Driver’s-side back door won’t open on a 97 Honda Civic – outside handle

Cami and I drove to the Honda dealer and spoke with the girl in the parts department. She was very nice and knew her stuff. I asked what would be needed for fixing the outside handle. She said generally the problem is caused by a broken plastic bushing. The cost was right around three dollars. She also printed out several sheets which showed exploded diagrams of a back door, and all the parts that are associated with it.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t any explanation of how to replace that particular bushing. The lack of information meant that the procedure took longer than it might have. I spent a lot of time trying to fit my hands inside. But, the door is now working properly – opening from the inside and outside with equal ease. I wish I had taken more photos, but the procedure outlined here should be of help to someone:

Tools used: phillips screwdriver, flat screwdriver, 1/4″ socket set with long extension, 10mm socket, 10mm box-end wrench or open-end wrench, needle-nose pliers, small flashlight, LED headlamp, box cutter, duct tape

1. Remove the latch handle
Remove the single phillips-head screw (top red arrow in the photo above) and pull the latch mechanism forward out of the hole. Leave it attached to the connecting rod.

2. Remove the armrest cover
At the front of the armrest is a square hole. (lower red arrow) There is a plastic tab inside it that needs to be pushed down. Then the armrest cover, which is a plastic shell that covers the side of the armrest, can be snapped off. It took more force than I expected, but came off easily once I got started.

3. Remove the armrest screws and pull out the electrical connector
There are two phillips-head screws (indicated by the two yellow arrows in the photo above) that hold the armrest in place. Remove these and make sure to unplug the electrical connector.

4. Remove the inside door panel
There is a special tool for prying door panels off, but I don’t have one. I gripped the bottom of the door panel and gave it a short, firm jerk. This released a few of the plastic clips and repeating this action around the edges of the panel released the rest of the clips. The panel needs to be pushed up so the top comes out of the window slot. Then carefully pull the electrical connector through, and angle it so the handle latch also slides through. Finally, it slides off of the lock tab and comes free.

5. Removed or cut the moisture shield
I wasn’t sure what to do with the moisture shield. Searching the net showed a few diagrams where it was pulled off whole. This proved difficult – perhaps because of the cold temperatures – so I took a box cutter and carefully cut a c-shaped flap to reveal the area near the handle. It is surprisingly cramped in there. It took a while to figure out where the problem was, and then I puzzled on how to fix it. The outside handle is over to the left, not easily seen through the hole. I could see there were two bolts holding it in place, but wasn’t sure how to get them loose. The closest one I could reach with an open-end wrench, but the further one seemed impossible to reach.

I could see the hole on the outside handle where the bushing was supposed to go. The bushing had come out and the metal linkage was lying down below it. I was able to reach in move it forward, and through sheer determination and lots of trial and error, I was able to remove the old bushing from the metal post on the linkage. But, no matter how I tried, I could not apply enough pressure to get the bushing to pop through the hole on the outside handle. This was all attempted with a series of wires, zip ties, needle-nose pliers, and anything else I could think of to reach into that impossibly small space. Ignore all of this because it’s the wrong way to do it. I saw a video on YouTube which gave me the idea for solving the problem. It was for a different car, but the concept was the same. More dis-assembly was required.

6. Detach the lock post mechanism from the door
The little post that activates the lock is held in place by a single screw. I removed this, but the mechanism was still firmly held. I had to push a screwdriver underneath the plastic parts to push them away from the metal of the door. It wasn’t easy because I was being careful. There is a square hole in the metal and the plastic spreads out when the screw is in place. This makes it a little hard to remove. But, with patience I got it out with no damage. Now I could move the rod that connects it to the lock. I cut more of the moisture shield so I could freely move the rod – though I left it attached at both ends.

7. Remove the three screws that secure the latch
I used a normal phillips screwdriver to remove these screws, but a larger end would be less-likely to strip out. I didn’t cause any damage, but the screwdriver did slip once. A bigger bit would work better. Once the three screws are out, the latch mechanism can be slid down further inside the door. Having the lock and latch handle rods free help this movement. When the latch is moved down far enough, the square hole that it covered is opened to reveal the outside handle bolt that had seemed so impossible to remove.

8. Remove the two bolts that secure the outside door handle
Removing the first bolt is easy with an open-end wrench. The hidden bolt is reached with a 10mm socket and a long extension – preferably on that is thin. A long nut driver would also work. The thickness of the extension will matter later when trying to put this all back together. With the two bolts removed, the outside handle comes out easily.

9. Replace the worn bushing
The bushing is easy to see. The original bushing was made of blue plastic. I’m not sure if they are all that same color. I would remove the bushing either by pulling it off with pliers or cutting it off with a box cutter.

Slide the new bushing onto the metal post. Make sure it snaps all the way on. Then slide the bushing into the larger hole on the outside handle. I was able to snap it in place without much force.

10. Re-install the outside handle
The next part is a little tricky. With the outside handle now tied to the latch mechanism, it’s going to be harder to replace the hidden bolt. When the outside handle is pushed into place, the latch mechanism pulls up and starts to cover the hole where the bolt is. With some patience I was able to get the hidden bolt threaded right, and the outside handle firmly secured. The second bolt was easy to secure.

11. Re-assemble the rest of the door
Once the outside handle is in place, it’s a matter of reversing the process to sew it all back up. Attach the latch with the three screws. It took some wiggling to get it back in place and lined up with the screw holes. With the latch in place, test it by sliding it closed with a screwdriver. You want to make sure the outside handle is going to open it before you put everything else back together.

Once that is done, secure the lock post mechanism with the single screw. Then put the rods back in their guides and use duct tape to repair the slits in the moisture shield.

The door panel hooks the top of the window slot, and the lock post should come through the hole. The latch handle feeds through the rectangular hole. With the panel still loose, feed the electrical connector back through and plug it in.

Secure the armrest with its two screws. Snap the armrest cover back in place.

Secure the latch handle with its screw and make a final test. Done!