2003 Ford Explorer
Blend Door Actuator Replacement
"a.k.a. Click of Death"
[Blend Door Actuator problem may apply to the following vehicles. 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer.]
Posted 1-2-2010, updated 1-30-12.
This 2003 Ford Explorer is my sister's car. (Picture taken at night. 15 sec exposure!) The heater will only blow cold air. The blend door is stuck in the cold position. When the temperature control is rotated from cold to hot a clicking sound comes from the driver side foot well. The blend door actuator mechanism has failed. The failure comes from a gear which strips inside the actuator. As I searched the internet for an answer to this problem I discovered another common problem. The blend door axle can crack and the door falls into the air box. The two probably go hand in hand. If the door axle breaks it could jam the actuator and cause the gear to strip.
This car has the actuator problem but the blend door and axle seem fine. This was a difficult repair for me. It was difficult because disassembling the interior was confusing. The actuator is located behind the lower instrument panel near the gas pedal. The lower instrument panel appears to be one piece which spans the width of the interior. I couldn't figure out how to remove it. With patience you can perform a sort of laproscopic surgery to get this actuator in and out. I'm a big guy. Getting in and out of the foot well is a challenge.
You're going to need:
- small mirror or two to see the actuator
- small socket set
- thin socket extensions to get behind the instrument panel
- band-aids, some of the edges of panels are sharp
- good pillow for your strained neck after you're done
One last thing...
Before you begin. Turn your HVAC control to either full cold or full hot. Remember which. You'll need to set the position of the new actuator before you insert it. You can't move the actuator manually. If your actuator is completely dead this doesn't matter. The axle can only go in one way. With a little twisting you'll get it in.
Here's the interior before I started. I disassembled too much when I took the console apart. These pictures will show more disassembled than necessary.
Remove the rubber tray liner and unscrew the brass bolt. Don't bother with the plastic circle. There's nothing underneath it in this car.
Hear is the rear of the console in the back seat. I went too far and removed the cup holders. You can leave them in. The tab with the 2 vent holes is what you want to remove.
With the tab removed, unscrew the black bolt on each side of the console.
Again, I removed too much. You can leave the console door/arm rest on. I've detailed in red the part of the console which lifts up. This was confusing for me. I removed the 4 bolts in the bottom of the arm rest storage compartment. I then lifted the black plastic storage compartment liner up. The plastic liner is held in with 2 additional bolts which are under the area marked in red. THIS WAS THE WRONG THING TO DO. Just lift the area marked in red up. It's held in with 2 spring metal clips. I managed to break the post the springs attached to and made a mess of things. I glued everything I broke back together. (The damage was repairable. There are no rattles coming from the console, now reassembled.)
With the panel lifted you can see 4 smaller bolt heads and 2 larger one. You only need to remove the 3 bolts on the drivers side circled in red.
You will need to remove the bolt and 1 screw from black plastic storage compartment liner on the left as well. (You can see the broken remains of the liner still bolted in place.) It's been removed here, but you shouldn't need to remove yours. Note you will have to life up the black plastic storage compartment liner as you remove the side panel. There is a tab on the side of the liner. You can see the cutout in the picture. I've also noted the Side Panel Tab. This is just for reference. When you remove the side panel you need to lift up before you lift out.
Here's a close up look at the inside of the console. Notice the foam gasket pulled out of whack. It was this way when I opened it. I don't know if it came from the factory like this. I pulled it out, reset it, glued it back in place.
Here both side of the console are removed. You only need to remove the driver side panel. I hadn't figured everything out yet.
Here is a close-up of the driver side foot well with the panel removed. I removed the bolts circled in red. The metal bracket in the way and had to come out. The black plastic air duct was in the way too. Both parts removed easily.
Here is the source of all the trouble. This actuator is above and in front the metal bracket now removed. When you see how tight this is, you should you be impressed with my photograph. I just jammed my camera under there and started clicking. This is a great shot but it fails to show how difficult it is to get to those bolts with regular tools. This is where my patience and neck muscles were tested several times. 3 bolts hold the actuator in. You can see two here. There is one bolt on the opposite side, too.
You can reach the top left bolt on the actuator (the top most bolt in the picture above) through the gap circled in red. It's not easy, but it is possible.
You need to build a Frankendriver. I used every extension I could find to get my socket drive in there. I taped the bolt in to the socket when I was replacing it so it wouldn't fall as I was maneuvering through the holes.
The Frankendriver in action.
Here's where all the trouble comes from. Can you see the missing teeth on the small gear driving the large black gear? Two tiny teeth are missing. This is where the clicking sound comes from. I bought a Dorman 604-209. It's a perfect match. I paid about $40 for this part using an Advance Auto coupon. A reader in California reported the Ford part cost $73.00. (4-25-2010). I don't know which will prove more durable.
Here's the new part. The axle matches the length and shape exactly. This is a good time to plug in the new actuator to the electrical plug. Try running it by turning your hot/cold dial a few times. It moves rather slowly. Probably takes 5+ seconds for full actuation.
Here's the box you can expect to see.
Old white actuator on left. New black actuator on right. Internals are different. More durable? I sure hope so. Time will tell.