Pull Cord Won't Retract?
Uh, oh. It's time to mow the lawn, but when you give that cord a good hard pull the cord doesn't retract like it's supposed to. Or worse, the mower fires up for a minute and the cord is whipped back, you hear some funky grinding noise, and the mower dies. Subsequent pulls on the cord are futile because the cord won't retract. Now what?
No problem! This is one of the most common problems I see with lawn mowers. It's an easy fix.
The Starter Has Seized
The problem isn't the cord necessarily, it's the part on the top of the engine that is spun when the cord is pulled, called the starter clutch.
What's happened is the starter clutch has rusted itself to the starting rod, making it impossible for it to lift, spin or retract.
The Problem: Rusted Ball Bearings
The photo above shows where the problem lies. The ball bearings are rusted and the rust has affixed itself to the rod.
Follow the steps outlined below to have your mower up and running within an hour!
Step-by-Step Mower Repair
- Remove the starter cord from the pull handle.
- Remove three or four screws holding starter assembly on (instructions follow on recoiling the spring).
- Gently tap on the cap of the starter clutch (see photo).
- Remove starter clutch assembly.
- Using fine-grade steel wool, clean the rust off the ball bearings, clean out the bearing pocket, the shaft and any other rust you may come across.
- Before reassembling you will probably need to recoil the starting spring.
- Reassemble, taking care to put several drops of oil in the center of the starter clutch (see additional instructions below).
To Oil the Bearings or Not?
I have heard that the bearings should be placed back in the clutch with no oil, absolutely dry. I have also heard that the bearings and their housing should be oiled in addition to the centerpiece that needs oil.
I lean towards oil the bearings. Especially when the bearings are as rusted as the ones in the photo. I put them in an oil bath first, then drain off some of the oil and put several drops in the centerpiece. This method has worked for me for many, many years.
How to Recoil the Spring
After the rust is cleaned out and put back in place with the ball bearings it's time to fix the spring if it is sprung. Often times the spring is sprung from the starter seizing up. They're not too difficult to recoil.
- Bend the tabs up so the coil can be removed from the housing.
- With the coil in hand, pull the end until the coil is compact and even; a nice spool.
- Now place the end holding tab into the housing and lay the rest of the coil in the housing carefully.
- Hang onto the coil so it won't uncoil before you're ready.
- While holding the spring with a small finger, place the coil on top of the spring inside the housing and carefully release the spring. The clutch will hold it in place while you bend the tabs down.
- Place the starter assembly back onto the clutch and put the screws back in.
- Guide the string back through the pull start hole in the housing and tie it back onto the handle.
Now you're ready to fire it up!
Joanna (author) from Wilseyville on May 30, 2014:
Hi Kenneth, Thank you for stopping by to read! Some of my hubs are "seasonal", like the lawn mower one. It's interesting to watch the statistics rise and fall with the seasons. Yeah, I'd like to check out your work! Good Luck!
Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on May 26, 2014:
Wonderful and timely. Very helpful and easy to follow. Voted up all the way. Thanks for sharing your intelligence that us men do not have. I love your writing style and subjects.
I ask you to read a couple of my hubs and then become one of my followers.
I would love that.
Kenneth/ from northwest Alabama
Joanna (author) from Wilseyville on June 15, 2013:
Hi Benjimester! Thanks for stopping by. You are one of the few people that think of the welfare of their machinery in the winter. I try to winterize, but if I don't, I definitely run the machines every four to six weeks. Did you know, like your mower, you should turn on your a/c every so often in the winter also, especially in your car. The refrigerant acts as a lubricant and running it every so often keeps the fittings nice and fresh, like the mower.
Benji Mester from San Diego, California on June 13, 2013:
I've definitely experienced the funky grinding noise. It's definitely tough starting a mower after a season of no mowing. I didn't know that rust was responsible for the difficulty of running a mower after a full season of idleness. I usually start and run a mower a few times in the off season to ensure it will run properly in the Spring. That's good info.