A tailgate latch is made up of eight pieces. There is the latch handle, the rotating latch mechanism, two rods, two panel latches, one on each side, and the latches' recesses on either side of the tailgate. All related components can be accessed from the inside panel of the tailgate. Remove the screws and the large panel. The nuts for the handle are easily seen behind the rotating latch assembly. When the handle is lifted, it pushes down on the rotating latch that, in turn, pulls on the rods running to the outside panel latches.
How it Works
When the rods are pulled, the outside latch is retracted which releases the tailgate. The rotating assembly has a straight bar and the rods are attached to both ends. When the bar rotates, it is easy to see how it pulls the rods. To replace the handle, remove the nuts and handle. When replacing the rotating latch assembly, disconnect the rods first by pulling the plastic retainers off the rods and remove the rod from the latch. The rods must be straight--if not, they will effect the operation of the assembly. To remove and replace the outside latches, remove the two screws holding them in on each side of the tailgate. Remove the rod from the rotating latch and pull the latch and rod out.
How to Fix the Tail Gate Latch
When installing the outside latch mechanism, the rod should be installed on the latch, the latch inserted into the access hole and held in place as the screws are installed. To adjust the rod, pull the rod just until the spring tension in the outside latch can be felt. This takes up all the slack. Install the rod flat into the plastic retainer in the rotating latch and flip the top of the retainer over and clip it in place. That locks the rod in place.
In most cases, the outside latch gets rusty or corroded causing the rotating latch behind the handle to lock up and causing the handle to break. To prevent this repair or during the repair lubricate all the latches with penetrating oil and make sure they are free to move without restriction.