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Restoring metal power window / lock switches

Restoring metal power window / lock switches

Old January 28th, 2010, 08:43 AM
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Restoring metal power window / lock switches

Face it – these switches are often hard to find, especially for a good price.
Whether yours is totally snasty looking or if your shiny hunk of chrome simply stops working, they can often be restored at home for next to nothing. I once thought they were not repairable!
Take for example, the four-gang square GM power window switches used from 1971 to 1978 or so… One well known Oldsmobile parts supplier sells a GM switch for 150 bucks after shipping. Another big supplier wanted 100 for a used one! If you say Oldsmobile or 442 or Cutlass, they see big dollar signs. Find one advertised for a 4dr Chevy, and the price is lots less.
I scored the below switch from a 1978 Caprice wagon at the classic car boneyard for under 10 bucks.
It looked pretty grungy and the driver’s switch was not functioning for UP, but was worth a resto attempt.

First step was to take it apart. Most GM chromed potmetal switches use bent over tabs that hold the bottom PCB to the metal housing. Look for the side that has the two tabs that are the LEAST bent. But FIRST, mark or note which side is UP.


A pair of pliers can be used to CAREFULLY bend back those tabs, JUST ENOUGH that the back can be lightly pried away with a small screwdriver.

Note I only unbent the tabs on ONE SIDE.
If any tabs break off, there is usually enough of an edge left to bend a new tab when reassembling.
Here it is disassembled - pretty dirty inside!


A quick look at the PCB shows pitted and burned contacts – a reason for the failure...
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Old January 28th, 2010, 08:50 AM
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After disassembly, clean it up well. Begin by soaking the parts in hot soapy water to loosen the grunge:

What? Soaking electrical parts in water??? Sure! It will not be there for long and it will be dried well.

After a 20 minute soak, I used a toothbrush and hand dishwashing soap to scrub them up. I rinsed with warm water and dried them well with a towel. Next they went into the toaster oven for about 10 minutes at 120*F for thorough drying. (The plastic box was for a chime module that I was cleaning up.)

WARNING – Do NOT eat these parts, just because they came out of a food preparation appliance!

Afterwards, the contact straightness was evaluated. Note the bent contacts in the picture below:


I bent out the contacts that had light between them and the counter and adjusted them to all the same position. This eliminates slop in the switch button and assures a firm feel. Here they are at all the same position:


Next, the contacts were sanded with a dremel tool. The contacts of this switch were heavily pitted and burned, as they drive the motors with no relays. After sanding, they were polished a little with a wire brush.
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Old January 28th, 2010, 08:57 AM
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Also, the rear terminal pins were wirebrushed.
After that, the board was washed again with soap and water and dried in the oven for another 10 minutes at 120*F.

While that was drying, I polished the metal housing with Brasso. It cleaned off what the soap would not remove and polished it up a little more.

Next came reassembly. I used channel lock pliers to do this, using a thick doubled-up rag on the face side to prevent scratches.

I carefully crimpled down the existing tabs, but one seemed ready to break. I moved up a little to crimp some of the unbent edge – worked great. Crimp only enough to hold it together – more is not better.

This was a heavily used switch, so the finish was a little worn and there was a little pitting.
However, it came out nice enough to use on my restored car. At a distance it looks cherry!

My almost-perfect NOS switch will be stored away until it is really needed.

Lastly, I cleaned up the mounting rings also and got them ready for a shot o' paint:




And there you have it! With an hour or two of work, you can save money on replacement switches and help keep you car more original!
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Old January 28th, 2010, 09:02 AM
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Great money saving idea Rob
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Old January 28th, 2010, 09:19 AM
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Thank you for posting this Rob! This should encourage/help others to clean up their switches before shelling out the big money for replacements! John
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Old January 28th, 2010, 02:22 PM
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Good thread Rob. Clear explanations with good photos make it easy to understand. I repair 2 way radio equipment for a living and we clean stuff all the time with "Orange" cleaner and a toothbrush, often rinsing with clear water and then drying in an oven like you did. Another good tool for burnishing and cleaning contacts is an artist's eraser, you can get them at art stores (of course) in harder rubber which is a little more abrasive and lasts longer. The kind we use are like a pencil with a brush on the top end. There are also tools which are actually called burnishers that are kind of shaped like a tongue depressor, thin steel with an abrasive coating on it. We have found all kinds of little tricks and tools to cleaning up a radio to make it look almost new. Again, a nice thread and thanks for the work.
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Old January 28th, 2010, 08:01 PM
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Too cool Rob, my main switch has one sticky button.
Thanks for the most valuable info and instructions.

For some strange reason my right front window goes up when you push the switch on that door down and vice versa??
Australian export switch?

A full set of square corner '71 powerful window and lock switches in real nice condition sold for 36 bucks with 12 bucks shipping on evilbay a couple of weeks back.
I should of bought them and flipped them for a hundred here, I know how to fix them if they were broken now too.
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Old January 28th, 2010, 08:24 PM
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Thanks Rob for the repair info. Great thread!
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Old January 29th, 2010, 08:47 AM
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I have soaked switches in Vinegar overnight then worked them the acid in does not harm them
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Old January 29th, 2010, 09:17 AM
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Great "HOW-TO" article, Rob! Good, close up pictures, w/good explanations as to what's going on. Now. I don't have power windows? You got any other good tips? LOL!
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Old January 29th, 2010, 10:45 AM
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Thanks to all for the compliments... If the switch is broke, might as well give it a shot to fix it. Many things are intimidating until you go head on into it.
I hate to see anyone chunk potentially good stuff and spend a lot to replace it.
I very much enjoy being able to help others keep there old cars running, so i do not mind sharing the knowledge.

This procedure can also be altered to repair other switches as well, like convertible top and cruise control switches that are hard to find.

Originally Posted by Bluevista View Post
I should of bought them and flipped them for a hundred here, I know how to fix them if they were broken now too.
When I was at the yard the other day I bought a handful of metal LOCK switches to restore. I think they all cost 5 bucks total or so...

Originally Posted by Aron Nance View Post
Now. I don't have power windows? You got any other good tips? LOL!
Yep:
https://classicoldsmobile.com/forums...html#post50924
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Old September 19th, 2012, 11:20 AM
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Awesome post, I had looked at my switch and had 2 windows not working well. Any tips for power window motors and gear boxes?
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Old September 19th, 2012, 12:21 PM
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No, I have not gone through any regulators or motors yet, but I heard that taking them apart, removing the old grease, cleaning them, reburnishing the commutators, and regreasing can bring them back to life!

I have a set of these for a Vista Cruiser so there may be a thread some day on motor/gearbox refurbishing....
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