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Lawn Mower Pull Cord Won’t Retract

Lawn Mower Pull Cord Won’t Retract

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Willie Moore
Latest posts by Willie Moore (see all)

You’ve just finished cutting the grass with your trusty lawnmower when you walk over to start it up again and pull on the starter cord, but nothing happens. What should you do?

When your lawn mower pull cord won’t retract, it may be due to a broken or jammed assembly, rusted ball bearings, and a damaged starter clutch or recoil mechanism. Easy fixes include replacing the broken, rusted, or damaged parts. Also, lubricating the moving parts may help solve these problems.

Read on to learn more about the problems that may cause your lawn mower’s pull cord to not retract, and easy fixes that may help.

The Pull Cord Assembly Is Broken or Jammed

If the lawnmower pull cord is broken or jammed, it will not retract. In general, the pull cord assembly may do the following: 

  • Break or get jammed due to a bent or broken pulley.
  • Have a bent or broken cord.
  • A slipped knot in the cord jams when the end comes through the hole in the housing.
  • Rust/corrosion from exposure to weather affecting metal components.

Here are some tell-tale signs of a broken or jammed pull cord assembly:

  • The pull cord is broken, or the pull cord is hanging loose but is not attached to any part of the mower.
  • The pulley does not rotate when you pull on the starter cord.
  • The starter grip rotates with the pulley, but no cord moves through it because there’s an obstruction in the housing, such as something blocking the passage of the cord.
  • The engine starts fine but stops running as soon as you release the handle or stop pulling on the cord.

How To Fix

To fix a broken pull cord, replace it with another similar-sized sturdy rope or leather cord. Make sure to knot it securely at both ends. If the pulley is bent or otherwise damaged, replace it. Have a professional repair any stripped teeth on the engine flywheel or replace it if necessary.

You could also disassemble the starter housing as far as needed to access what needs to be repaired or replaced.

As for corroded ball bearings, spray them with lubricating oil (WD-40 works well) and then work the pull cord until they loosen up again; otherwise, replace them entirely.

The Ball Bearings Have Rusted

If the ball bearings have rusted due to exposure to weather affecting metal components, the lawnmower pull cord won’t retract because the ball bearings in the starter clutch are frozen or rusted.

Here are five signs that your lawn mower’s ball bearings are rusted:

  • The starter cord doesn’t fully retract when you release it.
  • The starter cord pulls out slowly and reluctantly, even when you’re just trying to roll the mower around in place.
  • There’s a noticeable clicking or popping sound every time you pull the starter cord and try to start the engine.
  • You can hear and feel a gritty rustling noise coming from inside the lawn mower housing when you try to retract the starter cord by hand.
  • When you pull up on the starter cord, it barely moves at all. Or if it does move, then it moves only slightly but requires great effort.

How To Fix

For starters, try spraying them with lubricating oil, such as this highly effective, easy-to-apply, and moisture-displacing WD-40 Multi-Use Product with SMART STRAW (link to Amazon), and then working the pull cord until they free up again.

Also, you can try cleaning the rust/corrosion off of the ball bearings with steel wool or sandpaper to give them a fresh start. If these solutions don’t work, replace them entirely. As for the started clutch–check it for damage and replace it as necessary.

Additionally, ensure you always clean your mower to keep it in the best shape. Here’s a video that may help:

How to Clean a Lawn Mower the Right Way

The Starter Clutch Is Damaged or Rusted

If the starter clutch is damaged or rusted, it may prevent the lawnmower and the pull cord from retracting.

Here are some signs that the lawnmower pull cord won’t retract because of wear and tear on the starter clutch:

  • The starter cord is stuck in place or barely moves when you try to pull it.
  • You’re unable to start the engine by pulling on the starter cord.
  • The starter cord seems loose.
  • There’s a lot of slack in the cord, or it will not move at all.

How To Fix

First, check the starter clutch for damage, such as broken teeth, cracks, and replace it as necessary/if needed. Then apply penetrating oil into the rusty ball bearings and work both until they loosen up again.

If they still don’t work after this process, consider replacing the starter assembly as a measure of last resort. If you need to replace this part, make sure that your new one matches your old one exactly for an easy replacement job.

The Recoil Mechanism Is Damaged

The recoil mechanism allows you to start and stop the engine on a pull cord lawnmower. If this part breaks, then it can cause the pull cord not to retract properly.

Here are some signs that your mower’s recoil mechanism has gone bad:

  • The starter cord won’t retract at all.
  • The string is tangled on the spindle or pulley inside the housing.
  • You can’t start your mower by pulling on the starter cord because it gets stuck in a tangled mess.

How To Fix

In the case of a tangled string, you’ll have to remove it by hand. If the recoil mechanism is damaged or broken in some way, then replace it. However, ensure you buy the same brand as your existing mower for a correct match. 

Also, make sure that your new part has a warranty in case it malfunctions after installation.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, if you can’t start your lawnmower by pulling on the cord and it doesn’t seem like it’s working as it should, then check for these four common problems:

  • The starter cord assembly is worn out or jammed.
  • The ball bearings have rusted.
  • The starter clutch is damaged or rusted.
  • The recoil mechanism is damaged.

Follow the steps to fix each of these problems, and you’ll be able to get your lawnmower started again in no time. For the best results, always buy the right part for your specific type of mower.

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