Step 1: Remove the old starter rope
You tug one last time to get the lawn mower started, and suddenly the rope breaks and the end goes spinning into the hole. Don't blow a gasket. If you have even a tinge of mechanical aptitude, replacing a starter rope is pretty easy. If the spring breaks—a rare event, according to our repair expert—the fix is a lot harder, and we recommend you take the mower to a repair center.
The first step is to remove the rewind assembly from the lawn mower, and how you do this varies. It's usually held on by three or more screws. Remove the screws and lift off the rewind (Photo 1). Some mowers have a shroud covering the top of the mower. On these you'll have to search for and remove the screws that hold the shroud in place. If your rewind unit is held on by rivets instead of screws, see “No Screws?” below.
After you remove the rewind unit, flip it over and look inside to find the knotted end of the broken rope. Grab it with a needle-nose pliers and pull it out. You'll thread the new rope through this hole. You'll find replacement starter ropes at home centers, hardware stores and small-engine repair centers.
Step 2: Install a new rope
Before you install the new rope, you have to rewind the spring by twisting the rope pulley in the same direction it goes when you pull on the rope. You'll know when you're turning the pulley in the right direction because it will get harder to turn. Keep turning the pulley until you feel resistance and it won't turn easily. Then let it unwind about one-half to one revolution until the hole in the pulley lines up with the hole in the rewind housing. Wedge a screwdriver against the pulley to keep the spring from unwinding while you thread the rope through the holes (Photo 2). Tip: With leather gloves on, melt the end of the rope with a match. While the plastic is hot, give it a quick twist to create a pointed end so it's easier to thread in.
Push the end of the rope through both holes and tie a knot (Photo 3). Heat the knot a little bit with a match and pull it tight to keep it from coming undone. Remove the screwdriver while you keep pressure on the pulley with your finger, and gradually let the rope wind onto the wheel. You may have extra rope to cut off after everything's back together. Mount the rewind unit and reinstall any shrouding or other parts you had to remove. Put the handle on the rope and tie a knot. Position the knot so that there's a little tension on the rope when you release the handle. If the rope on your lawn mower extends up the handle, make sure to place the rope handle in its final position before tensioning the rope slightly and tying the knot.
Rivets hold this rewind unit to the metal shroud. To access the rewind unit, remove the bolts that hold the shroud to the engine. If the rivets are loose, drill them out and replace them with bolts and locknuts.