The car hood not closing all the way is extremely common; it is very dangerous to drive with but simple to fix (in most cases).
Usually, when a hood doesn’t close properly, a corrosion build-up prevents the locking mechanism from securing the hood. Fixing it is straightforward and doesn’t very often require you to replace any parts. More on this below.
The parts of a hood
- The hood – is also known as bonnet.
- Release handle – Inside the car cabin.
- Cable – Releases the locking mechanism once the release handles pulled.
- Safety catch – The hook that locks onto the striker; this is the part you release when opening the hood after popping the release handle.
- Striker – The looped anchor attached to the underside of the hood
- Hinges – Allow the hood to pivot open; one side is fixed to the hood, the other to the car chassis.
- Latch mechanism – When you push the hood closed, the locking latch mechanism ensures it does not pop open until you pull the release handle.
6 Reasons a car hood won’t close properly
You will see that some of the six reasons below are very similar or components within another component. I wanted to list them separately as they are problems I have witnessed firsthand and aren’t always obvious.
Failed latch mechanism
A failed latch mechanism can prevent the hood of a vehicle from closing correctly. Usually located near the front of the vehicle’s engine compartment, the latch mechanism consists of a hook or catch that engages with a striker (anchor) on the hood. When you close the hood, the hook latches onto the striker. This is the first stage of closing the hood; when you press the hood down again, it activates the locking mechanism, a spring, and a safety catch that secures the hood properly.
When the latch becomes problematic, you may only be closing the hood partially, but it may pop back open to the first stage of closing it. This is especially dangerous, as the gap around the hood allows the wind to get underneath it. Traveling at speed can cause the hood to fling back, shattering the windshield. The latch mechanism typically fails due to corrosion, the spring inside the locking mechanism is dry, or the hook doesn’t latch on because it’s seized. A corroded or dry latch mechanism is the most common reason for having a hood that won’t close all the way.
The good news is that nine times out of ten, you can spray WD-40 into the mechanism. Then, use a screwdriver to keep working all the springs, levers, and hooks to ensure everything moves freely. The latch mechanism should now work, and you can close the hood correctly; more on this below.
Firstly, if the hood is dented where the anchor is or bent, it may not align with the latch or the rest of the vehicle’s body, preventing it from closing. Secondly, if the hinges that connect the hood to the car are misaligned because the hood is damaged, they will hinder the hood’s ability to close. Both can prevent the hood latch from engaging correctly, leaving it partially open or causing it to pop up while driving.
The usual reason for a damaged hood is impact damage. The hinges are bolted directly onto the hood and are not easily misaligned unless damaged in an impact. However, suppose the vehicle has recently had the hood off due to body panel repair or a maintenance task that required it to be removed, and it hasn’t been aligned when replaced. i.e., In that case, if it’s fouling another body panel, it will damage the hinges and the hood.
Mechanics are the worst at leaving sockets or bolts in the runners that the hood closes into; they are good storage areas when working under the hood. However, that doesn’t help when you next open the hood, to check the oil levels and then try to close it, and it now gets caught, preventing you from closing the hood all the way.
Any debris, rocks, keys, or sticks getting into the latch mechanism or hinge will prevent the hood from closing correctly. Remove the offending item, and the problem will be cured, providing no damage has been done. It’s not something that happens often, but it is something to be aware of.
Inside the latch mechanism is a series of springs, one for the cable return, the other to keep the hook in place. If the spring breaks or becomes so corroded it fails to return (loses its springiness), you will not be able to close the hood all the way.
Unfortunately, it generally means replacing the whole mechanism unit or cable need to be replaced when a spring fails.
Broken release handle
When the release handle is pulled inside the vehicle, it activates a cable connected to the hood latch mechanism. This cable releases the latch’s locking mechanism, lifting the hood. If the release handle mechanism is broken, you may not be able to close the hood because it constantly pulling on the cable releasing the hood.
Another issue that can happen is some release handles have a spring mechanism to pull the handle and cable closed. If this mechanism on the handle fails, it will pull on the cable, preventing you from closing the hood correctly.
The hood release cable connects the interior release handle to the latch assembly on the hood. Pulling the release lever inside the car activates the cable, which releases the locking mechanism, allowing the hood to pop up slightly.
If the cable frays and stretches, it may not transmit the necessary force or movement to release the latch fully. If you then manage to open it, it may be impossible to close the hood all the way. This is because the stretched cable pulls on the latch mechanism opening the hood. With a stretched cable, you may also notice the release handle in the cabin is not back in the ‘closed’ position.
How to fix a car hood that won’t close all the way
It’s not always possible to do home repairs to get the hood to close all the way; parts may need replacing, and they can’t always be cleaned. However, there are some steps below that you can follow, which highlight the issue and the steps needed to get them working again.
- Test the release lever – Inside the car, test the hood release lever to ensure it’s functioning correctly. It could mean the cable needs replacing if it feels loose or unresponsive.
- Check for obstructions – Inspect the hood and latch mechanism for any debris, objects, or items that might obstruct or prevent the hood from closing.
- Lubricate the latch – If it is stiff, appears rusty, or looks like the hook isn’t returning, apply a penetrating lubricant like WD-40 to the latch mechanism. You may need to use a screwdriver to work the mechanism and springs until they start to work again. Once the latch works, apply some lithium grease to the latch mechanism to keep it all lubricated.
- Adjust the latch (if required) – You shouldn’t usually need to do this, but if the latch doesn’t align, you may need to adjust it. Loosen the mounting bolts slightly, reposition the latch, and then tighten the bolts again.
- Examine the hood alignment – Look closely at the hood’s alignment with the car’s body; also check the striker(anchor) alignment on the underside of the hood. If the hood is fouling another body panel or the striker isn’t catching the locking mechanism, you will need to adjust the hood until it aligns.
Is it safe to drive if the hood won’t close properly?
Driving with a hood that won’t close all the way is unsafe. If you must drive, do not go over 10mph with a hood that won’t close properly. To ensure no damage is done even up to 10mph, ensure the hood is secured using a temporary fix (There is one in this article below).
The problem is that when driving any quicker than 15mph, the wind can get under the hood, which will cause it to lift; if the hood pops up, it will fly back into the windshield, shattering the glass. It can also cause irreversible damage to the A-pillars that run up the side of the windshield, the hinges on the hood, and the anchor points for the hood hinges.
If you must drive the car, only go to a garage for repair and keep the speed down. However, before you drive, secure the hood so it cannot pop up if the wind gets underneath it. Using a handful of cable tidies works very well. Use the anchor on the underside of the hood and any holes on the slam panel (where the locking mechanism is) to secure them. Do not drive with the hood completely loose; even going over bumps in the road will cause the hood to rise, and if it has hydraulic lifters, it will shoot up, limiting visibility.
Remember that using cable ties to secure the hood does not mean you can drive the car as usual; this is just a way of preventing the hood from popping up. The wind will break the cable ties if you drive more than 15mph.
A car with a hood that won’t close all the way is not as stressful as it sounds. Yes, driving is unsafe, but it can usually be fixed with a bit of WD40 and working the springs and levers inside the latch mechanism until they free off. That isn’t a guarantee; sometimes parts break, and replacements are required.