I thought that I'd take the time to make my first post on this site in homage of those who have gone before me and helped in my endeavor, hoping to add a bit more information to help those coming after me.
Problem: rear hatch/liftgate on 2001 Sequoia would not open
About three years ago the handle on my rear liftgate broke, just like many others out there since it's engineered questionably. After replacement, all was well for the past few years. Recently, the liftgate began getting difficult to open, before finally NOT opening at all.
As my handle felt different (had some pressure/resistance) then it did when it had broken the last time, I thought that my issue this time was due to a bad lock actuator and that the door was in the locked position. The feeling from the handle felt VERY SIMILAR to how the handle feels if you pull it with the door locked. The problem (as many know) is that in order to remove the lock actuator for replacement, you need to open the liftgate. Ultimately that led me to this thread which was a VERY USEFUL starting point for me.
Following all the advice from above, particularly that found in post 8 by llbruce and post 12 by sweetchuck223. They are pretty spot on, but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words and so I snapped a few.
After removing the two small screws that Chuck refers to, I was still having a hell of a time getting bottom (black) plug to release as accessing the release clip was a hassle.
NOTE: I should note that I never unhooked / moved my rear window regulator... in my case, it's dead/inoperable and not worth the money to me to replace it as I have 193k on the vehicle and don't need the window to move.
I was having a hard time getting the cover out of the way enough to access/look at the lock mechanism. Finally, getting just enough clearance, it looked to me that my lock was already unlocked. Recall that I had ASSUMED that my issue was the door was stuck in the LOCKED position. I removed the cable from the liftgate handle, manually pulled on the barrel, and pop, the door was open for the first time in a few months.
With the door now open, I popped off the latch cover, removed the 3 10mm bolts holding the latch and took it out. Based on descriptions from others here, I didn't think that my latch looked nearly as bad as I expected. Nonetheless, I lubed the latch and manually open/closed it many times. The action seemed smooth enough. I then plugged in the wiring to test the locking/unlocking of the actuator. NOTE: you will need to use a screwdriver and manually close the latch so the vehicle believes that the liftgate is closed. This is a two position latch and must be fully closed. Action from my actuator seemed to check out fine which had me a bit confused.
I reinstalled it all back into the vehicle, minus the cover which I'd made a slight modification to with the dremel to allow easier on/off by removing a bit of material near the black connector where it was binding. I also removed the damned clip on the black connector that was driving me nuts. This isn't a safety critical connector and I'm not too worried about it working its way loose.
With the unit installed back into the vehicle (and another new rear liftgate handle installed... the old was NOT broken, but what the hell, I was there AGAIN and it cost me about $18 for a new one) I was dismayed when I tried to open the hatch with the handle and it didn't pop. On the third pull of the handle it reluctantly popped open.
During investigation I noticed that the cable arm was slightly bent. I figured I had three reasonable ways to correct this.
1) buy a new locking mechanism ... this was ruled out because I am cheap, the vehicle has 193k miles, and the locking mechanism seemed otherwise fine.
2) remove the latch assembly from the vehicle again and bend the arm slightly to put it back where it belonged. My thought here is that this piece had already been weakened, bending it again would only serve to weaken it further.
3) shorten the cable
Effectively, I went with option 3. I took a small square nut that I found in the garage, slotted the side to allow sliding it onto the cable and reinstalled the cable with my nut between the latch and the ball on top of the cable. The nut was approximately 1/8" thick and this allowed the slop in the cable to be taken up and the latch to work as expected. There is no guarantee that the support arm will not bend further in the future, but we will see. I hope not as the latch is lubed and working very smoothly.
Putting the cover back onto the latch assembly with it installed was now proving difficult again. I could have easily unbolted it, installed the cover and rebolted it. Instead I foregone that option and modified the cover further. My thought is that the only reason for the cover inside the door is to shield the latch from water/debris coming in from around the window seal. In theory that shouldn't be a large amount. In my case, I was more worried about the lock actuator failing and going through the miserable process of trying to remove the cover again to get to the lock/unlock switch. Thus, I further modified the cover. It is now chimp easy to install/remove if I need to and will not require cursing in the process. It still shields the unit from water falling from above. I'm much happier with it this way.
Finally, I wanted to show a good picture of the "switch" for those of you facing a situation where your lock actuator has gone tits up. If you get the cover partially out of the way, this should give you a better indication of what you are looking/feeling for.