Yesterday I noticed that the driver’s door handle on my car was pulling loose from the car every time I unlocked it and opened the door. So I hunted around online, and general consensus on the Subaru NASIOC forums was “just remove the inside door panel, and then there’s a 10mm bolt you have to tighten.” Hmmm. I did some more hunting, and found these really nice instructions on how to remove the door panel on a 2007 Subaru Impreza. My car is a 2002, but it looks fairly similar.
I was still quite intimidated by this whole concept — can normal people really remove their own door panels, or only mythical people on the internet? So I chatted with my coworker who likes to work on his own car, and asked if he’d ever done it. “Oh yeah, loads of times. Not in my current car because my kids haven’t puked down in those doors yet, but plenty of times on my old one.” Ewww. But confidence inspiring.
So when I got home, I went carefully through the steps.
1. Make sure the window is all the way down. I don’t know if it actually matters, but some online sites said it did, and I obeyed. Pry off the mirror cover. I was able to do this with just a flathead screwdriver.
2. Pry off the trim around the door handle. Instructions said to use a putty knife, but I couldn’t find our skinny one. Popsicle sticks do not work. The screwdriver scraped the plastic a little bit, and I did crack the trim in one spot getting it off. Oh well. I drive my cars until they die, so I don’t get incredibly hung up on the cosmetic bits. Also in this step, clear out all the lint balls in the bottom of the thingy you grab to close the door. Use the screwdriver to pry up a teeny plastic cover, then remove the screw underneath. Then use your screwdriver to pry up the whole assembly that has all the switches on it. My screwdriver and I did better this time — only one tiny scrape. Do NOT disconnect the wiring harness. (This was a tip from my coworker.)
3. This step was not in the other guy’s instructions, but I eventually realized it’s essential. Unscrew this.
4. Then get a plastic putty knife — a 3″ one will work, which is good because I managed to find that one — and work your way around the bottom and sides of the door to loosen the snap clips holding it on. Mostly you’ll just get black gunk all over your putty knife. (A little WD-40 will take it off nicely.) Eventually, give up in disgust, work your fingers under the edge at the bottom, and pull pretty hard. The clips will unsnap. Loosen them up all the way around, then wiggle the whole door up and back.
5. Holler for your kid to bring you a plastic laundry basket quick so you can prop the door up on something so that it can rest a few inches out of the way. Or disconnect the wiring harness and move it entirely out of your way, but it’s easier to get your kid to bring you something to prop it up with.
6. Pull back a bit of the plastic dust cover. Get a flashlight and a 10mm driver and tighten the bolt you see way inside there right next to the lock assembly. It will feel like you’re turning and turning and turning with no progress. Just keep going. That nut unscrewed a long way for your door handle to get that loose. Eventually, you will snug up that bolt and your door handle will be nice and tight again. Woohoo!
7. Take a break to chat with your neighbor about wedding pictures and watering her plants while she’s away.
8. Put everything back together. The panel snaps back on very easily. You may need to maneuver the metal bits somewhat in order to put back in the screw that you took out in step 3. Reassemble the rest of it. It went together very quickly.
Total time elapsed: about 45 minutes, including chatting with the neighbor, hunting for tools, and coping with a restless cat.
File this under “2002 Subaru Impreza door panel removal”. Also under “I still can’t believe I actually did it myself.”