How to Replace a Lawn Mower Recoil Starter on a Flathead Engine


mower starter pull rope PD_0071_247_951-10658

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 replacement 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.

Repair difficulty:
Time required:

Less than 30 min.

Parts required

  • Recoil starter assembly

For manuals, repair guides, and specific part recommendations, enter your model number.

Tools required

  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Socket wrench
  • 5/16" socket
  • 3/8" socket
  • Drill
  • 3/16" drill bit

Before you begin

Let the engine cool. Wear work gloves to protect your hands.


 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.

Step 1: Disconnect the spark plug wire

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

Disconnect the spark plug wire.

Step 2: 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.

Remove the starter rope.

Step 3: Remove the engine cover

Remove the screws securing the engine cover to the engine. Slide the rope through the hole in the engine cover. 

Remove the engine cover.

Step 4: 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. 

Remove the fuel tank.

Step 5: 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.

Remove the dipstick.

Step 6: Remove the engine blower housing

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

Remove the engine blower housing.

Step 7: 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" drill bit. 

Step 8: 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.

Step 9: 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.

Step 10: Reconnect the spark plug wire

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