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What Is a Tailgate Actuator?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 23, 2024
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A tailgate actuator is a device used to open a tailgate of a vehicle either by the touch of a button or via a wireless remote control. Using a push-pull mechanism, a tailgate actuator relies on the power of an electric solenoid to open the tailgate. Connected to the latch mechanism located inside of the tailgate assembly, the tailgate is opened when the tailgate actuator is activated and pulls the release latch via a chain or metal rod. The chain and cable or rod is connected at one end to the latch mechanism and to the actuator at the other. The tailgate is pushed open by a hydraulic cylinder, a spring or a popper button, which is a spring-loaded plunger that is compressed between the tailgate frame and the vehicle's chassis.

One of the many advantages offered by the tailgate actuator is the ability to open the tailgate prior to coming into contact with the vehicle. This allows the tailgate to be opened in the rain without requiring the vehicle's operator to have to wait in the rain for it to do so. For example, a grocery shopper can activate the tailgate actuator from across the parking lot in most cases and arrive at an open vehicle to empty a grocery cart. This can potentially save some of the groceries as well as the shopper from becoming soaking wet while fumbling with a key to open the tailgate. This feature also allows a vehicle operator to open a tailgate without leaving the comfort and safety of the driver's seat.

The same technology that created the tailgate actuator has been used to make automatic side opening doors on vans possible. The automatic opening side door uses a device very similar to the unit used in the tailgate, along with an electric drive motor that pulls the door open and closed by a chain and cable or by a hydraulic cylinder. By connecting the power actuator to the latch system, the door remains fully functional using the manual door handles. On most sport utility vehicles (SUVs), the tailgate is equipped with a dual-action or dual-stage actuator. This often consists of a solenoid that operates in both the push and pull directions.

A two-stage solenoid used on the SUV tailgate actuator opens both the tailgate as well as the tailgate glass. The actuator button is typically activated once to open only the glass, and twice to open the tailgate. This feature allows a user to open the glass only if placing a small object in the rear cargo area. When requiring more space, the tailgate can be opened to create a more accessible cargo area.

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