How To Replace A Lawn Mower Starter Cord

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If you own a pull start lawn mower you will eventually find yourself holding the severed handle of a broken starter cord. Here in Florida, two thirds of the year is one continuous lawn mowing session. That translates to lots of cord tugs. Thankfully, starter cord replacement is simple wear and tear maintenance that you can easily do yourself. We’re not yanking your cord when we say the rain keeps coming and the grass keeps growing; so let’s replace this broken starter cord!

Rip Torn – Replacing A Broken Starter Cord

Broken starter cord
This ripped cord has been forced into retirement.

After weeks of perpetual rain, we finally got a break in the storms. Then came a different kind of break. I went to mow the spongy, puddle-pocked mess I call a yard and noticed my mower’s pull cord was frayed where it enters the recoil starter housing. “That’s going to need replacing in the next few months”. Nope, snapped on the very first pull!

Lawn mower starting cord
I see you hiding in there, silly cord, trying to avoid work.

This particular small engine part goes by many different names, depending on your source: starting cord, starting rope, pull cord, lawn mower rope, recoil starter rope, rip cord, etc… Many retailers lean towards “starter cord”, so we often will as well. Whatever you call it, the replacement process for a starter cord is pretty much the same across the board (even for other equipment, like string trimmers, pressure washers, chain saws and generators).

Housing Project – Accessing The Starting Assembly

Unbolt the recoil starter assembly.
This mower’s starter housing is mounted with 3 bolts.

If you’ve never dealt with a broken pull cord, it may be worrisome to have one break on you. But don’t sweat it; it’s a simple, minor repair that can be done in twenty minutes or less (or your next one’s free!).

Begin by pulling a few bolts and detaching the recoil starter housing from the engine. The spring loaded cord reel (spring pulley) is attached to the underside of the housing. Don’t separate the pulley from the housing unless you’re actually having a problem with the spring assembly. If the pulley isn’t turning easily, you can try spraying some lubricant between the reel and housing to free it up.

Pulling the recoil starter.
Once the bolts are removed, the housing lifts right off.

While you have the housing off, go ahead and clean out any grass, twigs and other debris that have managed to work their way inside.

Pull The Plug On The Old Pull Cord

Replacing a lawn mower starter cord.
Removing the old starter cord.

Detach the bad cord from the reel and the pull handle then tie the broken ends together. Measure the old cord and cut a new piece several inches longer than the original (to account for the knots at each end and where it broke). Actual length is not critical; try to stay within about 6 inches of the original starter cord and you’ll be perfectly fine.

Removing the old cord.
Unwind the cord from the reel. Then grab the knotted end and pull it through.
Lawn mower starting cord.
Depending on your starter handle, you may need to drive the knot out with a slotted screwdriver and mallet so you can grab hold of it to remove the cord.

I was going to buy a replacement starter cord from the home center. But the ones in stock were cheap, thin plastic rope (and come with a new pull handle, which I don’t need). Instead, I used some appropriately sized paracord that I already had in the shop. As a bonus, if you want to add a little visual pop (bling bling!) to your mower, paracord comes in many different colors and patterns.

Tied for measurement purposes only.
To determine the length, I tied the old cord back together then added about 5 inches. (I needed nearly 8 feet of cord.)

May I Have Your A-tension? – Tightening The Coil Spring

Wind the spring pulley.
Wind the spring pulley.

Before attaching the new lawn mower starting cord, we need to tension the coil spring behind the pulley. Flip the housing upside down and rotate the pulley in the same direction it would turn if the cord were being pulled (counter clockwise).

Prevent the pulley from spinning on you.
I used a screwdriver to hold the pulley still while tying off the end of the cord.

Continue winding until the spring feels like it’s approaching its limit, being careful not to let it go. Now back the pulley off a full rotation, plus enough extra to align the tie-off hole in the pulley with the cord guide hole in the housing.

Allowing the new starter cord to retract into the housing.
Keep tension on the cord and allow it to retract into the housing.

Thread your new starter cord through the housing and reel then tie a knot in the end. Gently allow the pulley to spool the cord. But leave some hanging out so you can attach the pull handle.

Attach the pull handle.
Attach the pull handle.

If, like mine, your mower has a loop on the handle bar that keeps the pull cord close at hand, there may be a good foot or so of cord than doesn’t wind onto the reel (that’s OK). If your starter cord does try to retract all the way into the housing, you can temporarily clamp the line (or tie a loose knot) to keep the end hanging out while you attach the handle.

Final Check & Reassembly

Lawn mower recoil starter cord replacement.
The recoil starter automatically couples itself to the top of the engine every time you pull the cord, so there should be no alignment issues to worry about. Just set the housing back in place and reinstall the bolts.

Before putting the starter back on the engine, verify that the fully-extended cord reaches its end before the spring does. In other words, when you pull the starting cord all the way out, the pulley should be stopped by the knot at the end of the cord, not by the coil spring. If the spring bottoms out before the rope does, the pulley probably needs another turn or two of tension.

New Lawn Mower Starter Cord – Finished!

Good as new!
Good as new!

Personally, even though I’ve always done my own lawn mower repairs, I don’t exactly love working on them. But if I had to choose a failure to tackle, replacing a mower starter cord would reign at the top of my list. Whether you’re replacing a broken starter cord or just upgrading an old worn one, now that you know how easy it is you’ll never have to pay a repair shop to do the job for you. That’s the Home Fixated way!

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About Steve

Steve made his first woodworking project at age 9 (in 1982) and whittled his first wooden chain at 18. He was also a consumer electronics repair tech and shop owner for a little over 20 years, until his impending obsolescence became impossible to ignore. Since then, Steve has focused passionately on manipulating his wood... in his workshop. Don't judge him.

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1 thought on “How To Replace A Lawn Mower Starter Cord”

  1. For some mowers (a Toro model comes to mind) one must drill out pop rivets to access the recoil assembly to replace the pull-cord.


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