Door handle-how to repair sticking door handle on VW Passat
How to adjust the door handle or repair a broken door handle - Mk3 Jetta and Passat
back to 1000q: mk3 jetta and passat how tos
A broken door handle can be a real inconvenience when you have to crawl inside from the passenger side. The inside door handle can also fail, causing some headaches. Many times, a hard to open door can be adjusted to open with light effort by adjusting the handle mechanism, see below for more details.
This article shows how the passat door handle opens and closes the door and some ways to fix it. The jetta and passat door handles are different but the ideas are similar. The front jetta handle can be swapped left-right. The passat handles are all L-R and F-R specific and are not interchangeable with the jetta handle. Aftermarket handles are cheaper but have gotten bad reviews. Try to adjust it and if it doesn't work, get a new OEM door handle.
The mk1/mk2 cars used a fixed handle with a lever on the inside of the handle. The mk3 cars used the pull handle and the mk4 cars switched to a paddle handle. There have been conversion kits to convert the pull handle to a recessed paddle handle but it requires cutting, welding, and repainting the door.
Try to avoid using WD-40 to lubricate the door parts, especially the door lock cylinder. WD-40 will wash away any graphite lubricant that is already there. Try to use a lubricant in the lock that won't attract dirt.
large phillips head screwdriver
Passat front door handles, left/right are not swappable - for front passat only
Left front handle VW# 3A0 837 207 C (optional, price may vary so see link for current price)
Right front handle VW# 3A0 837 208 C (optional)
Jetta front door handles - left/right sides are swappable but still have different part numbers - for front jetta only
Left front handle VW# 1HM-837-207 (add "a" suffix for black, "3fz"for satin black)
Right front handle VW# 1HM-837-208
painters tape (optional)
glue, a dab of silicone, or JB weld (optional)
Basics of door handle repair and operation
First remove the door handle. Open the door from the inside and look above the boxy door latch on the inside edge of the door. There should be a phillips screw that is on the same level as the door handle. Warning: on the passat, the passenger side is a reverse screw and the driver's side is a normal threaded screw but your car may be slightly different.
If you can't open the door at all, you have to figure out another way to open the door by jimmying the lock from the window, cutting a hole somewhere to get access to the lock mechanism inside the door, or calling a locksmith. A locksmith or police officer should have a slimjim that can open a stuck door from the inside. You can also try unlocking and locking the door to see if it makes a difference. Read this entire article to gain an understanding of where to poke around.
To remove the door handle, slide it forward and back to clear the parts that stick out. There is a wire for the door alarm system (if equipped) microswitch on the driver/passenger side - you don't have to unplug it unless you want to completely remove the handle. Simply loosen a single clip holding the wire so that you have enough room to pull the handle out - note the wire's position so it doesn't interfere with the power window. I also suggest putting some painter's tape around the door handle hole to avoid scratching the paint so you can leave the handle hanging or if you are going to be poking around the hole - a quick slip of the screwdriver can also leave a nice gouge right where you will always notice it. Here is a picture of the handle.
Once the door handle is out, pull the door handle to "open" to see how it is supposed to work.
With the passat, pulling the handle open moves the lever in the direction of the thin red arrows (towards the center of the car) in the picture to the right. This pushes the white plastic part down in the direction of the wide red arrow. On the Jetta, the handle pulls a lever straight out.
The white plastic part pushes down on a smooth lever inside the door, which opens the door. There is another lever that locks/unlocks the door when the key is turned. Both are marked below.
Suggestions for adjusting the door handle
The first thing to check is the large Phillips screw holding in the handle. Open the door and check it's tightness. The passenger side screw is reverse threaded.
If that doesn't solve it, you have to remove the door handle. Check for loose pins, then try adjusting the white plastic plunger, then try adjusting the 5.5mm nut. If the problem is internal, you have to remove the inside door panel but this is the least likely problem. See 1000q: passat door panel removal for more details on door panel removal.
First priority is to check for loose pins. Inspect wear spots on the levers and the pins that hold the levers in place. Lubricate them well. Most of the time, the contact areas on the levers have worn away and the pins have slid out, causing poor actuation of the door handle. These wear areas are circled in red below.
The person who took this photo welded a bicycle chain link to it. Use some method which will keep the pin from working itself out.
Second priority is to adjust the plastic plunger. Push the plastic pin out. Note the worn side of the plunger, pull off the plunger, then rotate it 180 degrees so that the worn side is on the other end. You'll see that the pin has an adjustment range. See below pic (red arrow). Move it outward as necessary and push the pin back in. By reversing it, you are putting the worn side of the plunger to the other side. Someone put a dab of epoxy on the end of the plunger but just moving it outward will give a better range. This also compensates for any wear in the door handle levers.
You can also adjust the door latch adjusting nut. I suggest this last because it's an odd 5.5mm nut and will probably get mangled if you use a wrench. Pop the black plastic door latch cover off and you should see the picture to the right.
Loosen but don't remove the 5.5mm adjusting nut - beware, the passenger side is reverse threaded. Once it's loose, press on the door latch lever pictured above. The adjusting nut will move up and down with some play once it's loose.
Moving this nut in relation to the back piece will adjust how much play your doors have. I found that the driver's side had to move down, the passenger side had to move up.
Tighten it (it's only 5.5mm) to 3 Nm (not ft lbs).
If your door won't open even from the inside, you need to use something stiff to push down on the smooth lever inside the door. Otherwise you can't get access to the large phillips screw that holds the door handle because it's on the inside edge of the door. I suggest taping the work area and avoiding the window as much as possible to avoid scratches. If it still doesn't work, you could cut a hole in the inside door panel (it's board and cloth) to get access from the inside to push down on this lever. I would rather call a locksmith by that point.
And of course, you could also buy a new door handle. Try to avoid reproductions because they may have poor fit and finish, this might make the door handle hard to open. Direct links are listed in "Parts" so you can compare prices.
Final notes: Make sure you lubricate everything, this will help prevent wear in the future. Some other issues that the door is prone to: the door sags with age, you can either remove the door hinges to adjust the door or just pull up really hard on the bottom of the door. Be careful to avoid pressing on the glass. This should realign the door with the door latch. You could also move the door latch, it's a 14mm nut.
Some of these basic ideas can be applied to the Volkswagen Jetta's door handle - it's similar only the lever moves in a different direction and is swappable left-right side. It's also simpler and less likely to fail but easier to break into.