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What is a Power Window?

By J.M. Densing
Updated May 23, 2024
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A power window is a car window that is raised and lowered by a motor that is controlled by a switch. These windows have become standard equipment on vehicles, replacing the older hand cranked style. When the switch is activated it completes a circuit, sending electricity to the motor which then moves the window up or down. Many power windows have a variety of added features such as one-touch opening, lockout switches, and "courtesy power on."

The power window was first introduced for automotive use by Packard in the 1940s, and it remained a high end luxury feature for many years. For a long time, they were featured only in the most exclusive models, such as Cadillac limousines. Most vehicles had windows that were operated by a hand-turned crank, with the power window only becoming a popular option in the 1970s and 1980s. Slowly they became a standard feature, and by the 2000s many vehicle manufacturers eliminated hand-cranked windows completely.

The distinguishing feature of a power window is the ease of operation; to raise or lower a window, all an occupant of the vehicle has to do is activate a switch. When the switch is pressed, electricity is sent to the motor which raises and lowers the window along a track. The motor turns several gears which cause a long arm to move up or down. One end of the arm travels along a groove in a bar at the base of the window; in so doing, the entire window rises when the arm goes up and lowers when it goes down. Some cars with many power features first send the electricity to a device called a control module, which routes the power to the desired window motor.

As consumers have grown accustomed to having power windows in their cars, many manufacturers have added extra convenience features. Many offer windows that open with a single touch of the switch. Single touch switches prevent accidental closing by having the user pull up on the switch to close the window or come with sensors that automatically reverse operation if an obstruction is detected in the window path.

Another popular convenience is a power window lockout switch that allows the driver to prevent passengers, often children, from operating the windows. Some vehicles allow window operation from outside the car using a remote. Many cars are also equipped with a feature called "courtesy power on." This feature allows the windows to continue operating for a brief interval after the ignition key is removed so that they can be adjusted without reinserting the key.

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Discussion Comments
By mobilian33 — On Jul 28, 2014

@Feryll - You can buy power window kits that include the motor and switches. These can be installed without too much trouble. However, some cars will need additional wiring. This can get complicated, but you should be able to follow the directions and get the system working. But you don't want to make a mistake and end up causing some major electrical problems, so be careful.

I think the kits cost a few hundred dollars. I'm sure there are different prices depending on what you need and how much you want to spend.

By Feryll — On Jul 27, 2014

Does anyone out there know how to convert the crank windows into power windows? Is this even something that can be done without spending a fortune?

By Drentel — On Jul 27, 2014

I agree with what this article says about power windows being easier to use. I don't know when the electric windows first came out, but I can remember when they were not common.

My uncle bought a Buick when I was a kid. The car was a convertible and it had power windows. That was the first time I had seen a car with them. I can remember thinking how cool that was at the time. What wasn't so cool was when the power window switches would go bad and you couldn't close or open the windows.

Car power windows are better put together nowadays, but for a long time I refused to have a car with power windows because I was afraid they would stop working and I would be in for a costly repair, not to mention the inconvenience.

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