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914 Headlamp Motor Troubleshooting

Pelican Technical Article:

914 Headlamp Motor Troubleshooting

James K. Thorusen


4-5 hours






Dielectric cleaner, pliers, DVOM, 914 wiring diagram

Applicable Models:

Porsche 914 (1970-76)

Parts Required:

Headlight switch, fuse(s), relay(s), headlight motor(s), etc. (depending upon what faults are found)

Performance Gain:

Headlight doors that open and close

Complementary Modification:

Replace your headlights
I have attempted to analyze the headlight operating circuit, and, unless I have made an error (always a possibility), it works like this:

Summary: The headlight control system is an electronic logic system that has two inputs: one, the headlight switch on the dashboard, and two: the cam-operated switch associated with each headlight motor, which detects the actual position of the headlights.

+12 volts from the control lines will be applied to the motor control relay near each headlight when there is a "disagreement" between the physical position of the headlight mechanism and the position of the headlight switch (on the dashboard). This causes the relay to pull in and the motor to operate until there is "agreement" between the position of the headlight mechanism and the headlight switch. When this is achieved, the +12 volts is removed from the relay by the cam-operated switch until the headlight switch (on the dashboard) position changes.

Thus, the headlight position follows the position of the headlight switch on the dashboard.

Detailed Theory of Operation:

The headlight switch itself contains a portion that is a DPDT (Double Pole Double Throw) switch. The center contacts of this switch are connected to two different sources of +12 volts (one switched with the ignition, and one "hot" all the time. When the headlights are switched on, +12 volts from the ignition switch is applied to the "on" contact of the headlight motor control portion of the switch. There are two control lines running to the front trunk from the headlight switch. Both have steering diodes in series with them. One is for the "extend" command, and one is for the "retract" command. The +12 volt source from the "on" headlight switch contact is routed to the front trunk via the "extend" command control line and is connected to the cam-operated switch on the headlight mechanism. When the headlights are in the stowed position, the cam operated switch selects the "extend" command line from the "on" headlight switch contact (energized when the dashboard headlight switch is in the "on" position) to energize the relay. When the relay is energized, it connects +12 volts from the battery via fuse S12 to the motor, causing it to run. The motor rotates in the same direction to both raise and lower the headlights. The operating crank must rotate 1/2 turn to do this, and is directly connected to the cam-operated switch. When the raise function has been accomplished, the cam-operated switch disconnects the "extend" command line +12 volts from the relay, and instead connects the relay to the "retract" control line from the "off" contact on the headlight switch, which is not energized while the lights are switched on.

This disconnection drops the relay and removes power to the headlight operating motor as the headlights reach full extension. When the headlight switch is turned off, it applies +12 volts (hot all the time) to the "retract" control line. The "retract" control line is selected by the cam-operated switch as the source for the relay control voltage when the headlights are in the raised position, so the relay operates, causing the motor to run and retract the headlight. When the headlight has reached full retraction, the cam-operated switch again operates to select the "extend" control line (voltage not present when the lights are switched off), which disconnects the relay from it's source of control voltage, causing it to drop out and stopping the headlight motor. In this position, the headlight motor is now ready to repeat the cycle the next time the lights are turned "on".

One other trick is employed: to ensure that the motor does not overshoot the fully raised or stowed position of the headlight mechanism, the relay pin 87a is connected to ground. This puts a short across the motor when it is de-energized. A permanent magnet motor (which these are) can also act as a generator, and if it's output is shorted, it is equivalent to putting on a very effective electric brake.

Basic Trouble-Shooting Procedures:

There are two main types of electrical faults that can occur in the Headlight Motor Control System: Motor drive power loss and control faults. There are other types of faults that will cause the headlight system to fail, but these I would clasify as mechanical faults, i.e. bad motors, broken or jammed mechanical drives, etc.

The first step is to determine in which electrical system the problem is located. An important clue is whether both headlights are affected, or just one. If both headlights are affected, the fault is highly unlikely to be caused by a bad motor or a bad relay.... it most likely is in the part of the system common to both headlights.

I. To make this determination, remove a headlight motor control relay from it's socket and set it aside. CAUTION!!!  Be sure that the relay has been removed from it's socket before making this test!! If you fail to do this, you will fry the relay!! If both headlights are affected, it does not matter which one you choose for this test, otherwise, choose the defective one of course.

Now take a reasonably good size jumper or clip lead (#16 wire or bigger) and short pins 87 and 30 of the SOCKET together. The motor should run and the headlight should cycle repeatedly between up and down.

II. If this test operates the motor, then the problem is in the control circuitry (go to paragraph IV). If not, while the short between pins 30 and 87 is still present, measure the voltage on either pin. It should be +12 volts. If considerably less or zero, then you have a supply problem.... check fuse S12 and associated wiring. Be sure to spray the fuse spring clips with contact cleaner and rotate the fuse in it's clips a few times. European fuses are notorious for corroding into high-resistance connections. Also, remove the fuse block and remove the wiring push-on terminals associated with fuse S12 one at a time and spray the contact surfaces thoroughly with contact cleaner. If the terminals are loose on their male flags, squeeze them slightly with pliers to restore proper fit.

III. If there is +12 volts present, and the motor still does not run, check the grounds, and if they are OK, then replace the motor.

IV. If the motor runs with terminals 30 and 87 of the relay socket shorted, the problem is in the control circuitry. Remove the short between pins 30 and 87 of the relay socket, and then install the relay. CAUTION!! Be sure you remove the short FIRST, and then install the relay... if you do it in reverse order, you can kiss the relay goodbye.

V. Now, turn on the ignition and the lights. If the headlights do not extend, measure the voltage between pin 85 of the relay and ground. There should be +12 volts here. If not, go to paragraph VI. If +12 volts is present on relay pin 85, check the voltage on relay pin 86. It should be zero. If anything much above 1/2 volt or so, check and clean the ground connections; this point is (or should be) directly connected to ground. Once you have +12 volts across pins 85 and 86, the relay should be operated, causing the headlight motor to drive the headlights to the extended position. If this still does not take place, replace the relay. This should be the culprit.

VI.If you have no control voltage on the relay, then the problem is further upstream. Using a long probe, or a short piece of bare wire, probe into the wiring harness connector to the headlight system on the left side of the car, where the headlight motor system connects to the car wiring harness.

Specifically, probe first the gray wire (extend control line). If the headlights have been commanded on by the dashboard switch, and the ignition is on, there should be +12 volts here. If there is, but not on the motor control relay pin 85, then either there is a bad connection (corrosion, bad crimp) between the point you are measuring and the motor, or you have a defective cam-operated switch in the motor.

Likewise, if the problem is that the lights have been commanded off, and there is no retraction, probe the green / black wire (retract control line). If there is +12 volts here, but not on the motor control relay pin 85, then either there is a bad connection (corrosion, bad crimp) between the point you are measuring and the motor, or you have a defective cam-operated switch in the motor.

VII. If you have no control voltage on the control lines, then the problem is further back still, toward the headlight switch. Measure pins 56K (extend) and 30b (retract) of the headlight switch for +12 volts present when the switch is in the appropriate position. If these voltages are present, there is a defect in the wiring between the headlight switch and the front of the car. If the voltages are not present, then go to paragraph VIII (missing extend +12 volts) or paragraph IX (missing retract +12 volts).

VIII. If the extend +12 volts is missing on pin 56K of the headlight switch, check pin 15 of the switch. If the +12 volts is present here, then the headlight switch is defective.

IX. If the retract +12 volts is missing on pin 30b of the headlight switch, then check for +12 volts on pin 30. If the +12 volts is present here, then the headlight switch is defective.

X. If the headlight overshoots it's position, i.e. retracts and then extends slightly, or extends and then retracts slightly, try changing out the headlight motor control relay. Also check the ground on pin 87a of the relay socket.

These instructions were prepared from '74 and '75 wiring diagrams, but earlier years should be pretty close.

Some Notes on Relay Operation:

All of the relays in the 914 (the ubiquitous little round black cans) are identical. They consist of a SPDT (Single Pole Double Throw) switch [ that's one set of form "C" contacts for you electronics buffs ], operated by an electromagnet. There are a total of five connections to the innards. These are as follows:

  • Pin 30 is the wiper, or center of the switch. It alternately connects to either of two other pins, depending on whether or not the coil is energized.
  • Pin 87a is the normally closed contact... that is, it is the pin that pin 30 is connected to when the relay is in the de-energized, or relaxed condition.
  • Pin 87 is the normally open contact.... that is, it is the pin that pin 30 is connected to when the relay is in the energized, or operated condition.
  • Pins 85 and 86 are the coil of the electromagnet which operates the switch.

Briefly, when their is no voltage across pins 85 and 86, pin 30 connects to pin 87a. When 12 volts is applied across the coil (pins 85 and 86) the electromagnet is energized, operating the internal switch. This disconnects pin 30 from pin 87a and connects it instead to pin 87.

Jim T.

Copyright Date of Origination by James K. Thorusen. This material may be reproduced by anyone without charge or notification.
Comments and Suggestions:
Purple 914 Comments: Hello,I have a 1975 914,4cylinder,the head light knob when pulled out operated the pop up headlights and the lights worked.But recently when I pulled the headlight knob out nothing happens.if I turn the ignition on without starting the motor and pull the knob out the lights pop up and work.if the car is running and I pull out the headlight knob the headlights stay down. Is there a short with the headlight knob? Thank you
December 11, 2017
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Could be, or the connection at the switch. I would check power to t he switch, then switched power to the headlights when the problem is present. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Vinny Comments: Thanks so much for the write up. Went through the steps, got to step VI and determined it was the "...defective cam-operated switch in the motor."

Much appreciated
March 28, 2017
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Nice work!! Glad that we could help out. - Casey at Pelican Parts  
Daz H Comments: Hi Team
968 headlight issue. Driving home last night my driver side right headlight flopped.... both lights came up when I turned the headlights on but the right one didn't stay up. When I turned them off the left housed but the right remain half up. Any ideas many thanks
March 13, 2017
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Check the wiring just behind the headlight motor and the relay for proper function. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
ERIK Comments: 1970 914-6 need original relay part no.80161510903color silver.When plugged in either side, headlight works perfectly. The replacement part by Pelican and others 91161510901 has different pin spacing. When plugged in, 1 pin misses receptacle and light doesn't function correctly..just opens and shuts.. uncontrollably
July 31, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Sounds like you got the wrong part. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right part.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Michael Comments: I have a 1988 honda prelude sedan
The passenger side headlamp won't move at all.
The driver side works fine..
I can take the broken one And move it up and down with my hand
But when I try to move the one that works up and down it won't move.
Is that a motor issue since it's so easy to flip up and down with my hand?? Also lights do work. Thanks.
February 13, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Sounds like a faulty motor. Check if it gets power and ground when commanded ON, if so, replace the motor. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
jthroop914 Comments: I have looked everywhere and I can not find this relay that controls the headlights. There is one board with relays under the dash, another on the left side of the engine compartment. Where are these elusive headlight relays!?
October 26, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: It depends on the year of your vehicle. In earlier models there was no relay. The heavy wires that carry current to the headlights came directly up the steering column and were hooked right to the headlight dimmer switch. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
dano Comments: i have a 1972 914 the left headlight goes up and down fine the right side goes up o.k. but when i turn off the light switch the right side motor goes a half a turn in the same driction as as it did to go up?? please help
January 20, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The right motor is either the wrong one for that side or defective. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
buddy Comments: i cant find out how to wire into the motor,all disconnected and colour code has been changed with same wire colour .it is on a 924 81 but seems the same as i just read above the wires are ok from relay sockets colours are ok inside but outside is my trouble which colour has constant power and which colour from light switch
October 3, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I am having trouble understanding you. In any case, you need a wiring diagram for the vehicle. No one can remember what color wire goes where in all these different model and year cars. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Marcel Comments: I have a 968 with one headlight drivers running and the other overshooting, because it is powered by the drivers main lead cable, and the three control leads not connected, If i connect normally the passengers lead, both lights don't do anything,. I checked the cables and found nothing I can do, is it the relay, which almost looks like two relays in one sync together, If one side fails, it cause the other side to fail as well?
August 28, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: There is a main retractor relay, then one for each headlight as well. See attached wiring diagram. - Nick at Pelican Parts
Big E Comments: Question: my 72 914 was in a car accident a few years ago, and the left headlamp and assembly was replaced.Now when i turn on the light it flips up un evenly when compared to the other light.Ive tried everything i know to do, got any ideas?
May 3, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: It sounds like you got the wrong part installed. Remove the headlight motor and find the part number on it, then compare with the parts catalogue. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799 - Nick at Pelican Parts  

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Page last updated: Fri 3/16/2018 02:18:19 AM