September 1, 2016

Lawn mower won't start troubleshooting video: can't pull recoil starter rope

By Sears PartsDirect staff
Lawn mower won't start troubleshooting video: can't pull recoil starter rope.

This video from Sears PartsDirect can help you figure out why you can't pull the recoil starter rope to start your walk-behind lawn mower. The troubleshooting includes checking for debris blocking the blade, determining if the recoil starter rope needs replacing and seeing if the engine is locked up.

For more help troubleshooting problems with your lawn mower, check out our DIY repair page.

Tools and equipment needed

  • Work gloves

  • Screwdriver

  • Spark plug wrench

  • Clamp

Hi, this is Wayne, from PartsDirect. Today we’re going to talk about some troubleshooting steps to figure out what's wrong when you can't pull the recoil starter rope on your lawn mower.

Blade obstruction

First, let’s check for a blade obstruction. Disconnect the spark plug wire, put on some work gloves and tip the mower on its side with the air filter up. If you see a branch or other item under the mower deck that’s preventing the blade from spinning, remove it. Reconnect the spark plug, and you should now be able to start the mower.

If you didn't find anything blocking the blade, there might be a problem with the recoil starter or the engine might be locked up.

Recoil starter check

We'll remove the blower housing to check the recoil starter. On this type of engine, the blower housing is easy to remove and the recoil starter conveniently comes off with the housing. Disconnect the spark plug again and release the starter rope from the lawn mower handle. Remove the screws from the blower housing and pull the housing off the engine.

Pull the starter rope to see if the recoil starter works. If the starter is locked up or cracked, replace it. The recoil starter is easy to replace in this lawn mower. Pull off the recoil starter guard and then release the recoil starter from the tabs on the blower housing. Remove the recoil starter and snap the new one into the tabs. Reinstall the recoil starter guard and then you're ready to reattach the blower housing to the engine.

Check for engine failure

If the recoil starter works, then the engine could have oil in the cylinder that is causing a hydraulic lock. Tipping the mower forward or to the side with the air filter down can fill the cylinder with oil. The piston can't compress the liquid oil, so the engine seizes up. To check for this problem, remove the spark plug. Clamp the bail control bar down to release the blade brake. Manually rotate the starter cup to see if the engine rotates with the spark plug removed.

If the engine spins with the spark plug removed, reinstall the blower housing and pull the starter rope several times to clear the oil out of the cylinder. Remove the clamp from the bail control bar. Reinstall the spark plug and reconnect the spark plug wire. You may find that the engine starts after clearing the cylinder. The engine may sputter and smoke until the cylinder burns off the oil.

If you can't rotate the starter cup with the spark plug removed, then the engine likely has had an internal failure such as a bent crankshaft or locked-up piston. Have a service technician examine and repair the engine.

Once you have the engine repaired, you can get back to mowing.

I hope this video helps you out today. Be sure to check out other videos on the Sears PartsDirect YouTube Channel. Subscribe if you like them, and you’ll be among the first to know when we upload new repair videos.

Symptoms for gas walk-behind mowers

Choose a symptom to see related walk-behind mower repairs.

Main causes: drive control cable failure, worn or broken drive belt, bad transmission, broken drive wheel
Main causes: damaged cutting blade, loose cutting blade, damaged flywheel key, engine needs tune up
Main causes: dirty carburetor, bad spark plug, clogged air filter, engine choke problems, clogged gas cap vent
Main causes: stale gas, engine needs tune up, bad spark plug, dead battery, bad recoil starter, faulty safety switch, bad ignition coil
Main causes: engine needs tune up, dirty or clogged carburetor, damaged flywheel key
Main causes: uneven wheel height settings, damaged wheel, dull or damaged cutting blade
Repair guides for gas walk-behind mowers

These step-by-step repair guides will help you safely fix what’s broken on your walk-behind lawn mower.

How to replace a lawn mower ignition coil on an OHV engine

Replace the ignition coil if it isn't sending electric current to the spark plug when you pull the recoil starter rope.

Repair difficulty
Time required
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How to replace a lawn mower flywheel key on an OHV engine

The flywheel key couples the flywheel to the engine crankshaft. Replace the flywheel key if it's broken.

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March 1, 2016
By Lyle Weischwill
How to replace a lawn mower drive cable

The drive cable engages the transmission to spin the drive wheels and move the mower across the grass. Replace the drive cable if it's broken or frozen up inside the sheath.

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Time required
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