Lawn Mower Won’t Start: Can’t Pull the Recoil Starter Rope

This video from Sears PartsDirect shows what to do when you can’t pull the recoil starter rope on your lawn mower. There are a few things that might be causing the problem. You could have branches or debris obstructing the blade’s movement or your recoil starter might be locked up. You might have oil in the cylinder causing a hydraulic lock. We’ll walk you through each of these problems and let you know how you can get your mower back to good working order.

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Recoil starter

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Hi, this is Wayne, with Sears PartsDirect. Today we’re going to show you what to do when you can’t pull the recoil starter rope on your lawn mower. First, let’s check for a blade obstruction. Put on some work gloves, disconnect the spark plug wire 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 be able to start the mower now. If you didn’t find anything blocking the blade, you might have a problem with the recoil starter or the engine might be locked up. 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 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 recoil starter is locked up or cracked, replace it. The recoil starter is easy to replace on this lawn mower. Pull off the guard and then release the recoil starter from the tabs on the blower housing. Remove the old starter and snap the new one into the tabs. Reinstall the recoil starter guard and you’re ready to reattach the blower housing to the engine. If the recoil starter works, then you could have oil in the cylinder causing a hydraulic lock. Tipping the mower forward or on its 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. I hope this helped you out. Click that subscribe button and I’ll let you know when we post new repair videos here on the Sears PartDirect YouTube channel.



22 thoughts on “Lawn Mower Won’t Start: Can’t Pull the Recoil Starter Rope

  1. SUCCESS!!! My husband is in the military and is gone, so of course I couldn't get the mower to work. Your video made it possible for me to do step by step and now I can mow our lawn without having to have a professional come look at it. Thank you!

  2. 8 million videos on when the starter rope will NOT pull out or recoil. However,, have yet to find one about when the starter rope pulls with little or no resistance, recoils fine, but does not engage or start the mower. Shaft not locked up spins ridiculously free, and sounds like someone popping their hand over their mouth.


  4. i was about to open it up or give up before you said to check the blades
    im an idiot, you're a life saver, thank you

  5. I need help and I think I broke my lawnmower and here is my question If you did put the cord on your lawn mower put forgot to push down lever and the motor makes a clunk sound can it still start and I pulled the cord a lot of times and I don't know what to do and it started but now it was having a lot of black smoke with it and it's a craftman self pusher

  6. i fixed it myself with out begging someone to do it for me , there was alot of grass stuck all around the the front and sides that stopped the blade from moving….thank you!!!

  7. Thanks….this helped me a full amount… had fuel in the spark plug…smoked a whole lot after like you said and works like a charm

  8. STEP 1 (learned the hard way): Before following any steps in this splendid video (as I did), make sure your not just some forgetful fool (as I am) and that you had the clutch handle down like you always do when you crank he motor!

  9. My lawnmower has locked so went to buy a socket set came back then was able to turn over the engine a few times without any issues until it locked up again have took the head off and it all looks good but it's still locked with only around 20 degrees movement on the blade

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