What is a Window Regulator?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Window regulators are components that make it possible to lower and raise the window glass in a vehicle at will. In some cases, the regulator is manual, requiring a person to operate the movement of the regulator using a hand crank. More commonly today, a window regulator is an automated device that is activated by pressing a toggle switch or a button found on the arm rest of the car door closest to the window.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

With most vehicles, an automated window regulator system is configured so the driver can control the movement of all windows in the car or truck. This effectively allows drivers to adjust front and back seat windows without using the controls situated by each of the passenger windows in the vehicle. Most makes and models continue to have individual controls situated near each window, allowing passengers to open or close the nearest window without calling on the driver to handle the task.

Prior to the middle of the 20th century, a window regulator was usually operated using a hand crank. The cranks were situated at a convenient location along the door panel, making it easy for anyone seated near the window to simply grab the crank and turn it clockwise or counter-clockwise in order to open and close the window. As the hand crank was turned, a plate supporting the glass window would lower or raise the window into the desired position. The construction of the crank made it possible to position the window so it was fully closed or open, or opened at a level that was to the liking of the passenger or driver.

By the 1960’s, the power window regulator was gaining widespread attention. Rather than operating the mechanism with a hand crank, this new innovation made it possible to open and close car windows be moving a switch or pressing a button on a control console. Originally, this feature was offered as an extra or luxury item on many makes and models. However, by the end of the 1970’s, most vehicle manufacturers considered the inclusion of power windows to be a standard feature.

Over time, the rear window regulator came into common usage. Along with the windows situated near the seating area for the driver and passengers, the ability to raise and lower the rear window of an SUV, minivan, or station wagon became desirable to consumers. This option was also considered a factory extra at one time but now is usually included as a basic feature of vehicles sold today.

As with any type of mechanical component, a window regulator does sustain wear and tear after years of repeated usage. The origin of the problem with a power window regulator is usually based in the small motor that controls the movement of the window. When the motor begins to wear out, the regulator may not respond as efficiently to the press of a button. Often, replacing the motor will restore full functionality.

However, there are situations where the issue with the regulator is more complex than simply a worn motor. When this is the case, replacement of the entire regulator may be necessary. Depending on the make and model of the vehicle, replacing an electric window regulator can be quite costly.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Haven't seen a hand cranked window on a vehicle in ages. That may be a mixed blessing -- automatic ones tend to be problematic, particularly when dealing with vehicles made before the 1990s. Automatic ones can be expensive to fix, too, whereas simpler, manual ones were not.

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