Electronic, self-extending antennas look fancy. Unfortunately, these telescoping car radio antennas are prone to breakage, for example when your car goes through a car wash with the antenna extended. Knowing how to repair a retractable antenna is useful in these circumstances.
Step No. 1 – Remove the broken pieces of your car antenna
The first step in repairing or replacing a broken car antenna is to get inside the mechanism so that any broken parts can be removed. If the antenna is mounted to the rear fender of the vehicle, the trunk trim panels must be removed before you can gain access. If it’s the front-fender mounted, the antenna unit may be housed either inside the engine bay or behind the innermost fender. In either case, screwdrivers and wrenches are necessary.
Thankfully, Popular Mechanics encourages DIY warriors by saying that removing the car antenna fixture is easy. Loosen bolts, disconnect the ground strap, antenna signal wire and motor control wires. Be gentle with the connectors; you’ll need to be able to reconnect them. Take out the assembly by pulling the car antenna mast down through the fender.
Step No. 2 – Survey the wreckage and plan the job
At this point, you should be able to inspect the inner workings of the power retractable antenna housing by taking out the cover screws. Take out the housing and gear cover, and you’ll see the nylon cord, gear and motor. If the teeth on the rope or gears are stripped in any way, it will all have to come out. Clean out any dirty grease while you’re at it. Any parts that appear broken or damaged can be replaced with parts from an auto parts store. If it’s a major part like the motor itself, the whole assembly should be replaced.
Step No. 3 – Fix or replace antenna parts
If the antenna mast is the problem child, take off the top of the guide tube that keeps the mast in place. Do this by pulling out the mast along with the nylon gear rope, most likely with pliers. Be sure to clean all parts with dish detergent, then lubricate the parts with lithium grease, which resists freezing. If new gears are necessary to complete the job, luckily they will simply drop into place (in most cases).
Step No. 4 – Reinsert the self-extending antenna
Compress the antenna mast and run the nylon rope through the tube. Seat the base of the mast back into the housing, and tap it in gently with a hammer. Extend the antenna completely, mesh the end of the rope with the gear drive, then put the cover back together. Re-plug the electrical connection, and test the repaired antenna system by turning the car radio on and off. If you’ve done the job properly, the antenna should expand and retract as normal. If that doesn’t happen, it’s likely that the rope is not properly aligned with the gears.
If the self-extending antenna appears to be fully functional again, screw the housing shut, put it back in place and re-bolt the mast bushing into its proper place. And remember never to leave the antenna up when you go through a car wash again.
Auto MD Barbara Terry on how to replace a car antenna
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