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Mowing the lawn is an important routine for many homeowners. You wait for the best weather, set aside a full morning, form a game plan…

Then you get the mower out, and the pull cord won’t budge.

Change of plans – now, you need to figure out the problem so you can start your mower properly.

Why won’t my lawn mower cable pull? A stuck pull cord might be caused by:

Is your lawn mower pull cord stuck? Grab some work gloves and let’s untangle the problem!


What Does It Mean When Your Lawn Mower Cord Won’t Pull?

If you’re tugging on the cord and it’s not budging, or it’s only extending a few centimetres – that means it’s stuck.

Most of the time, this is a straightforward fix. However, you’ll need to identify the cause of the stuck pull cord first, so let’s break down the possible reasons.


Jammed mower blades

jammed mower blades

The first place to check is the mower deck – specifically the blades. Grass clippings, mud, and other debris can clog the deck and restrict the drive shaft.

That prevents the blade from turning, which jams your engine.


Lack of lubrication

Like other power tools, lawn mower parts wear down with time and use. Some of those older parts may have dried out, causing the cord to get stuck due to friction.

The worst-case scenario is that your engine has low or no more oil, which has caused it to seize.


Rusty starter assembly

Lawn mowers can get wet a little, but excess moisture (such as from mowing wet grass or humid conditions) can cause damage.

Primarily, it could lead to rusty internal components, including the starter mechanism. The rust stops components, like the ball bearings or the starting rod, from moving properly.


Faulty recoil mechanism

gardener turning on the lawn mower

A stuck pull rope may be a mechanical issue, such as:

  • A faulty recoil spring system
  • Lack of tension/too much slack
  • A tangled rope
  • A misaligned rope
  • A broken cord

Whatever the reason, the cord isn’t unwinding and retracting properly, so you can’t pull it.


Stuck flywheel

There are several reasons your mower’s flywheel may have seized up, including:

  • Misaligned brake
  • Dislodged or disengaged belts
  • Seized parts

Since the flywheel can’t turn, the cord won’t extend and the engine won’t start. Mechanical issues are usually caused by bumps, excessive vibration, and similar accidents while mowing.



Hydrolocking (or a hydro-locked engine) happens when fluid enters certain components, causing the engine parts to seize or stop working.

The fluid can be water, oil, or mower fuel. That excess fluid can get into the carburetor, engine, or even the spark plug.

If you’ve tipped a petrol model the wrong way while cleaning your lawn mower, that can cause oil to leak. The fluid can enter components such as the spark plug cylinder or prevent the pistons from functioning.


How to Fix a Lawn Mower Pull Cord That is Stuck

gardener and a lawn mower

Before you try and fix anything, always shut off your mower! For petrol models, disengage the spark plug wire. Meanwhile, for electric models, unplug the mower and/or remove the battery.

Check your owner’s manual for specific instructions to remove or repair any parts. If you’re removing screws, set them aside on a clean rag or container so you don’t lose them.

If none of these fixes work, you may need to get your mower professionally repaired – or retire your old friend, and look up the latest lawn mowers for a new partner.


Engaged brake

The first thing to check is if you’re engaging the brake!

People sometimes do this without thinking, and end up preventing themselves from starting their mower.


Check the mower blades

checking the blades of a lawn mower

Follow the correct instructions to access the mower deck. Petrol mowers should be tipped backwards (handles to the ground), while electric or battery mowers can be tipped sideways (air filter side up).

Inspect the deck for any debris – grass clumps, dried mud, rocks, or even twigs. Remove the dirt and debris carefully.

Look at the crankshaft as well, as it could be bent. If it is, carefully straighten it out.

Don’t forget to give the blades a once-over too! A clogged deck usually signals the machine isn’t cutting properly, so you may need to sharpen the mower blades and realign them.

If there’s damage such as nicks or warping, it’s best to change the blades entirely.

Reconnect the spark plug wire and try pulling the cord to see if the issue is fixed.


Apply lubrication

This could just be an issue of dried-out parts and too much friction.

Remove the housing/case and spray the pull cord assembly with an appropriate lubricant, such as WD-40 or AtomLube Grease. Give the cord a quick pull to see if it’s come unstuck.

If the issue is low or no engine oil, you’ll need to inspect the components. The piston may have seized, which can be fixed by applying lubricant and refilling the reservoir.

However, if there’s too much damage, it may be time for a new lawn mower.


Clean or repair the starter assembly

unscrewing starter screw of the lawn mower

This requires a little tinkering, but don’t feel intimidated!

It is a straightforward, DIY fix using the following tools:

  • Fine steel wool
  • Oil or lubricant
  • Screwdriver
  • Working gloves (for protection)


Detach the pull cord from the housing, then unscrew and remove the housing. After that, unscrew the starter assembly (check the manual if you’re unsure).

Take out the cap from the clutch starter and check the ball bearings. If they’re rusty, use the steel wool to clean the rust off then wipe them with a microfibre cloth.

Clean the bearing pockets, shaft, and any other rusty components as well. Then put a few drops of lubricant on a soft cloth, and apply a thin layer to the bearings and housing.

Next, check the starter spring – you likely have to re-coil/rewind it. Open the tabs and take the spring out.

Pull the end until the coil is compact, then carefully put it back into the housing (hold tight!).

Once it’s inside, release the spring so the clutch holds it in place.

Replace the tabs, followed by the ball bearings and the cap. Add a few drops of lube to the centre of the clutch.

Reassemble the mower and reattach the cord to the handle. Give it a pull to see if that’s fixed things.


Inspect the recoil mechanism

The recoil system inside the mower is responsible for retracting the cord after it’s been pulled. Any issue with the system or the rope itself could interfere with pulling – either it won’t pull out or won’t retract.

Access the recoil system and disassemble it carefully. Inspect the cord to see if you need to untangle or realign it.

After you’ve fixed the rope, ensure it’s wound in the right direction and feeds tightly into the spool. Reassemble the mechanism and reattach it to the mower.

Test to see if you can pull the cord and it maintains the proper tension.

If the cord is broken, though, it needs to be replaced.


Check the flywheel

close up of a lawn mower flywheel

The flywheel keeps the crankshaft turning, helps distribute air, and aids ignition. If the flywheel won’t move, the engine won’t start.

Open up your mower’s engine and check for the following issues:

  • Jammed flywheel brake
  • Disengaged belt or pulley
  • Leaked oil
  • Too much oil
  • Magnet issues

For brake or pulley issues, simply reattach or reassemble the part. Leaked oil or fuel can cause parts to seize, so you’ll have to change the oil and clean or replace the affected components.

Check the ignition coil to see if the screws have loosened, as this can cause the coil to “stick” to the flywheel magnet and disrupt the engine. You’ll need to realign the coil so it’s not too close to the flywheel.

If you’re particularly concerned, have your mower checked by a professional.

To fix too much oil in the mower, drain the reservoir through the plug or valve, or use an evacuator.


Fix a hydro-locked engine

To fix a hydro-locked mower, you’ll need to identify the affected part. First, check the spark plug and see if it’s damp.

If it is, lay some rags under the mower cylinder/spark plug. Remove the spark plug, being mindful of any oil that spills out. Clean the spark plug and set it aside to dry.

Now, check if you can pull the starter cord. If you can, oil should spray out of the open cylinder. Repeat until nothing comes out.

Wipe all the oil off, then leave the mower and spark plug to fully dry. Reinstall the spark plug and wire, then start the mower.

Don’t panic if there’s white smoke – that’s just the engine burning off the remaining oil.

If that doesn’t work, the carb’s float may be sticky from leaked oil. Lightly tap the carb to unstick the float, then clean the carburetor.

Lastly, peek into the fuel tank to see if the gas has been contaminated by water. Check for any sludge or debris floating in the fuel, haze or discolouration, and a sour odour.

If yes, you’ll need to drain the contaminated gas and let the mower dry out. Then refill the tank with clean fuel.

Reassemble your mower, replace the spark plug, and see if the pull cord works and the machine switches on.

About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.


About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.