How to Open a Ford F150 Tailgate When the Handle is Broken

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Having a broken tailgate handle on your Ford F150 can be extremely frustrating. Not being able to open up the bed of your truck makes it much harder to haul and load items. Thankfully, there are a few different methods you can try to get the tailgate open, even with a broken handle.

Using the Key Cylinder to Open the Tailgate

Many Ford F150 models have a lock cylinder built into the tailgate itself. This allows you to use your key to unlock the tailgate, even if the external handle is broken. Here are the steps to open the tailgate using the lock cylinder:

Locate the Lock Cylinder

  • The lock cylinder will be built right into the sheet metal of the tailgate, usually towards the driver’s side.
  • It’s a round protrusion with a keyhole in the center.

Insert and Turn the Key

  • Insert your F150’s key into the lock cylinder.
  • Turn it counterclockwise just like you would unlock a door.
  • You should feel and hear the latch release.

Lift the Tailgate

  • With the latch released, simply lift up on the tailgate to open it.
  • You may need to lift it slightly higher than usual to clear the latch.
  • The tailgate should swing open, allowing complete access to the truck bed.

If your lock cylinder is damaged or the key doesn’t turn, you can attempt to open it manually with a screwdriver.

Using a Screwdriver to Manually Release the Latch

If the lock cylinder won’t turn with the key, you may be able to manually release the latch using a screwdriver. Here’s how to do it:

Locate the Lock Cylinder Hole

  • On most F150s, the lock cylinder is near the driver’s side of the tailgate.
  • Identify the small hole where the lock cylinder resides.

Insert the Screwdriver and Turn

  • Take a sturdy, flat-head screwdriver and insert it into the lock cylinder hole.
  • Angle it towards where the latch would be located behind the hole.
  • Turn the screwdriver counterclockwise as if turning an ignition key.
  • You should feel the latch release and be able to lift the tailgate.
  • Take care not to bend or break the screwdriver while forcefully turning it.

Open the Tailgate

  • Once unlatched, lift up and lower the tailgate just like normal.
  • Check that the screwdriver did not damage the lock components.
  • This method requires some force but can bypass a seized lock cylinder.

Removing the tailgate handle is another option if the lock cylinder cannot be turned with a key or screwdriver.

Removing the Tailgate Handle and Opening the Latch

If the lock cylinder and handle are both severely damaged, removing the tailgate handle may allow direct access to the latch mechanism. Here are the steps for handle removal and manual latch release:

Remove the Plastic Inner Panel

  • The inner plastic tailgate panel needs to be popped off to access the handle bolt.
  • There are usually snap clips around the edges that can be released with a trim tool or flat screwdriver.
  • Remove the inner panel to expose the metal handle mount.

Remove the Tailgate Handle Bolt

  • With the inner panel off, you’ll see a bolt holding the tailgate handle in place.
  • Use a ratchet wrench with an extension to reach the bolt.
  • Once the bolt is removed, you can detach the tailgate handle.

Release the Latch with Pliers

  • With the handle detached, you’ll see the latch mechanism and connecting rod.
  • Use standard pliers or vise grips to turn the latch clockwise until unlatched.
  • You may need an additional pry tool to release it fully.
  • Once unlatched, the tailgate can be lifted open.

Removing the tailgate handle takes some work but allows you to directly access and release the latch.

Replacing the Tailgate Handle

Once you’ve got the tailgate open, you’ll want to look into replacing the handle for a permanent solution. Here is an overview:

Inspect the Current Damage

  • Examine the latch mechanism and handle mounting holes.
  • Make sure there are no major holes, cracks or deformities.
  • The new handle needs to fit flush and mount securely.

Purchase the Replacement Handle

  • OEM Ford handles can be ordered online or from a dealership.
  • Make sure the part number matches your F150 model year.
  • Aftermarket handles are also available if you’re on a budget.

Install the New Handle

  • Bolt the new handle in place through the original mounting holes.
  • Make sure it sits flush and operates smoothly.
  • Reinstall the inner tailgate panel and any other interior trim.

Test Operation

  • Open and close the tailgate several times using the new handle.
  • Ensure proper latching and seamless operation.
  • Adjust or lubricate as needed to restore smooth function.

Taking the time to properly replace a broken tailgate handle will restore full use of your F150’s bed and prevent future frustrations.

Getting Help From a Professional

If you don’t have the tools, time, or ability to repair the tailgate yourself, getting help from a professional may be the best option. Here are a few things to consider:

Mobile Mechanics

Many mobile mechanics can come to your home or office to repair the tailgate handle on site. This prevents having to tow the truck somewhere for service. They can also assess any other issues with the latch mechanism.

Auto Dealerships

Ford dealership service centers are experts on F150 repairs. They will have all factory-approved parts and tools for tailgate repairs. However, dealer labor rates are usually quite high.

Auto Body Shops

Local auto body shops work on truck bodies, doors, and frames daily. If the tailgate handle replacement is beyond your capability, they can take on the repair with expertise. Shop rates are often lower than at dealers.


Many locksmiths specialize in vehicle lock and latch repairs. They have the skills to disassemble and rebuild tailgate lock cylinders. If the issue is with the lock itself, a locksmith may be the best bet.

No matter which repair option you choose, be sure to get a written estimate of parts, labor rates, and total costs beforehand. Knowing your options will help you make the right choice.

Preventing Ford F150 Tailgate Problems

To help avoid tailgate problems in the future, here are some proactive maintenance tips for your Ford F150:

  • Periodically lubricate the tailgate hinges and latch assembly with white lithium grease. This prevents rust and keeps things operating smoothly.
  • Make sure the lock cylinder is drained after going through a car wash. Trapped water can freeze and crack the cylinder.
  • Avoid overloading the tailgate. Excess weight stresses the components and hardware.
  • Adjust the latch strike if it becomes misaligned. A poor latch angle makes handles prone to damage.
  • Upgrade to an aftermarket tailgate assist shock if the factory one fails. This takes weight off the handles.
  • Install protective bed rail caps and edge guards. They prevent accidental damage from cargo.
  • Refrain from sitting or stepping on an open tailgate. This can bend the metal or break hardware.

With proper care and maintenance, you can get many years of reliable service from your Ford F150 tailgate. Taking preventative measures will help minimize costly repairs down the road.


Dealing with a broken tailgate handle can definitely be a hassle. However, as this article covered, there are several effective methods you can use to get your Ford F150’s tailgate open when the exterior handle is damaged. Taking the time to properly replace the handle will get your truck bed functional again. And implementing preventative care will help avoid tailgate problems arising in the future. With the right techniques and tools, a broken F150 handle doesn’t have to leave your truck bed stranded forever.

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