Lawn mower starter spring. How to Fix a Pull Start That Won’t Retract ( Why It Happens)

How to Fix a Pull Start That Won’t Retract ( Why It Happens)

You’ve pulled your lawn mower’s cord, and it won’t retract. But maybe it wasn’t your mower; instead, it was your chainsaw or your weed eater. Is there a difference? Well, the cords on all these machines work pretty much in the same way, and they also all break in the same way.

So, what’s going on? In short, the recoil starter has a problem. Recoil starters are small devices with many smaller parts that all work together to get your lawn mower started. As a result, none of them will work if there’s a problem with one of the parts. So, let’s inspect your recoil starter and see why your lawn mower pull cord is not retracting.

Fixing a Pull Start that Won’t Retract (The Short Explanation)

Inside the recoil starter on your lawn mower, you’ll find the recoil spring, rotor pulley, and a pair of pawls. Unfortunately, either of these parts can jam or break, resulting in your lawn mower recoil starter not retracting. Breakdowns in any of these parts can stem from general wear and tear, dirt in the mechanism, or failure of the components.

Possible Reasons Why Your Mower Cord Won’t Retract

As you can see, there are several components within a recoil starter. So, it could be that more than one part is at fault. To resolve your starter issues, you’ll need to investigate and pin down the part or parts that are faulty. Let’s take a look at the potential causes.

Broken Rotor Pulley

Within the recoil starter, you’ll find the rotor pulley. The rotor pulley is the round disc the pull cord wraps around. Sometimes, the pulley can crack and break, creating an obstruction that prevents the pulley from turning. A quick way to tell if this has happened is to remove the recoil starter from your lawn mower’s engine and take a look.

Jammed Pawls

Two small pawls connect the recoil starter to the top of the flywheel. These two little lugs are often made of plastic and catch the flywheel when you pull the cord and then retract once you let go of the cord. The pawls move in and out with centrifugal force and need to be unobstructed and free to move.

So, if they break, they can jam up the recoil starter and prevent the cord from retracting. To diagnose the pawls, remove the recoil starter from the engine and take a look.

Clogged-Up Recoil Starter

As I mentioned before, the recoil starter sits on top of the flywheel. Now, if you look closely at the cooling fins on top of the flywheel, you will notice that they have a habit of getting covered in grass clippings and dirt.

Unfortunately, some clippings and dirt work their way into the back of the recoil starter. This debris can sometimes stop the cord from going back into its housing. Usually, it will sort itself out with a couple of pulls.

To fix it, remove the recoil starter from your lawn mower and give the cord a couple of pulls if there is enough cord on the pulley, or try turning the pulley by hand.

Broken Recoil Spring

A recoil spring is a wound and thin piece of metal that, once tightened or wound around a pulley, generates a force. This force is needed to retract the cord. The natural reaction of the coiled spring is to unravel.

So, the longer a spring sits tightened or wound, the more it loses its force as it starts to take the shape it is coiled in. This loss of force is one reason recoil starters don’t always work as well as a new spring.

To fix this, you’ll have to adjust the tension to get an old recoil spring to work. Sometimes, the problem is that the hooks at either end of the spring are broken or bent. The ends can bend when too much tension is placed on the spring or there is too much cord wound on the pulley.

Basically, when you pull the cord, it will pull the spring beyond its breaking point. Ideally, you should run out of cord before you run out of spring. So, remove the spring housing from the recoil starter and check the spring.

It will be obvious if there is a problem with the spring, as it will either be tangled inside the housing or it will have bent hooks at either end. The spring can rust together in really bad cases, and you’ll probably have to replace it.

How to Fix a Pull Start That Won’t Retract (Do This)

I’m going to go over 4 different solutions on how to fix a pull start that won’t retract and will cover the different parts of your starter. One of these fixes should get your recoiler starter up and running again. Let’s take a look.

Cleaning out the Recoil Starter

If nothing is visibly wrong with your recoil starter, try spraying the mechanism with WD-40 and an airline. Blasting out some dirt and lubricating the moving parts might be all you need to do. I always like to start with this method if nothing stands out as an obvious issue.

Tools Materials to Clean a Recoil Starter

Replacing the Pawls

If you look at the center underside of the recoil starter, you’ll see a round metal disc held in place with a bolt. Use a nut driver to remove this bolt, then lift off the metal disc. Now you have access to the two pawls. To replace the pawls, lift them out of the rotor pulley and insert new ones, then replace the metal disc and bolt. There is really nothing to this fix, and you should be able to complete the whole job from start to finish in ten or fifteen minutes.

How To Quickly Fix Your Recoil Pull Starter On Your Chainsaw, Blower Or WeedEater

Tools Parts to Replace Lawn Mower Pawls

Replacing the Rotor Pulley

Unfortunately, this next fix is not as simple. You’ll have to completely dismantle the entire recoil starter mechanism to replace the rotor pulley. So, here are the steps to follow if your lawn mower cord won’t retract because of a broken or damaged rotor pulley.

Remove the Rope

The first task is to remove the cord from the rotor pulley so that you can install it onto your replacement pulley. So, use a small hook like a screwdriver and fish the cord from between the pulley and the recoil housing. These are the areas where the cord comes out of the starter mechanism and to the handle.

Next, when you have the cord hooked, unwind the cord from the pulley, so all that is left is the knot in the cord attached to the pulley. Then take a pair of scissors and cut off the knot. If you’re good with knots, you could try to remove the knot, but I find a pair of scissors much easier.

Finally, remove the cord and handle from the starter mechanism.

Remove the Center Bolt, Disc, Pawls

Next, use your nut driver to remove the center bolt holding the metal/plastic disc in place. Then, lift off the disc and remove the two pawls. You can set these parts aside for later.

Remove the Rotor Pulley

Next, lift the rotor pulley from the housing and flip it over. You will find the recoil spring here. Now, if you do this carefully, the spring should stay coiled inside the pulley. At least, this is what you are aiming for. Recoiling the spring is a real pain.

Remove the Recoil Spring

To remove the spring, grab a pair of pliers, like a pair of needle nose pliers, and grip the spring so that you have hold of the inside coil, outside coil, and all the inner coils. Then pull the spring from the old pulley.

Swap Out the Rotor Pulley Install the Recoil Spring

Next, with the spring still held in your pliers, transfer the spring into the new pulley. Make sure you line the spring’s outer hook with the new pulley. To prevent any confusion during the transfer, I recommend you study your pulleys first to see how and where to position the spring. The last thing you want to do is install the spring backward and end up having to redo the repair.

Install the Rotor Pulley

Now that the spring is installed and positioned correctly, you can position the pulley back on the housing.

Install the Pawls

Next, take the two pawls you previously removed, install them back into the pulley, and ensure they move freely.

Instal the Disc Center Bolt

Now, grab the center bolt and the disc and install them back on the pulley using your nut driver.

Test the Spring

Once you have the bolt and disc installed, you can go ahead and give the mechanism a try. So, turn the pulley counterclockwise to put tension on the spring, then let go of the pulley. If you installed everything correctly, then the pulley should spin under the force of the spring.

Set the Recoil Tension of the Spring Rope

One really important step in how to fix a pull start that won’t retract is setting the correct tension on the cord. If it’s too loose, then the cord won’t retract, and if it’s too tight, you could end up damaging the spring. Therefore getting the tension just right is super important.

lawn, mower, starter, spring

So, turn the rotor pulley in the housing until you feel you can’t turn the pulley anymore, meaning the spring is fully tight. Then back off the pulley until both the hole in the pulley and the housing line up. By backing off the pulley, you loosen the spring just a little bit, so you don’t damage the spring.

Attach the Cord

Now it’s time to reinstall the cord and handle. So, line up the cord hole in the pulley with the hole in the housing, then thread the cord. With the cord threaded through both holes, tie a small knot to the end of the rope. You’ll need to make sure the knot is tight and small, so it doesn’t come loose or obstruct the pulley.

If you have any excess cord where you tied the knot, then I suggest cutting it off using your scissors. Just remember to keep hold of the pulley, so the spring doesn’t unravel.

Release the Pulley

With the cord securely installed, you can let go of the pulley. You’ll find that the tension in the spring will release and take up the slack in the cord as if it were being pulled. If everything is right, you should be able to pull the handle as much as you want, and the spring should keep pulling the cord back in.

If the spring doesn’t pull the cord in fully, then you might need more tension on the spring, or you have a cord that is too long. Check your owner’s manual and see how long your cord should be.

Install the Recoil Start onto the Lawn Mower

The final step is to reinstall the recoil starter mechanism on your lawn mower and try it. Hopefully, this fix has you back up and running.

Tools Parts to Replace a Recoil Starter Rotor Pulley

  • Hook / Small Screwdriver
  • Scissors
  • Nut Driver
  • Pliers / Needle Nose Pliers

Replacing the Recoil Spring

You’ll need to follow the steps above to replace the recoil starter. The only difference is that you’ll replace the spring, not the rotor pulley. So, you’ll need to follow all the same steps, use the same tools as before, and follow the same tensioning method.

Just take your time because if you lose grip on the spring, you’ll have to try to coil it back up, which can take a lot of patience and time. So, patience is key.

About Tom Greene

I’ve always had a keen interest in lawn care as long as I can remember. Friends used to call me the lawn mower guru (hence the site name), but I’m anything but. I just enjoy cutting my lawn and spending time outdoors. I also love the well-deserved doughnuts and coffee afterward!

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How to Repair a Lawn Mower Pull Cord

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Replace a broken starter rope on your lawn mower quickly and easily by following this simple step-by-step procedure.

Materials Required

You tug one last time to get the lawn mower started, and suddenly the pull cord breaks and the end goes spinning into the hole. Don’t blow a gasket. If you have even a tinge of mechanical aptitude, replacing a starter rope is pretty easy. If the spring breaks—a rare event, according to our repair expert—the fix is a lot harder, and we recommend you take the mower to a repair center.

Stuck Cord or Broken Cord?

First, check to confirm that the cord is actually broken and not just stuck. If it’s stuck, it may be an easier fix than full pull cord replacement and you likely won’t have to buy any new parts. Here are a few tips for fixing an electrical cord.

Run through your troubleshooting checklist if your cord isn’t working. Check to ensure the brake is off, make sure there isn’t any lawn debris clogging the blade, and finally, if all else fails, use our steps below to open the rewind unit. There, you’ll be able to see if the cord is stuck or fully broken.

What to Know About Replacement Cords

Different lawn mowers need different types of pull cords. If you don’t have time to spend looking for the right match, you can opt to get the thinnest kind, which will fit no matter what. But the thinner the cord, the more likely it is to break again soon. If you don’t already have replacement cord on hand, go to your local hardware store with the broken cord. The associates there should be able to help you get the exact kind you need.

How to Replace a Pull Cord on Lawn Mower – A beginners guide

Replacing a pull cord can be challenging, especially if the recoil spring gets loose. Taming a recoil spring can be like herding cats.

Follow these six steps to replace a lawnmower pull cord:

Replacing the cord requires the removal of the pull start assembly. Some manufacturers, like Honda, make it easy. One screw, three nuts, and you’re in. Other mowers may take a little more work. If your spring is damaged or unravels, go ahead and buy a whole spring and pulley. They come already assembled; messing around with a recoil spring isn’t worth losing an eye.

This post covers pull cord replacing pretty well. However, if you need video help, check out “Pull cord faults video”. It covers diagnosing and repairing all the common pull cord problems, including pull cord replacement.

Choosing The Correct Cord

All cord isn’t the same; we’ll need to choose the correct cord to nail this repair successfully. Pull cord comes in different thicknesses; if you choose a card that’s too thick, the correct length won’t all fit in the pulley when wound in. A cord that’s too thin will work OK but will have a shorter life.

Cord – The thickness of the cord is important.

Replacing A Frayed Cord

The easiest cord to replace is the cord that hasn’t yet broken, just frayed. You still need to remove the pulling assembly from the mower; although it’s possible to do it in place, I don’t recommend it. Your mower may look different from the models used in the demo shots here, but no matter the repair procedure will be very similar to most mowers.

1 – Cut the correct length of the new cord, and measure it against the old one. Don’t remove the old cord yet.

2 – Have sharp pliers and a flat screwdriver to hand. Pull the cord out all the way, secure the pulley, use a screwdriver to lock the spokes of the pulley, and stops it from retracting.

3 – Cut the old cord and discard it; now, feed in and knot the new one. Fit the pull handle and double knot. Remove your screwdriver and test. Now refit the assembly; that’s it, you’re done.

The complete repair for a broken cord is covered below with pictures, or check out “Pull cord troubleshooting” video here.

Replacing A Broken Cord

The cord replacing process is just slightly longer. Remember, when the cord breaks, the pull assembly spring unloads, and so the spring must be wound up to reload it. In the guide below, I have removed the starter pulley from the assembly to fit the cord.

On most mowers, it isn’t necessary to remove the pulley from the housing. Instead, you can manage to feed the new cord into the pulley with a pulley in place; it’s just a little more awkward.

If you choose to remove the pulley, wear eye protection. Working with recoil springs can be dangerous; removing the pully from the assembly comes with the risk of the spring breaking free. I don’t advise working with the spring. If your spring does break free or is damaged/ worn, go ahead and replace the complete pull assembly.

They arrive fully assembled, just bolt them into place, and you’re done. Obviously, they’re a little more expensive than some rope but a lot less work. Anyway, here’s the roe replacing process. You can check out the “Pull cord troubleshooting video”, which covers pull cord replacing also.

If you need to pull assembly parts delivered to your door, check out the Amazon link below.

Pull Twist – Pull the plug wire when working on your mower.

Remove Blower Assembly – The pull starter assembly lives in the blower assembly, and so we’ll need to remove it.

Remove – Some mowers, like Honda, allow access to the pull starter assembly without removing the blower housing. Nice!

Honda Mower Engine Pull Cord Spring Repair/Rewind

Blower Assembly – Move to a workbench.

Pulley Cap – Remove the cap; this is a BS assembly; Honda uses a left-hand thread here, meaning to remove turn clockwise.

Set cap aside

Set pawls aside

Pulley – Wear protective eye-ware for this step. Remove the pulley by lifting upwards gently; if the pulley doesn’t come out freely, don’t pull it, and the spring will unravel. Turn it clockwise to unhook it from its tang.

Replace – Replace the pulley if the spring is damaged.

Feed – If you have the old cord, use it to measure how much new cord you need. If you don’t have it, approx. two and a half meters does the job.

Go ahead and take the old cord from the pull handle. Feed one end of the new pull cord into the cord hole in the rim of the starter pulley.

Knot – Pull it through and knot it. I use a lighter to melt the nylon cut end and tidy it up.

Wind Cord – Wind cord tightly, clockwise around the pulley, and tuck it in neatly (Spring facing up).

Mark – It’s helpful to mark the rim where the pull cord ends with white paint. It helps to find it later.

Tab – Spring hook aligns with blower housing tab.

Fit – Align the spring hook with the metal tab on the pull start assembly housing; you’ll be fitting this blind.

Now seat it; confirm it’s seated by turning it anti-clockwise; you should feel the spring resistance. Fit both pawls and cap, and tighten the bolt.

3 Turns – Now wind the starter pulley anti-clockwise three to four revolutions, and align your white mark with the cord hole in the assembly housing.

You can’t let go or the spring will unwind.

Feed – While holding the loaded starter pulley, locate the cord end that you marked earlier. Using a fine screwdriver, feed the cord end into the blower assembly housing cord hole.

Pull – Pull the cord through the hole and wrap it around your hand to prevent it from recoiling back in.

Handle – Burning and clipping the cord into a point helps the feeding process. Feed the remaining end into the pull handle, and use a fine screwdriver to help guide it.

Rubbing a small amount of oil on the end of the pull cord helps it slip through. When through the double knot.

Test – Pull to test; the pawls should shoot out when the cord is pulled and retract when the cord rewinds. Nice work, refit assembly; you’re done!

Pull Cord Troubleshooting

A broken cord is obvious, but some pull cord issues aren’t. Here are a couple of other common pull cord symptoms I hear a lot:

  • A pull cord doesn’t retract – usually a broken recoil spring
  • A pull cord doesn’t catch and turn the engine – usually means worn pawls

If your problem is a damaged recoil spring, then the pulley will need to be removed from the assembly; as said earlier, I would favor replacing the pulling assembly completely; working with a recoil spring is a lot like herding cats.

The pull assembly must be removed to fit new pawls, but it’s a simple job.

Replacing any of these is a job you can do without any special tools, and you’ll find all these repairs are covered in the “Pull cord troubleshooting” video here.

Cord Hard to Pull

If your pull cord is hard to pull (stiff), make sure the bail lever is held during the starting process. I know most of you are in no doubt about how to start your mower, but for anybody that’s a little rusty, check out “How to start a mower”.

Other likely reasons for a stiff pull cord are:

  • Engine brake – On or out of adjustment.
  • Blade obstruction – Dried grass, branches, etc., blocking blade.
  • Oil – Too much or the wrong type.
  • Hydro-locked engine – Caused by a faulty carburetor.
  • Excessive valve lash – Adjust clearance.
  • Engine damaged – Seized or bent crankshaft.
  • Broken flywheel key – Blade impact

Engine Brake

The engine brake, also known as the flywheel brake, is, as you know, controlled by the bail lever at the handlebars (most mowers), and it must be held to start the mower.

lawn, mower, starter, spring

Its function is twofold – it grounds the coil shutting down the engine, and it applies a brake pad to the flywheel, not unlike a bicycle brake. This stops the blade within 3 seconds of bail lever release. The bail lever is operated by cable. If the cable is broken or needs to be adjusted, the brake will still be on or partly on as you’re trying to yank on the cord.

Brake – Check that the bail lever is releasing the flywheel brake. If not, check the cable for adjustment.

Blade Jammed

This is a simple one but worth checking. Old dried grass and debris can collect under the mower; this can prevent the blade from turning and consequently the pull cord. Some mowers, of course, have a blade clutch, meaning the blade doesn’t move until you engage a lever. If this is your mower, then blade obstruction won’t apply to you.

Blockage – Grass and stuff stopping the blade turning, the simple fix here.

Oil Level

You wouldn’t think too much oil could cause a stiff pull cord, but it will. Too much oil is also bad for the engine. It will cause it to smoke, leak oil, and despite all that oil, it’s not being lubricated properly. So the correct oil level is extremely important to the life of the engine. This guide will show you all you need to know; you’ll be a pro 2 minutes from now – “Lawn mower oil check” or check out the video here.

Too Full – Too much oil or oil that’s too heavy will cause the pull cord to be heavy.


This is basically a cylinder filled with gas, and because a fluid can’t be compressed, the piston won’t move to give you a stiff pull cord. The gas enters the cylinder because the carburetor float needle seal is worn.

The fix – remove the spark plug to drain the gas and replace the needle or the whole carburetor. This guide will show you how to solve all these problems – “Lawn mower leaking gas.”

Important, you’ll need to change the oil, as the gas has likely leaked into the crankcase, which dilutes the oil, making it worse than useless at lubricating and cooling the engine. Fitting a fuel tap and turning the tap off when the mowers are not in use will prevent this from happening again. Check out “How to unflood a mower” video here.

Needle – The needle and float together to control gas flow to the fuel bowl.

Valve Lash

Incorrect valve lash will cause excessive combustion chamber compression, meaning it’s physically difficult to pull the cord against this pressure. I wrote this guide to help you solve that problem; it’s a step-by-step with pictures – Check and “Adjust valve lash,” or check out the video here.

Another possibility is a faulty compression release assembly. It’s fitted inside the engine, and its function is to release compression so that the operator can easily crank over the motor. Replacing it would require the total dismantling of the unit.

Check – Valve lash should be checked every season; it’s usually overlooked.

Flywheel Key

The flywheel key is a shear key, and when it shears, it puts the timing out on the engine. The key usually shears because the blade has hit something solid, and the engine has come to a sudden stop. The function of the key is to protect the crankshaft from twisting and to keep the flywheel to crankshaft alignment. This guide will show you how to diagnose and replace the Shear key. check out – “Flywheel key replacement” or check out the video here.

Shear key – Check the flywheel shear key.

Engine Damage

Lawnmower engines are very well designed and built, but poor maintenance, low oil, and abuse will kill them. A mower should have a tune-up every spring and an oil change every 50 hours of operation. Check the oil with every fill of gas.

Lawnmower engines are not designed to cut on slopes of more than 15 degrees; this causes oil starvation, which, as you know, can seize an engine. When an engine seizes, it fuses the metal components together, and the starter rope won’t pull. Check out “Mower tune-up” or check out the video here.

A seized engine can’t be repaired. Replacement engines are not difficult to fit, but sometimes it’s better to just buy a new mower.

Related Questions

Lawnmower pull cord loose? A lawnmower pull cord is likely to become loose when the recoil spring loses its tension. Replacing the spring is the correct fix.

Hey, I’m John, and I’m a Red Seal Qualified Service Technician with over twenty-five years experience.

I’ve worked on all types of mechanical equipment, from cars to grass machinery, and this site is where I share fluff-free hacks, tips, and insider know-how.

And the best part. it’s free!

Lawn Mower Pull Cord Not Catching (How to Fix)

Nothing happens if your lawn mower pull cord isn’t catching. If your mower has a pull cord, there’s usually no way to get your mower to start, which ruins your mowing mission. It’s incredibly frustrating to do other troubleshooting to find out why your mower won’t start and realize that it’s not just that your mower needs some extra gas, but that the pull cord is faulty. In this article I’ll explain how the lawn mower pull cord mechanism works, possible causes for your lawn mower pull cord not catching, and how to fix the issue.

Why Your Lawn Mower Pull Cord Isn’t Catching

The pull cord mechanism on a lawn mower isn’t complicated, and the reason your cord isn’t catching is that one of the components of the flywheel starter assembly has failed under the stress of regular use. Typically it’s either worn or broken pawls, or a damaged pulley system. Either way, a complete OEM replacement starter assembly will typically cost less than 30 and it’s an easy DIY fix that takes a couple of minutes.

lawn, mower, starter, spring

About the Starter Assembly

The starter rope is the only part of the starting system that can be seen. But inside your mower, the rope activates a series of parts that start the engine.

Learning how the mechanism functions will allow you to know how to fix a lawn mower pull cord that isn’t catching.

Sometimes the repair is simple, where the pull cord or handle itself breaks. If this is the case, simply replacing the rope or handle will be enough, and that’s a job that anyone can do.

Other issues can be the cause as well, but the good news is that these also have relatively simple fixes.

Let’s start by explaining how the pull cord on a lawn mower works, and then I’ll explain the usual reasons your cord isn’t working and tell you how to fix each one individually, and how to search for and find a brand new OEM starter assembly for your mower (what I recommend since the cost is still pretty low).

How Your Lawn Mower Pull Cord Works

When you pull the rope to start your mower, it engages the starting mechanism, which turns the engine fast enough to spark the ignition module.

The starter rope is wrapped around a pulley system. That allows it to be pulled out before it recoils into the engine. The pulley sits below the cover at the top of your walk-behind mower, and a spring is in the center of the pulley. As it’s turned, the recoil spring stretches, then snaps back when let go. This immediate snap-back retracts the pull cord and allows you to pull the rope quickly one time after another.

The recoil operates the mower’s flywheel. The flywheel sits below the starter, closer to the mower, and near the crankshaft. Magnets sit on the outside of the flywheel and generate magnetic energy as it spins. The magnets will eventually build up enough energy to fire off high-voltage sparks.

The pawls are also attached to the pulley. These are plastic wings that spin out due to the centrifugal force, helping to catch the flywheels and create a faster spinning movement.

The crankshaft is in the center of the flywheel and turns with the flywheel. As the crankshaft turns, it helps the piston move up and down, pushing more gas and air into the mower’s system. If it can’t spin fast enough, the engine won’t start.

The pawls are the most likely component to fail and it’s probably why your mower isn’t starting. That said, if the pulley or receiver is damaged, that will also cause issues.

Lawn Mower Pull Cord Not Catching: Possible Causes

There are two very common causes for a lawn mower pull cord not catching. These include:

Let’s take a closer look at each of these, and other possible causes for this mower issue.

Broken or Worn Pawls

On most modern mowers, the pawls are usually made of plastic, though some brands use metal pawls.

Metal pawls are far more durable. This component is exposed to tension from spinning out, as well as catching the flywheel.

Since this part is designed to spin out and catch the flywheel, if they’re worn out or broken, they won’t be able to do that. That prevents the engine from turning over, and it’s usually the reason you pull your mower starting cord and it doesn’t catch.

In other words, it will feel like the pull cord is pulling too freely.

To check if the pawls on your mower are broken, remove the starter and pull the rope to make them pull out. If they don’t pull out, either they’re broken or something else is broken.

To repair worn or broken pawls.

  • Unplug the spark plug wire before starting the repair. This prevents the motor from starting, and is an important safety step whenever doing any work on your mower.
  • Disassemble the housing (the top cover) to expose the pull cord assembly.
  • Remove the center bolt and cap in order to pull the pawls out.
  • Inspect the pawls and determine whether they’re damaged or worn.
  • Insert the new pawls, then re-install the center bolt and cap, as well as the starter, into the engine.

The pull cord should catch again and allow the engine to start. If the pull cord continues to not work, the issue may be something else interfering with the pawls.

Damaged Pulley

The mower’s pull cord rope is stored in the pulley, as well as the recoil spring. The pulley will guide and feed the pull cord, in addition to storing it. Pulleys are usually made from plastic and this is a part that can crack.

A broken or cracked pulley will interfere with the rope pulling around the pulley. If it malfunctions or jams, the starter system will not work.

To replace the pulley, you’ll need to remove the starter system.

  • Again, start by disconnecting the spark plug wire.
  • Next, pull the rope out, then insert a screwdriver to secure the recoil spring and pulley.
  • Remove the rope, then release the screwdriver to allow tension to return to the spring.
  • Remove the center bolt and friction plate, which will release the pulley.
  • Now you can place the new pulley, first aligning it with the housing post.
  • Rotate the pulley, since that will tighten the spring, then insert the screwdriver to hold it in place so you can reattach the rope.
  • Release the screwdriver and let the rope slowly wind up. You can then place the starter back onto the engine, reassemble, and try to start your mower.

Replacement pulleys can be bought either as just the cover or with the recoil spring combined.

It’s usually easiest to replace both simultaneously. It’s a little more expensive, but for most homeowners tackling this project it makes sense to replace the entire unit as it’s simpler.

The spring can be difficult to work with, and purchasing the entire assembly won’t add too much additional cost to the repair. In my view, it’s worth it.

Other Issues Which Can Make Your Pull Cord Not Catch

While these are the most common issues with the pull cord system, they are not the only ones that can occur.

Different lawn mower brands make their components differently. Some will use plastic instead of metal for certain components. Plastic parts will wear out faster, and are less capable of withstanding the stresses of consistent use.

lawn, mower, starter, spring

The reality is that if you’re buying a new mower, you’ll find that more brands are using plastic for the flywheel receiver to cut costs and remain competitive with their price.

The flywheel receiver is a metal cup that fixes to the flywheel. This is the component the pawls will connect to. If they’re worn in addition to (or instead of) the pawls, the engine will also not catch.

Receivers are less likely to cause issues unless they’re made of plastic, but since more modern mower manufacturers are using plastic for this part, it will probably become a more common cause of failure and a reason why your lawn mower pull cord may not be catching.

Older mowers which have metal components are likely to have fewer issues, even if they’ve been used for more hours. This is one reason why it might make sense to buy a used mower instead of buying new.

Can You (and should you) DIY the Fix?

If you’re handy and like working with mechanical parts, it’s pretty easy and inexpensive to replace part or all of this component on your mower.

You’ll want to know your brand and mower model. Then you can search online for your mower brand, model number, and starter/recoil/flywheel assembly OEM.

If you’re unsure of your lawn mower model number, you can find it on a small plate on your mower. It will be alongside the mower’s serial number.

For example if I had a Honda HRN216VKA self-propelled mower I bought from Home Depot, I could search Honda HRN216VKA starter assembly OEM on Amazon and quickly find the part I need for under 30.

About Tackling This Project

Like most small engines, disassembly and reassembly is pretty straight-forward. But I always recommend taking pictures of each step so you can remember where everything went as you put the mower back together.

If you’re intimidated by the idea of doing this work yourself, you have a few options. You can:

  • Check to see if your mower is under warranty. If it is, you can probably get this repaired at no cost.
  • Contact a local small engine repair shop. It should be an inexpensive job that can be completed quickly. They can also do a tune-up of your machine, change the oil, and sharpen your mower’s blades for you while it’s in for servicing.

The bottom line is that this is not a major issue with your mower (even if it feels like one). You shouldn’t send your mower to the scrap heap and rush out to buy a new mower.

It’s worth fixing, and most homeowners (even those who are not mechanically inclined at all) can replace the starter assembly on a walk-behind mower.

Maintaining Your Mower

If you’re looking to keep your mower in top shape, read my articles on winterizing your mower, and my spring mower tune-up checklist.

These quick (and easy) maintenance projects at the start and end of each season will keep your mower running great for years.