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Automatic Gate Opener Types – How They Work

T here was a time when you would only see automatic gate openers installed at the entrance of an institution or a factory. Or maybe in front of a mansion. And this was because these units used to be pretty expensive. Nevertheless, with the technology reaching new picks lately, the process of manufacturing them came to be cheaper while the security features became more advanced.

Thus, they started to be used for residential purposes, and more and more Americans are adding them to their gates. They are highly convenient, energy-effective, and true savers when the weather turns bad.

If you’ve decided to join the community of gate opener owners, then you should know that there isn’t only one type. In fact, when making your decision, it is essential to consider this aspect, as it is closely linked to the type of gate. This is why we have prepared an exhaustive guide which includes the main types of units available and their operation modes. Everything is explained in a simple manner so you can easily figure out what you need.

If you have decided to automatize your gate, don’t hesitate to do the same for your garage. Check out our garage door openers and make leaving to work and coming home two pleasant activities. Don’t let a rainy day ruin your looks anymore.

A car entering a swing gate operated by an automatic gate opener Image

What Are Automatic Gate Openers?

The principle of functioning behind these devices is based on an automated arm that is actioned by an electric motor. The set also includes a remote control or a keypad, which sends a radio signal to the motor every time it is activated. When the motor receives the signal, it actions the arm and opens or closes the gate. All is done from the distance, and you won’t even need to get out of the car. Furthermore, you can set a timer that can close the gate after you after a number of seconds. Thus, you will never need to worry that you have left the gate open.

Why Do You Need an Electric Gate Opener?

We’ve mentioned the comfort of remaining in the car while the gate opens on its own, but this is only one of the benefits a unit of this type can bring. So, let’s go through the main advantage of installing it:

  • It increases safety – Burglars find it easier to trespass regular gates, as they have locks easier to break. With an electric option, no one will be able to enter the premises without you knowing it. Plus, you won’t need to carry a key with you wherever you go.
  • It is cheaper than other security services – If you are taking security seriously, you have two alternatives: employing a specialized firm to survey your home or install a high-end lock. Electric openers offer the second variant at a lower price than it would cost you to pay a security firm.
  • It increases home value – A home with an automatic gate usually sells at a higher price than one with regular gates. So, you should look at this as a long-term investment, but one that can be enjoyed every day.
  • It looks amazing – Let’s admit that gates that open on their own are much more spectacular. They are associated with luxury and wealth, and they allow you to welcome your guests in great style.

Knowing the market is essential when purchasing and electric opening unit for your gate. Check out our best-rated automatic gate opener comparison and discover what options and functions they have to offer.

Automatic swing gates Image

Swing Gate Openers

If you pick a swing model, you should be aware that the gates will take a lot of space. Not when they are closed, but when the opening mechanism is actioned, as they need to fully swing open. As most residential models work on the swing system, the advantage here is that you can easily install the opener. Nevertheless, some disadvantages do exist. For example, these models are less secure than the slide alternative, as the gates are easier to push open. At the same time, this type of system produces higher wear and strain on the gates.

There are two types of swing units, ram, and articulated arm, so let’s take a look at their particularities and operating modes:

Ram or Linear

If you are looking for a model easy to install, you should consider a linear unit. These are highly popular for residential use, as they are cheaper than other models but very reliable. Just like any electric opener, they come with a motor and an arm that attaches to the gate. The only thing that differentiates them is the method used to activate the arm, which can be either a screw jack or a worm drive. When the motor receives the signal, it retracts the arm, reducing its length, and this allows the gate to open. When it needs to close the gate, the arm is extended. The strength of the motor can be adjusted according to the weight of the gates.

These models are suitable for oversized or heavy gates, which can measure up to 23 feet in width, and are easy to install, as they attach directly to the posts and no digging is required. This means you can do it yourself and in a fairly short amount of time.

Articulated arm gate opener installed on swing gates Image

Articulated Arm

Once again a popular type due to the fact that it can be installed to most pre-existent gates, this type is usually picked when the pillar to which the gate attaches is too large for a ram model. In this case, the motor is placed on the pillar and a hinged arm is used, which goes around the pillar and connects to the gate. They can operate both wooden and metal gates but are usually used for low-aluminum models.

However, units of this type aren’t very discreet and the aesthetics may be a problem. But they are highly versatile, being compatible with both single and paired swinging models, and their installation is fairly easy and inexpensive, especially as the gate doesn’t need to be replaced.


There’s some digging here, but if you care for the aesthetics of your home, you must be up for the effort. These discrete models are installed underground and attach to the pivot point of each gate, operating it directly. They are suitable for models with a length of 137.79 inches each and can operate both single and paired gates, being compatible with most units that have been pre-installed. Moreover, you can find them in hydraulic and electro-mechanic versions, so there’s a lot of versatility here. Nevertheless, they would fit better gates that are not prone to be pushed or forced.

These units increase the security of your home. Nevertheless, it never hurts to be extra careful. Read about how to secure your garage door as well, as this is usually a weak point, used by burglars to enter the house.

Slide gates operated by an automatic gate opener Image

Slide Gate Openers

Used at first mostly commercial, these models have slowly become common in residential areas as well. The advantage of using a unit of this type is that it doesn’t need a large space to open like swing models do, and can work on slopes where the other models usually can’t. Nevertheless, the main advantage is that you get to keep your space in the yard. A swing model needs to open, so the space the gates would occupy when opened must be kept free. But in this case, you can park an extra car inside.

There are two types of slide systems:


They imply the digging of a groove, which needs to be placed into the road. The gates use this trench to slide along it using a beam containing wheels, which is installed at their bottom. The motor is connected to the gate through a rack or gear, which actions the gates. The advantage of this system is that it is relatively cheap compared with cantilever systems and is easier to install. But more preparations need to be made before attaching the opener, and usually, the racking material needs to be adapted according to the motor. For residential models, nylon is usually required.

However, although these models are cheaper, they are not as secure as cantilever units. The rails can be removed, leading to security breaches. Moreover, it is difficult to install them on uneven ground and more maintenance is required, as leaves and debris need to be removed periodically from the groove.


For uneven surfaces, these models are the best pick. They have an aluminum or steel beam and require the presence of a concrete base, which usually leaves 2 to 3 inches between it and the beam. Just like in the case of tracked models, the motor uses a flat rack to connect to the gate and wind it closed or open.

Although these units are some of the most expensive, they are the most secure as well, and are easier to maintain, as there’s no trench that could gather leaves.

Just like gate openers, garage openers come in many models and offer a great variety of options. Discover the garage door opener drive types and increase the level of security even further.

Automatic gate opener installed on a slide gate Image

How to Pick the Right Model

The opener should fit the type of gate you have installed but, as you have seen, more opener models can match the same gate. To make things easier, we’ve prepared a short questionnaire that will help you decide:

  • Question 1: Do you already have a set of swing gates installed? – In this case, things are clear. You should pick either a linear, articulated arm or underground model and attach it. This is the cheapest option, as the gates are already in place and they have probably functioned great until now, so there’s no need to invest in new ones. Unless they are old and damaged. In this situation, you will want to replace them, otherwise, they may damage the opener.
  • Question 2: Is the budget an important criterion for you? – Then go for a linear model. It is the cheapest of all and easy to set up, which means that you can attach it yourself and save some money.
  • Question 3: Is your gate attached to a large pillar that wouldn’t allow the set up of a linear model? – Pick an articulated arm unit. Still on the affordable side and easy to mount, this model comes with a longer arm, specially designed to go around the pillar and operate the gate.
  • Question 4: Are aesthetics important to you? – It’s simple. Choose an underground model. Although you will need to do some digging, your gate pillars won’t be decorated with some plastic attachments, which aren’t the most pleasant to look at.
  • Question 5: Is space a problem for you? – In this situation, we recommend switching to a slide model. It will allow you to use the entire space of your yard and is suitable for both large and small gates. The alternative would be to install the swing gates to open towards your guests. But it is enough for someone to estimate the distance wrong for the gates to hit their car, a situation that can be both awkward and costly.

The Bottom Line

Automatic devices make things easier, so in an era when everything is running at such a high speed, it isn’t unusual to want to leave some actions to the hands of motorized machines. The benefits electric gate openers can bring are noticeable in terms of comfort and aesthetics, but the main advantage is always the increased level of security they offer. A gate that can only be operated with the help of a keypad or a remote, is more difficult to break, and, in some cases, even impossible.

So, even if you are making an investment, and, depending on the type of opener, it may seem high, you can expect it to pay off. Plus, these units are built to last, so you can rely on them to guard your home for years to come, all with minimal maintenance.

Lexie Thorne
Lexie Thorne
Lexie is the newest member of the team, previously working for a local business that sold, among other items, robotic vacuums. She takes a keen interest in the latest tech and considers herself to be a veritable tech geek. Using her connections, Lexie makes sure that she always talks to experts when putting together reviews and articles to ensure the information you read is reliable and makes a difference toward aiding you to better understand how automated devices for home use work.

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