Push mower starter rope. Lawn Mower Pull Cord Not Catching (How to Fix)

What Size Rope Should My Lawn Mower, Snow Blower or Other Equipment Use?

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When you’re selecting the size of rope for your small engine, chainsaw, trimmer, push mower or riding mower, keep these in mind :

  • #3 (3/32 Diameter) and #3-1/2 (7/64 Diameter) rope is used on most trimmers and small 2-cycle engines
  • #4 (1/8 Diameter) and #4-1/2 (9/64 Diameter) rope is used on most chain saws and larger 2-cycle engines
  • #4-1/2 (9/64 Diameter), #5 (5/32 Diameter) and #5-1/2 (11/64 Diameter) rope is used on most 4-cycle push mower small engines
  • #6 (3/16 Diameter) and #7 (7/32 Diameter) rope is used on most larger 4-cycle engines

If you ever have any questions on recoil starter rope, send us an email or give us a call!

When you’re selecting the size of rope for your small engine, chainsaw, trimmer, push mower or riding mower, keep these in mind:

  • #3 (3/32 Diameter) and #3-1/2 (7/64 Diameter) rope is used on most trimmers and small 2-cycle engines
  • #4 (1/8 Diameter) and #4-1/2 (9/64 Diameter) rope is used on most chain saws and larger 2-cycle engines
  • #4-1/2 (9/64 Diameter), #5 (5/32 Diameter) and #5-1/2 (11/64 Diameter) rope is used on most 4-cycle push mower small engines
  • #6 (3/16 Diameter) and #7 (7/32 Diameter) rope is used on most larger 4-cycle engines

If you ever have any questions on recoil starter rope, send us an email or give us a call!

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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.

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.

push, mower, starter, rope

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.

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.

Lawn Mower Won’t Pull (Causes How to Fix)

A stuck pull cord is a problem we all will face from time to time. You’re all set; the mower’s out of the shed, the tank is full, and the blade is sharp. But you pull the starter cord and nothing. It isn’t that your lawn mower pull cord is hard to pull – it’s totally stuck! Trust me; I’ve been there. So let me share the most common reasons why a pull cord gets stuck and what you can do to get back to cutting within the hour.

Why Won’t My Lawn Mower Cord Pull? (The Short Answer)

There are several causes why your pull cord could be stuck. A jam in the deck area, seizing in the engine, or a problem with the recoil starter.

A Closer Look at Why Your Lawn Mower Won’t Pull

You will notice that these problems are not centered in one area. So knowing where to start is going to save you from wasting time trying to fix something that may not be broken. Let’s look at the problems and how to address them.

Diagnosing a Jam in the Deck

First, you want to check for any obstructions in the lawn mower deck and for anything that could be damaged or misplaced. Start by removing the spark plug from the lawn mower and tuck it out of the way. Even though the mower won’t start, there could still be a charge in the spark plug that could fire up the engine. So, it’s best to be safe. With the plug disconnected, tilt over the lawn mower so you can inspect the deck. Just remember to tilt the lawn mower over the correct way.

Debris in the Lawnmower Deck

It’s as simple as it sounds. Something might be stuck in the deck, meaning the lawn mower blade won’t turn. If your blade is bolted onto the crankshaft and the blade is wedged, then the pull rope will not pull. A stick, rock, or garden hose could be the cause.

The Debris Shield is in the Wrong Place

If you ever pull your lawn mower backward, the debris shield that stops the grass from flying all over may be facing the wrong way. First, check to see if the shield is on the inside and coming into contact with the blade. If it is, the crankshaft will be stuck, as will the pull cord.

A Bent Blade

The blade could be your problem if there are no foreign objects in the deck or a misplaced shield. First, check that the blade is in good condition and not hitting the deck. A bent mower blade that is hitting the deck will need to be replaced to get the starter to work.

A Broken Shroud

Many lawn mowers have a metal shroud in the deck that helps guide the grass to the chute. These are usually made of a very thin metal that can easily damage or rust. Look to see if your shroud is hitting the blade and preventing the blade from spinning. If it is, then you’ll need to reach for your tools.

Diagnosing a Seize in the Engine

An engine can seize in three ways, resulting in your lawn mower pull cord being stuck. The first is lack of oil, the second is oil on top of the piston, and the third is fuel vapors.

So to diagnose a seized lawn mower engine, you need to test it. You have already established that the engine might be seized because the pull cord is jammed, and the top of the crankshaft will not spin. As a result, you’ll want to test the other end of the crankshaft. Start by tilting your lawn mower correctly and prop it up securely. Then, with a pair of gloves, take hold of the blade and try to rotate it by hand. You likely have a seized engine if it’s stuck or extremely difficult to turn.

Checking if the Engine is Seized Due to Lack of Oil

Simply checking the oil level on the dipstick will indicate if your mower has low oil. For example, lawn mowers can sit with low oil and become seized; this isn’t a huge problem. However, if you ran your mower on low oil and it seized in the process, the seizure could have caused extensive damage. So, pull out the dipstick and check your oil level.

How to Check Hydro-Locking

Hydro-locking is where oil has moved from the bottom of the crankcase to the top of the piston. This is usually caused by tipping over the lawn mower incorrectly and accidentally pouring oil into the piston. Additionally, using too much oil will result in the piston forcing oil into the cylinder head. Either way, the engine’s pressure stops the piston from moving and the crankshaft from rotating.

To check for hydro-locking, start by removing the spark plug and tucking it out of the way. Then, check if there’s any lawn mower oil inside the cylinder head where you removed the spark plug. If you find oil, then you probably have a hydro-lock.

How to Tell if You Have a Vapour Lock

Vapor locking occurs when fuel vaporizes. For example, the fuel can vaporize if you’re out in the heat mowing the lawn and you have a hot engine. Also, when you run out of gas and completely drain the fuel tank, the mower can suck in fuel vapors and lock the engine. The best way to check for this is to allow the engine to cool down and check if you have gas in the tank.

Diagnosing the Recoil Starter

If you have checked for obstruction under the deck and can spin the blade by hand, it’s now time to inspect the recoil starter. These mechanical manual starters are constructed of several parts that are not always the strongest and can fail quite easily.

Removing and Diagnosing the Recoil Starter

Start by removing the spark plug from the engine and set it to one side. Then, take a socket wrench or screwdriver, depending on your lawnmower, and remove the fixings that hold the recoil starter in place. This could be either directly on the engine or the cover. Then, remove the starter rope from the lawnmower handle if you find yours is attached. Once this is complete, you should have the starter completely removed from the lawn mower.

With the removed starter, give it a pull and observe the mechanism. You may find that the coil spring is broken or the rope is caught up somehow. I suggest being cautious when testing the starter, as they tend to fly apart and uncoil their spring without warning. On the other hand, if fiddling around with the starter doesn’t help it recoil, it will need fixing or replacing.

How to Fix a Lawn Mower That Won’t Pull

Once you have diagnosed why your lawn mower string won’t pull, the final step is to carry out the repair. I have put together my step-by-step guide that will walk you through the repair and a few tips to prevent issues in the future.

By my calculations, the diagnosis should only take a few minutes to complete, so you still have plenty of time to fix your lawn mower within the hour. So let’s get started. With any repair or inspection that includes the blades, you must always remove the spark plug connection and tuck it out of the way. With this done, you can move on to the fix.

Removing Debris in the Deck

First, tilt your lawn mower over the correct way. Remember, the wrong way causes problems. Depending on what you find under the deck, you should be able to just remove it by wearing a pair of gloves.

You may find that rocking the blade back and forth will help dislodge any intruders. If you happen to have something like a rope wrapped around the blade and spindle, then taking the blade off might be the quickest solution.

Start the blade removal by locking it into position so it can’t move. I like to take a 4×2 timber cutoff and wedge it against the blade. Follow this by taking a socket ratchet and removing the blade’s center bolt. Once this is done, the blade should come away from the lawn mower. As a result, you can clear the obstruction and free the crankshaft.

Turn the lawnmower back upright and give the lawnmower rope a pull. You should find the rope will pull now as you have cleared the problem. Next, tilt the lawn mower back over and reinstall the blade using your blade brace and sockets. Finally, upright the mower and reconnect the spark plug, and you’re good to go.

Tools Required to Clear a Blockage

Repositioning the Debris Shield

For this fix, you’ll need to tilt over the lawnmower to gain access to the bottom of the deck. Grab your gloves and see if you can use some muscle to dislodge the shield.

If it’s truly wedged, then a little more power is needed. I prefer to use a rubber mallet over a metal hammer as a hammer can make a mess of the shield. Start by hitting either end of the shield where it’s jammed rather than the middle. I find if you bash the middle of the shield, it ends up getting bent, which creates more work.

Just repeat going from side to side until it is free. Now when you pull the starting rope, it shouldn’t be locked up.

Tools Required to Reposition the Debris Shield

Replacing a Bent Blade

We have already discussed removing and installing a blade, so the only thing to remember is that you’ll be installing a new one this time. But, before you install the new blade, check for damage.

The bent blade could have caused damage to the lawn mower deck that needs repairing before you install the new blade. Just make sure that any damage to the deck will not cause an obstruction and recreate the problem you have just fixed.

Tools Parts Required to Replace a Blade

Repairing a Broken Shroud

Broken shrouds can be tricky to repair unless you have metal working skills and tools. For example, many lawn mowers have shrouds under the deck that are welded on and can not be replaced. However, if you have a big deck on a tractor or a zero-turn, these may be bolted on and can be replaced. In this instance, we’ll tackle a shroud welded on and jamming up the blade.

Start by tilting over the lawn mower and removing the blade. With access to the broken shroud, you can evaluate what can be done. If it’s intact, you can take a mallet and try to knock it back into place.

If a piece of it is hanging off the deck, you’ll want to cut out the section. I use my hacksaw, metal cutters, and an angle grinder if needed for this job. In the end, you want to ensure that the remainder of the shroud is securely attached and does not obstruct the blade.

With the broken shroud removed and the blade reinstalled, you should have no problem pulling the mower starter.

Tools Required to Remove a Damaged Shroud

Releasing a Hydro-Lock

To release a hydro-lock, start by removing the sparkplug with either a plug wrench or spark plug socket wrench. This will release the pressure in the engine’s cylinder head, and you’ll be able to pull the starter.

Next, you’ll need to remove the oil from the engine’s cylinder head. To do this, you will need to pull the starter repeatedly. This will turn over the engine and force the oil out of the hole where the spark plug goes. Pull the starter rope until nothing is coming out of the hole.

Before pulling the rope, be aware that oil and fuel will shoot out of the hole. This is fine as long as you are in a safe environment. Be careful of where it lands and maybe place something to catch it. I wouldn’t recommend doing this out on the lawn.

Next, take an engine starter spray and spray it directly into the engine via the spark plug hole. This will help get the engine started. Once this is done, you can re-install the spark plug and give the starter a pull. It may take a few pulls as the head will have oil residue inside.

If you have trouble starting the engine, add some more starter spay into it. Once you get the lawn mower started, allow the engine to run for a while to burn off the oil in the cylinder head. Finally, check your oil level and add accordingly.

Tools Required to Release a Hydro-Lock

Freeing a Seized Engine Due to a Lack of Oil

Start by topping up the oil by filling through the oil filler or dipstick. Then with a pair of gloves, rock the blade back and forth. The motion will slowly start to work the oil onto the piston. It will be tight at first, but gradually, it will loosen.

If you are having trouble, you can remove the spark plug and spray a lubricant into the cylinder head. Let this sit for a while, then try rocking the blade again.

Once you get the engine free, you need to spray an engine starter into the cylinder head and install the spark plug. In my experience, a lawnmower that has sat for a while with low oil can be freed up using this method.

If you find that the piston is not loosening despite your best efforts, the piston may be broken due to the lawn mower overheating.

Tools Required to Free a Seized Engine

Releasing a Vapor Lock

You need to let the fuel cool down to release a fuel vapor lock. You may be surprised that fuel can boil in the fuel system and turn to vapor. When there is little to no fuel left in the tank, the small fuel volume can heat up very quickly.

Push mower starter cord cable pulls but not engaging

To release the lock, the engine needs to cool down to let the fuel turn back into liquid form. Place the lawn mower in the shade and allow the engine to cool. If you have a leaf blower, you can give the mower a blast to help the process.

Once the mower has cooled down, you can fill the fuel tank and restart the lawn mower. But, depending on your climate, your mower may heat up quickly and vapor lock again.

So what can you do? Well, if you use a fuel stabilizer, you’ll increase the boiling point of the fuel. This means you might get an extra few degrees of tolerance and be able to cut for longer.

Alternatively, try cutting the lawn at a cooler part of the day or splitting your mowing into sections. For example, cut half the lawn and then take an hour’s break. Then, once the lawn mower has cooled down, you can complete the other half of the lawn.

Recommended Approach

  • Use a Fuel Stabilizer
  • Cut at the Cooler Part of the Day
  • Keep a Full Fuel Tank
  • Split the Mowing Into Sections

Replacing a Recoil Starter

Depending on how good you are with your hands, you may want to replace the recoil starter.

If you have ever changed a rope in a starter, you’ll appreciate how frustrating it can be, especially if the spring pops out. It wouldn’t be the first time a recoil starter has been thrown at a wall. Now, a broken starter shouldn’t be confused with a snapped rope. A snapped rope isn’t going to stop the starter from turning. There just isn’t a working rope.

So, remove the starter from the lawn mower by directly removing it from the engine or the mower engine housing. Also, remove any attachment to the mower handle if there is one.

If you find a twist or knot in the rope preventing the rope from passing through the eyelet of the starter housing, you have found your issue. By untieing or untwisting the rope, you should be able to have it extending and retracting correctly. Additionally, you could find a rock or some other obstruction in the mechanism that simply needs removing. If this is the case, you can go ahead and reinstall the starter.

Unfortunately, if anything is cracked or snapped, you’ll need to replace the starter with a new unit. Exposure to fuel and oil tend to cause the rope to become brittle over time and break.

Tools Parts to Replace a Recoil Starter

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!

Комментарии и мнения владельцев

I inadvertently ran over newspaper that was covered by a bunch of leaves. It appears the lawn mower jammed and shut down immediately. Now the pull starter only moves a few inches. What to do now?

Hi Allen, I would start by removing the spark plug and then tilt over your lawn mower. Then try giving the blade a turn by hand. You might find that you still have paper jamming up the engine, or you have a bent driveshaft. But, usually, what happens when a lawn mower is stopped suddenly under the force of operation is that either the flywheel key breaks or possibly the push rods become damaged. So, when you try to pull the starter cord, the compression in the engine can’t be released. So, you’ll want to check the flywheel key first, then take a look at the push rods and valve setup. I hope this gives you a few ideas. Tom.

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[5 DIY Fixes] Lawn Mower Starting Cord Won’t Pull

Everyone who has owned a push mower has experienced the dreaded moment when you go to pull the recoil starter cord and you nearly throw out your shoulder or break your fingers from the tension. It’s not fun.

Sometimes the cord is completely locked up, and sometimes it will jerk towards you violently but slowly as you try not to get a hernia from your efforts.

The good news is that there is a very small chance that anything is actually broken or that you even need to replace something.

This article will take you over a few very common fixes that will take care of 95% of your problems before you need to take it to a small engine repair shop. I’m throwing 7 years of fixing small engines as a side job into this article, so hopefully that knowledge will pay off.

It is common for a lawn mower’s pull cord to not work due to hydrolock, which is where liquid oil or gas has entered the cylinder and cannot be compressed by the piston as the cord is pulled by hand. This is typically caused by tipping the lawn mower incorrectly. Removing the spark plug and pulling the starter cord repeatedly will flush out the cylinder.

While hydrolock is the most common cause, and can happen for a number of reasons, there are still a few other things you should check in case that doesn’t fix the problem.

I’ve got a quick table for you below, followed by a video where I will guide you through the process. Explanations of the problems and their corresponding repairs will make up the rest of the article.

I have the problems listed in the order I would check if I was having a problem with my own lawn mower. It should go without saying, but if this is your first time using a push mower, make sure that you are clamping the brake lever (located right above the handle) to the handle to disengage the flywheel brake before you try starting it. It’s an honest mistake, but one worth mentioning.

Don’t panic about the pull cord, we’ll get this fixed together!

push, mower, starter, rope

Mowing a tree branch isn’t the wisest thing, but it happens to the best of us.

How to Fix a Blade Obstruction

You’ll need to access the bottom of the mower deck to check for an obstruction.

There is a right way and a wrong way to tip a lawn mower. One is safe, and the other will lead to problems. I highly recommend checking out this link here (it will open in another tab) to make sure you’re not missing anything.

Remove the rubber spark plug boot first, and then tip your lawn mower back so that the handle is on the ground. Place something heavy on the handle to keep the lawn mower tipped up.

This should give you enough room to at least check and see if you have anything binding up the blades.

Once the spark plug boot is removed, you can safely remove the obstruction by hand if you’ve got enough room to work.

If you need more room to work, you’ll need to tip the mower on its side. Please check out the article above to tip yours the correct way so that you don’t create more problems for yourself.

Also, just as a reminder, make sure to check the debris skirt for being a possible obstruction. It’s easy to overlook.

With the blade clear of anything that might be binding it, try turning the blades by hand. One side of the blade will be dull and the other will be sharp. Spin it in the direction that the blade would be cutting grass if it were spinning.

If the blade now spins freely, it should now work to pull the cord back. If the cord still doesn’t work, or if the blades won’t spin by hand, we will go to the next section.

A Seized Engine Will Stop a Lawn Mower’s Pull Cord

Next, I would quickly check the oil in the crankcase by pulling out the dipstick and seeing what level it’s at.

If your engine is super low or out of oil, it’s possible that the engine is completely seized up or damaged from overheating when you last used it.

Remember from the previous section that the blade shaft runs through the engine where it connects to the piston?

The piston needs to be lubricated by the engine oil to continue to slide up and down in the cylinder. Without oil, or enough oil, the piston will overheat in the cylinder as it will essentially be metal on metal at a very high rate of speed.

Metal can warp or start to fuse together from the heat caused by the excess friction.

Once this is done, your engine is likely toast.

If you have enough oil in on the dipstick, you can proceed to the next step.

Oil on this lawn mower is perfect. If you didn’t see any oil on the dipstick I would be very concerned.

If you don’t see oil on the dipstick at all, add oil (or drain the oil that’s in there and start fresh) until the level is correct.

Proceed to the next step where we’ll lubricate the cylinder if needed, and check for hydrolock as well.

Pro Tip: A lawnmower pull cord could also be sluggish to pull if you are trying to start the mower in temperatures below freezing 32°F, or 0°C. SAE30, the most common type used in mowers, becomes too thick at cold temperatures and doesn’t adequately lubricate the internals of the engine to allow for a smooth pull. Running a lawn mower in these temps with this oil can cause engine damage.

Hydrolock Can Cause a Lawn Mower Starter Cord to Fail

Hydrolock is very common and can be caused for several reasons.

Hydrolock is when you have a liquid (either gas or oil) that has made its way into the combustion cylinder and it’s sitting on top of the piston. The piston cannot compress and the excess pressure prevents movement.

Air can be compressed, but liquids cannot. You certainly can’t do it by hand, and even your engine, moving at 1000’s of RPMs cannot do it. That’s why it stalls when it “floods”, or when liquid gasoline gets into the cylinder.

If the piston can’t move due, then the blades can’t spin and the recoil cord won’t pull.

Fix Lawn Mower Loose Limp Starter Pull Rope Cord That Won’t Retract

You may get a little movement on the cord if you pull slow and hard, but it will feel extremely choppy and the cord will feel like it’s going to break your fingers as it snaps back to its original position.

A good visual sign that you have hydrolock is oil seeping out of the exhaust as you’re trying to pull the cord.

How to Fix Hydrolock in a Mower

Go ahead and remove the spark plug boot and then the spark plug itself. You’ll typically need a 5/8″ deep well socket, but your size may vary.

To remove the spark plug, remove the rubber boot first.

With the spark plug removed, depress the brake lever and slowly pull the starter cord. If it pulls, then you had hydrolock.

Go ahead and pull it a few times with the spark plug removed like you are trying to start the mower.

Keep the direction of the spark plug hole pointed in a safe direction since gas or oil will be flinging out of it as you pull on the cord.

Use a socket to remove the spark plug.

You can now put the spark plug back in and connect the rubber boot. The engine should start up but it will likely smoke for 10-15 minutes as it burns off the excess oil that made its way into the exhaust. This is completely normal.

Going back to the previous section regarding a seized engine — if your engine was very low on oil and you’ve removed the spark plug but the starter cord still won’t pull, then you can try to lubricate the cylinder a bit. Place a tablespoon or two of fresh engine oil in spark plug hole and gently tilt the lawn mower around a little to allow the oil to touch the cylinder walls.

Let it sit for an hour or so to let the oil try to work its way by the piston rings and lubricate everything. It may be completely beyond repair, but it’s worth a shot.

Be sure to check the following steps as well, in case the problem is upstream of the piston and somewhere with the flywheel or pull cord assembly itself!

The Brake, Brake Lever, or Cable Are Malfunctioning and Stopping a Mower’s Pull Cord

We started at the bottom with the blades, then worked our way up to the engine oil in the crankcase, and then to the piston and cylinder. If we keep working our way up, we find ourselves around the flywheel.

The brake lever that you clamp to the handle has a cable that runs down and connects to an assembly that has a brake pad that pushes against the flywheel. It is also connected to a spring. When at rest, the spring keeps the brake pad pushed against the flywheel.

The brake assembly has a pad (red) the pushes against the flywheel when you let go of the brake lever up top. If you try pulling the rope with it engaged like this, it would be like driving with the parking brake on. You can do it, but it’s not going to go fast and it’s going to take a lot of effort. Even if you pull it, the engine will never engage with the brake on since a “kill switch” is also engaged in this position. When you squeeze the brake lever to the handle up top, the brake pad releases from the flywheel (red pad) and the bottom of the assembly moves away from the kill switch which allows the engine to start.

When you pull on the lever, it lifts the brake pad off the flywheel and allows it to spin when you pull on the cord.

The brake lever near the engine also triggers a “kill switch” for the engine when it’s at rest. If the brake lever by the engine is not full disengaged by you bringing the brake lever by the handle and the handle together, then the kill switch keep the spark plug from working.

There could be a number of things that go wrong here. The cable could be inserted into the wrong hole if someone did some maintenance on it, the cable itself (usually the plastic tubing) could be compromised, there could be rust that’s not allowing the brake lever by the engine to turn, etc.

The cable itself should be relatively taut, with just a slight amount of slack when the brake lever is not being pressed against the handle. If it is excessively droopy, make sure that the one end of the cable attaches to the brake handle, and the other to the brake lever by the engine. Make sure all the cables are in place for the brake lever (up top and the one down at the brake assembly near the engine). Make sure the brake cable is relatively taut with only a small amount of slack. If you have excess slack, you will likely need to get a new cable.

If they are properly connected, then you will need to replace the cable. Search your make and model mower and check for a parts manual online to get a parts number. Cables can easily be found on Amazon.

To check the actual brake pad and the moving parts, you’ll need to remove the cover and shroud from your mower. If your cable looks good, then you’re going to want to proceed to the next step since we’ll be taking things apart anyway.

Starter Rope Assembly is Broken

Finally, we’re at the last step. We’ve worked our way up through the whole mower and are now at the starter rope assembly itself.

The starter rope assembly, or recoil assembly, is basically a giant compressed spring that winds up your cord when you let it go.

Sometimes they can get bound up, tabs can break, or things move out of place.

Removing the starter cord is relatively simple. Just a few screws hold it on. Once it’s removed, the rest is rather complicated to explain in written form.

I have a video that I made for repairing a generator pull cord. The concept is the exact same, so feel free to check out the video below. ⬇⬇⬇

Robert lives in central Michigan and enjoys running, woodworking, and fixing up small engines.

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About Me

Hi! I’m Robert and this blog started with my journey of learning about battery banks, generators, and power outage preparations. I’ve been an avid hobbyist in these fields for over 7 years and I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned in a way that’s geared for beginners and those just getting their foot in the door with small engine repair and prepping. I’ve been doing maintenance and handyman work for the last several years and I’ll be including little home and garage tips and tricks that I learn along the way as well. Thanks for stopping by!

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