the '70's...

From Jody:

According to my crash sheets the number is 3431438 the sheets say 70,71,72,73, are all the same number for those years


Question from Chad (1973):

Recently my '73 Imperial has been making a slight buzzing sound coming from under the dash. It appears to be an electronic buzzer of some sort and only comes on when I turn on the lights. I also noticed that the headlight doors do not open fully when turned on and I have to manually push them up a little. I know the two are related but does anyone have any ideas before I go looking at the system.

 

Replies:

 

From Jim:

 

We had a 72 and the buzzing sound from under the dash sounds like it might be the "headlamps are still on" warning. The seatbelt buzzer sounds different and is actually part of the horn relay. The headlamp doors do sag after a while. They can be fixed. I have done it but I just can't remember how right now.

 

From Matt:

 

The buzzer is doing exactly what it's designed to do...warn you that your headlight doors aren't open! (my 74 did exactly the same thing ) . Since your doors operate with a nudge ,I'd rule out motor failure. It sounds like the motor needs to be removed and cleaned and lubricated with new grease. Was it cold out when this happened? Maybe the grease got a little too thick due to cold temperatures.

 

From Mark:

Do both of your headlight doors sag? Or just one? I think the buzzing you hear is probably the warning buzzer to let you know your headlight doors did not come up. Chrysler was smart enough to put a warning buzzer in the cars with hidden headlights in case the doors didn't come up and you were driving down the road thinking your lights were on, but in truth you had no lights because the doors were shut.

There might be something impeding the doors from going up all the way. On my 71, there is a sheet of metal, painted black, that is attached to the back of the door to make the headlights "invisible" when looking at the front of the car. This little piece of metal is held on by very tiny pins and sometimes they can get loose. If the backing is loose it can get stuck as the doors rotate up.

If the doors do not go up all the way there is a knob, I believe, under the hood on the motor that will allow you to manually open them. I don't know if it's a good idea to push on the doors themselves--?

From Wayne:

 

This is the relay for the automatic headlight doors. It needs to be replaced.

 

From DJ:

 

My '73 was doing the same thing intermittently. one spring was disconnected (the doors are spring loaded) and the motor had old, dried grease in it. I reconnected the spring, disassembled the motor, cleaned and lubed it, and it works fine now. If it is cold where you are, I would consider opening them manually and disconnecting the power wires until spring. I think the buzzer will be silent once you disconnect the wires, and it will give you time to properly overhaul the actuator.

 

From John:

 

The buzzing noise is most likely the headlight motor relay. If the doors are sticking, the motor is probably still activated & being overworked. Check to see if anything is making the doors bind or perhaps the motor itself is getting tired. Till you solve the problem, it might be a good idea to open them & disconnect the motor before doing potential damage.


Question from Zack (1974):

On my 74 LeBaron, the right headlight door shuts too tight and the left one doesn't shut enough. Every now and then, the doors will not open when I turn the lights on because the door on the right is so tight it's jamming the motor. I have to open the hood and turn the manual crank slightly so it opens the doors. Anyway, I was wondering if there is a way to adjust the tension of the motor or the doors so it will not jam anymore.

Replies:

From Brad:

This is a tricky one. As far as I know, there are few adjustments on the doors. There is a long "torsion bar" that runs through the motor in the center and out to each door, on either side. There should be sufficient tension on the doors to keep them open or closed (without flapping around) but they shouldn't be so tight they jam. Is the header panel on the car out of alignment, causing the jamming? The header panel is VERY adjustable by its many bolts and support points. I suppose there is a chance the torsion bar is twisted, thus creating a problem such as you describe but I have tried to twist them, unsuccessfully, being that they are spring steel. If I were you, I would take the two grille halves out and take that torsion bar out and inspect it for damage and correct installation. The grilles are quite easy to remove from the rear side of the header panel. They will have either 4 or 5 nuts holding in each half.

From Rob:

I think the motors and bar are the same on these as my '83. There is a bar which runs through the motor to headlight doors. When the motor spins it turns the bar which opens or closes the doors. It sounds like your bar may be bent or warped. If it's sticking you should try to fix it quick before it freezes or strips the gear in the motor.

Follow-up from Zack:

Well, I fixed the problem. There were two things happening. The first was that the right door was not aligned and was scraping the right side of where it opens, so I just nudged it over so it's not hitting it anymore. Two, I opened the headlight doors all the way by using the hand knob, and when it got to the bottom, the motor kept turning even though the doors had stopped opening. So I turned it until it wouldn't turn anymore, and now both doors close evenly, it doesn't jam anymore, and they both open evenly. So, I didn't do much, but it didn't take much to fix.


Question from Zack (1974):

The headlight door motor on my 74 LeBaron is jammed, not even the hand knob turns. I haven't taken it off yet to look at it, but I'm assuming the worst. What could the problem be, and is it fixable....but more likely, where can I get a new one, and what years will work with it?

Reply from Gary:

Typical problem. The oilite bushing on the brush end of the motor is probably seized. Since the motor is installed vertically, the sealer on the outside of the motor deteriorates and lets moisture into the motor. You can carefully disassemble the motor after removal. Any remaining sealer will have to be split at the motor seams to get it apart. Re-oiling the bushing with some good oil and grease will last many years. I have fixed many this way.

If you get the cams that limit the motor travel out of sync, if I remember right the 71,72, or 73 FSM shows the proper way to time them.


Question from Don (1974):

Today I decided to tackle my malfunctioning headlamp motor.  I started with the basics made sure it had power...it did it had a good ground I removed it and took the cover off for the gears and limit switches cleaned those.  Still no go cannot seem to get the screws off of the side of it.  They are large Philips head screws.  I imagine the brushes are under here.  anybody know if I can pull it apart and get it back together without removing the brushes from the side first?  I am having trouble locating a replacement so I don't want to trash this one as it can probably be salvaged.

Replies:

From John:

You may want to check for a bad relay before you take the motor apart. This is what was wrong with my 69 & I discovered that after buying an NOS motor. Not sure where the relay is located on the 74, it is way up on the parking brake on the 69.

From Brad:

Is the motor stuck? The one on my 77 was stuck but I took it apart and cleaned the armature where it mounts into the bushings and then put some light grease in there and it works perfectly now.

Follow-up information from Don:

The relay checks ok.  I got those screws out by using a little drill and a little easy out turns out.  I didn't want them out they just hold the stuff to the side.  I don't know the name of this, but a metal thing and some windings... any how it seems the bearing on the bottom of motor is tight.  It is hard to turn, I worked some PB Blaster in there and freed it up some and it will run with assistance from me on the knob.  I feel  I need to get that bottom housing off of the shaft.  it doesn't want to come.

Replies:

From Brad:

The name is "field windings" That is usually the first thing someone new to electric motors will remove but it is, as you know now, not where you want to be. (I've been there too) The screws you want to remove are long and the heads should be on the bottom of the motor. They go from one end cap to the other. (tip: with a standard screw driver, score a line on the case and end caps so you will know exactly where to align them later on)

It sounds like your problem is the same as the one I had. You can take that bottom plate off and the brushes should just snap down onto the armature shaft. They are fun to reinstall but not impossible. You need to find a quiet place where no one will disturb you because it is an intricate job. Take the armature clean out of the motor. Clean the shaft where the bushings ride. Use a little emery cloth if you need to (not much though). Clean out the bushings that are still in the housing. Apply light grease (wheel bearing grease should work as it doesn't get too stiff in the cold) and reassemble. It should work great after that.

From Leo:

Don't use emery cloth on a commutator, the emery will embed into the soft copper and wear out the brushes in no time. Use fine sandpaper instead.

From Joe:

A pencil or (pink) eraser burnishes to a fine finish and leaves no abrasive residue.

Follow-up from Don:

I finally got the motors apart.  The bushing was frozen to the shaft and was held in place with some sort of ring.  This was why I couldn't remove the back plate but I finally got it out, cleaned it all up with one of my wife's abrasive nail files, put some light grease in there and we have success.


Question from Matt (1975):

My '75 right door is sticking when opening or closing. It is catching on the bottom. This causes the left one not to close all the way. I don't readily see how to adjust by visual or by looking at shop manual. Anyone know how to move door so it won't catch on the bottom part of the opening? There must be an adjustment as it has worked properly since I acquired it in 1985.

Reply from Brad:

The only thing I've seen to adjust the doors in that way is to push the header panel in or out (usually out) by way of the mounting bolts behind it. You can loosen the bolt and pus the panel out if that's what it needs, so the doors clear everything.


Question from Dave (1983):

Were the headlight doors optional on the 83's? Mine doesn't have them.

Replies:

From Neal:

They're either in the recessed postion or missing. All of the 81-83 models had hide-away's; they weren't optional.

From Dick:

Not optional. They're probably there, just cranked up and disconnected. Look behind the grille for a small knob to turn below the little motor - if you turn it the doors will close. Chances are your automatic system failed, and someone just disconnected it.

This page last updated June 3, 2004.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club