How Window Regulators Work
Reduced to a basic concept, the purpose of a window regulator is to control (or “regulate”) door glass movement while opening or closing a window in a vehicle. From a design perspective, the geometry, physics and customer requirements of each vehicle vary in complexity. The level of glass control a well-designed window regulator can provide allows engineers to overcome the technical challenges associated with these complexities.
Basic window systems allow for the use of simplified regulator designs. Doors of many full-sized vans and trucks, for example, contain a full frame around the glass. Such designs generally do not utilize complex glass shapes and the front and rear edges of the glass are guided by the door frame at all times. In such systems, the regulator must only facilitate the up and down movement of the glass and provide security by ensuring the glass cannot fall or be forced downward when it is in a partial- or full-up position. Basic systems like this are made of inexpensive stamped-steel components, have few moving parts and are controlled by either a manual hand crank or an electric motor.
More complex systems may involve the use of frameless glass such as what is commonly seen on sports coupes and convertibles. In this kind of system, the regulator must maintain positional stability of the glass in the absence of a frame. In the case of a convertible, movement of the glass may also need to be coordinated with other pieces of glass (e.g. the rear quarter glass) or even other moving objects, such the convertible top itself. Systems of this moderate complexity are generally driven by an electric motor and contain a greater number of moving parts which are also more complex and require a greater engineering effort.
In high-end systems, the window regulator may be required to have electronic control systems which provide one-touch express-down and perhaps even express-up function of the door glass. Federal regulations require any vehicle equipped with an express-up feature to also be equipped with “anti-trap” or “anti-pinch” technology. This technology senses when something such as an arm or finger becomes trapped by the door glass while the glass is in an express-up movement. When such an obstacle is detected, the system reverses the direction of the door glass, preventing physical harm. These systems are always electrically operated, and include the use of microcontroller-based electronic modules. Two glass guidance rails are frequently used, with each being connected to the other through an intricate cable-drive system with controls glass position with exacting precision.
With the push to reduce weight and improve fuel economy, window regulator technology is continually evolving through the development of new materials and new technologies.