April 1, 2013

How to replace a lawn mower recoil starter on a flathead engine

By Lyle Weischwill
How to replace a lawn mower recoil starter on a flathead engine

You can replace the recoil starter on a lawn mower that has a flathead engine by following the DIY instructions in this lawn mower repair guide. The recoil starter, which is riveted to the blower housing on top of the engine, has a spring that retracts the starter rope. If the rope doesn't retract, it's likely the recoil spring is broken. Replacing just the spring is difficult; the best way to repair a recoil starter is to replace the assembly using a manufacturer-approved lawn mower part.

Use these steps to replace the recoil starter on common Briggs & Stratton flathead engines that power Craftsman, Toro, MTD, Murray, Husqvarna, Poulan and Snapper walk-behind lawn mowers.

If your lawn mower is a newer model with an overhead valve (OHV) engine, see our repair guide How to Replace a Lawn Mower Recoil Starter on an OHV Engine.

Quick links
Tools required
Phillips screwdriver
Socket wrench
5/16-inch socket
3/8-inch socket
3/16-inch drill bit
Repair difficulty
Time required
30 minutes or less
Repair difficulty
Time required
30 minutes or less


  1. 01.

    Disconnect the spark plug wire

    Wear work gloves to protect your hands.

    Disconnect the spark wire so there's no chance that the mower could accidentally start.

  2. 02.

    Remove the starter rope from the guide

    Remove the starter rope from the rope guide. If the rope won't slip past the guide and the handle, loosen the guide.

  3. 03.

    Remove the engine cover

    Remove the screws securing the engine cover to the engine.

    Remove the cover.

    Slide the rope through the hole in the engine cover.

  4. 04.

    Remove the fuel tank

    Remove the screws that secure the fuel tank to the engine.

    Lift the tank off, being careful to keep the fuel tank upright so it doesn't leak.

  5. 05.

    Remove the dipstick

    Remove the screw that secures the dipstick tube to the housing.

    Remove the dipstick from the engine and plug the hole with a paper towel to keep debris from falling into the engine.

  6. 06.

    Remove the engine blower housing

    Remove the bolts securing the blower housing to the engine and remove the housing from the engine.

  7. 07.

    Drill out the rivets

    Place the blower housing on a firm work surface and remove the mounting hardware that holds the recoil starter assembly in place.

    Drill out rivets with a 3/16-inch drill bit. 

  8. 08.

    Mount the new recoil starter assembly

    Position the new recoil starter assembly onto the blower housing and secure with the hardware provided.

    Tip: Insert bolts from the top of the housing.
  9. 09.

    Reassemble the mower

    Position the engine blower housing on the engine and bolt it into place.

    Remove the paper towel from the dipstick opening, slide the dipstick into the engine and secure it with the screw.

    Feed the starter rope handle through the engine cover up to the rope guide.

    Reinstall the fuel tank.

    Position the engine cover on the engine and screw it into place.

  10. 10.

    Reconnect the spark plug wire

    Attach the spark plug wire and make sure the mower works properly.

Warning: Undertaking repairs to appliances can be hazardous. Use the proper tools and safety equipment noted in the guide and follow all instructions. Don’t proceed until you’re confident that you understand all the steps and are capable of completing the repair. Some repairs should only be performed by a qualified technician.

Symptoms for gas walk-behind mowers

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

Main causes: uneven wheel height settings, damaged wheel, dull or damaged cutting blade
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: engine needs tune up, dirty or clogged carburetor, damaged flywheel key
Main causes: drive control cable failure, worn or broken drive belt, bad transmission, broken drive wheel
Main causes: stale gas, engine needs tune up, bad spark plug, dead battery, bad recoil starter, faulty safety switch, bad ignition coil

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.

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

Check your lawn mower blade regularly and replaced it if it's bent or damaged.

Repair difficulty
Time required
 15 minutes or less
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
 30 minutes or less
How to replace a lawn mower flywheel key on a flathead engine

When you hit a hard object with your mower, the flywheel can shear to protect more expensive components. Learn how to replace this tiny but essential part.

Repair difficulty
Time required
 45 minutes or less

Articles and videos common to all walk-behind mowers

Use the advice and tips in these articles and videos to get the most out of your walk-behind lawn mower.

October 1, 2019

Types of walk-behind mower blades video

By Sears PartsDirect staff

Learn about the different kinds of mower blades and how to maintain them.