The remote control is in the car, the car is in the street, and you're in a hurry. You push the button at the back of the garage, then duck out before the door closes.
You may have been in this situation and escaped without incident, but not everyone does. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, 50 children in the United States died or suffered permanent brain injury between 1982 and 1992 as a result of accidents involving automatic garage door openers. Thousands of others suffer less-serious injuries every year. Make your garage door safer by putting it through these tests once a month.
Reversing test: Garage door openers manufactured after 1982 are likely to feature automatic reversing mechanisms that sense obstructions and send doors back up if they hit something while closing. To test the sensitivity of the mechanism, some manufacturers recommend placing a block of wood on the ground beneath the door. The door should reverse within two seconds of contact. Consumer advocates say that this test should instead be conducted with a large, unwrapped roll of paper towels, which more accurately simulates the body of a small child. If your door doesn't pass the reversing test, a knob on the motor housing will allow you to adjust the sensitivity until it passes. Garage door openers made after 1993 have even more sophisticated safety features. According to federal mandate, they must be equipped with pressure-sensing reversing systems along with photoelectric sensors that prevent the doors from being activated if there are obstructions in their path. They may also be outfitted with switches that must be held down constantly to operate the doors.
Balance test: For maximum safety, the door must also be properly balanced. To test this, disengage the electric operator and stand outside. Lift the door 3 or 4 feet off the ground, let go, and step away quickly. If the door drops to the ground, it is out of balance. Because balancing a garage door requires adjusting the tension on heavy-duty springs, it should always be done by a professional. The springs should also be attached to safety cables. In the event that a spring breaks, the cable will stop the spring from flying off and causing injury or death.
Equilibrium test: Finally, perform an equilibrium test. With the electric operator disengaged, watch and listen to your garage door as you raise and lower it. If it is hung properly, it will glide up and down smoothly without screeching or jittering. If it is lopsided, or not moving smoothly on its tracks, it should be adjusted by a professional. Not only will lopsided or improperly installed garage doors not function well, they'll put undue stress on the electric motor, making it difficult to correctly adjust the reversing mechanism and causing a potential fire hazard.
Considerations for parents: Teach your children that the garage door is not a toy -- no matter how much they like to push buttons. The National Safe Kids Campaign recommends that you teach your children to wait until the garage door stops moving before they enter or exit a garage. They also suggest locking a garage door's remote control in your car's glove compartment.