Today: The Broken Trunk Latch

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 03, 2014

Dear Tom and Ray:

My brother-in-law, who lives the next state over, has a 2007 Toyota Corolla. His trunk no longer opens. He lives frugally, so it would really be good if the two of us could find the root cause and fix it. We met halfway between our houses at an ice-cream shop parking lot, and pried the back seat forward. Then I crawled into the trunk to assess what I could.

The key turns, and a wire strut looks like it moves. There is a plastic lever with the image of a car and trunk opening, which I thought would save us. No luck. I pulled it down, but nothing happened or clicked. Something is just not hooked up right, and we don't know what it is or why. As we were experiencing a heat wave at the time, I did not spend too much more time poking around in the trunk. What do you suggest we do next?

-- Eric

RAY: I'd wait for winter, Eric. It's a lot cooler in the trunk that time of year.

TOM: Sounds like the latch is broken. You have two mechanisms that are supposed to make the latch disengage (the key, and the emergency release lever inside the trunk). Neither one actuated the latch. So it's probably the latch itself.

RAY: So you should try to unlatch the thing, manually, from the inside. I don't have a mental map of an '07 Corolla trunk latch, but what you want to do is try to flip the latch claw with a screwdriver so it releases its hold on the U-bolt that's holding the trunk lid closed.

TOM: We often have this problem with hood release latches. They rust out, or the cable breaks or sticks. We get underneath and release the latch with a screwdriver so we can repair the thing. Of course, hood latches are easier to get at from the grille or through the engine compartment, but it's the same principle.

RAY: So you need to get in there with a bright light, and see if you can maneuver the latch mechanism with the right size screwdriver and get it to release.

TOM: It'd be helpful if you could see one that works properly first. So next time you see an '07 Corolla, ask the driver if he can lock you in his trunk for a while. Bring an oxygen tank. And pack a lunch, in case you're in there for a while.

RAY: If you're unable to release the latch with a screwdriver, then you have to either try to unbolt the latch from the inside and remove it, or do a "Law and Order" on it.

TOM: That's a crowbar, Eric. But that'll damage the trunk lid, and the fascia.

RAY: But ultimately, you'll probably have to remove the latch and either fix or replace it. It's just easier to do when the trunk is open and you have access to helpful accessories, like light and air. Good luck.

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