Toyota Sienna: Expedient Hatch Latch Repair

The plastic handle for the rear hatch snapped as I opened it to load some groceries. I slapped some tape over the opening to keep the loose parts from falling out on the way home: if you lose the parts, you’ve lost the game.

It turns out that the hatch doesn’t have an interior handle:

Sienna van hatch - interior
Sienna van hatch – interior

So we unloaded the groceries through the side doors, crawling over the middle seats. We don’t use the van all that much, but this was the height of the Vassar Farms garden setup season and we needed the back end for fenceposts, deer fencing, and suchlike.

Searching with the obvious keywords shows that this is a common problem for Toyota Sienna vans, many people experience it just a few years after buying a new van, it’s an extremely expensive dealer repair ($75-ish for the handle and $300-ish for labor half a decade ago), and that the Genuine Toyota replacement handle is made of the same plastic and tends to break the same way in short order. I ordered a metal handle from the usual eBay supplier for $20 and it should arrive shortly.

But an expedient repair is in order…

Pull the trim plates off the grab handle and dangling strap, apply a 10 mm socket to the three bolts thus exposed, work fingers under the cover near the latch near the center bottom, pull hard, and work your fingers around the cover as the dozen-or-so expanding button rivet fasterer thingies pop free with alarming sounds:

Sienna hatch - trim fasteners
Sienna hatch – trim fasteners

The handle / latch handle assembly fits neatly between the exterior bodywork and the interior hatch frame, where it’s barely visible. The claw-like doodad sticking up from the left should pull down on the metal (!) lever just above it, which pivots on a pin and pulls upward on a cable (the round button visible near the top of the assembly) that actually does the unlatching:

broken latch
broken latch

Remove the three nuts (one visible in that picture), squeeze the expanding plastic snap with pliers, and push it through the hole. Then you can loosen the bezel holding the handle assembly and the two license plate lamps:

Sienna hatch - bezel released
Sienna hatch – bezel released

Disconnect the lamp cable connector, push the sealing button through the hole with a screwdriver, and then you can pull the entire bezel off the hatch. That exposes the problem:

Sienna hatch - latch parts
Sienna hatch – latch parts

You can’t quite see the two screws that secure the handle assembly to the bezel, but they’re just inboard of the two bolts that hold it to the hatch. Undo those, remove the Jesus Clip from the long rod, slide it out, and extract the handle. That claw-like doodad snapped off the plastic handle:

Sienna hatch - handle
Sienna hatch – handle

Of course, it’s an engineering plastic that shrugs off ordinary solvent glue, which you wouldn’t trust for a permanent repair anyway. The general ideal is to reposition the broken part, epoxy it in place, drill a hole through it and the handle, run a long 4-40 screw through the mess, and butter it up with more epoxy.

The first step is to put the two pieces in the right alignment and secure them well enough to permit drilling. Other folks swear by cyanoacrylates, but for a job like this I invoke the mantra The Bigger the Blob, the Better the Job. Believe it or not, the broken part stands on its own amid the epoxy around its base:

Sienna hatch - handle epoxy
Sienna hatch – handle epoxy

Unfortunately, it tilted slightly, but not enough to matter, as the epoxy cured. I couldn’t figure out how to both hold it in position and hold it in exact alignment on the handle; maybe positioning a few clamps around it would have been better. In any event, the result was close enough.

Grab the handle in the drill press, align the claw vertically, face it with an end mill to let a twist drill start properly, and drill right down the middle:

Sienna hatch - handle drilling
Sienna hatch – handle drilling

Flip it over, use the same drill to align the bore, and mill a counterbore for the screw head:

Sienna hatch - handle counterboring
Sienna hatch – handle counterboring

That may not be strictly necessary, but there’s not much clearance between the handle and the rest of the frippery in the assembly. Reduce the diameter of the screw head to fit the counterbore, do the same for the nut that’ll go on the other end:

Sienna hatch - nut shaping
Sienna hatch – nut shaping

Butter up the counterbore with epoxy, slide the screw in  place, secure with the nut, and butter up that end, too. Reassemble everything and you can see how far off-center the claw is:

Sienna hatch - latch rebuilt
Sienna hatch – latch rebuilt

You can just barely make out the epoxy blob covering the nut below the claw, but it still engages the metal lever that will pull the cable:

Sienna hatch - latch assembly
Sienna hatch – latch assembly

Reassemble everything in reverse order and it works fine. I left the interior trim cover off, pending installing the metal replacement handle, and discovered that the brake lights spill plenty of light inside the van after dark.

Memo to Self: The fixtures are the hardest part of any adhesive repair. Get those right and the rest is easy!

3 thoughts on “Toyota Sienna: Expedient Hatch Latch Repair

  1. Does Sienna come with a reasonable jack or do I need a world class deadlifter to change a tire? My father’s VW came with a jack that looks & feels like a piece of plastic TV Shop exercising equipment. Or maybe I’m just old fashioned, nowadays they just keep on driving merrily…

    1. a reasonable jack

      Strangely enough, there’s a serious metal jack in the (diminutive) tool compartment and a full size tire under the rear end. Haven’t had occasion to use either, but they’re ready!

      As nearly as I can tell, though, the days of repairing automobile tires is over, so buying a new one after a flat isn’t unreasonable. The catch is that a flat tire typically happens in the middle of nowhere, out on the highway, far from a friendly Toyota dealer(*), in the middle of a vacation, so it’s not clear to me that having no backup at all is a Good Thing.

      You don’t need a spare tire very often, but when you need it, you need it bad… and a run-flat tire just isn’t the same.

      (*)I’m being ironic.

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