Why is My Lawn Mower Pull Cord Hard to Pull?

Lawn mowers are great when you can roll them onto your lawn, top up the fluids, pull the chord, and get to work. Unfortunately, as your mower gets older, that smooth startup seems to happen less and less. Frayed pull strings, a clogged air filter,  faulty valve plugs, or even a dirty spark plug could make your motor putt putt but never start. 

If you are experiencing more difficulty pulling your starter rope or if you cannot pull it at all, know that it happens to the best of us. Lawn mowers have a lot of built-in safety functions as well as counterbalances and a recoil mechanism, all of which can act up and make it hard or impossible to pull start your mower.

If you can’t get your engine to fire, read below to find out what to do.

Why is it Hard to Pull Start my Mower?

Before you go tearing open your engine, you may want to look at some possible physical hindrances. Some older lawnmowers need a lot of umph to get going, and it’s possible you aren’t putting your all into it. If the pull cord begins smoothly and then catches, that could be a different issue than if it won’t move at all. 

I have even found that the ground I am standing on can affect how easy or difficult it is to pull the starter handle. If I can’t get a good footing, then the starter flywheel won’t turnover, and there will be no ignition in the combustion chamber. The grass under the mower can also present a problem with easy starting.

Whenever I need to start a finicky mower, I put it on a hard flat surface. This allows me to really get a good footing and pull the cord smoothly. With no turf underneath to slow the blades down, eventually, I can get the motor cranking. If my mower starts to get like this, I usually begin replacing parts that are wearing out.

Why Can’t I Pull the Starter Rope?

Lawn Mower Pull Cord

 There are quite a few reasons why new lawn mowers might not pull start right away, and a quick look-over can ensure that everything is assembled correctly. The blade needs to be attached tightly, and the flywheel brake needs to be unlocked. If anything is loose or not attached right, find the special tools that came with your mower, like the flywheel key and the tool to adjust your mower blade. 

If everything is unlocked and connected correctly, it may be an issue with the recoil spring, hydro-locking, or a disconnected spark plug. Remove the spark plug with a spark plug removal tool, and then you can check the lawnmower blade for debris or a blade obstruction. The recoil starter can also be examined. If the issue is still not clear, you may need to do more detailed troubleshooting.

Pull Chord Troubleshooting

To really get to the bottom of what is wrong with your lawn mower starter rope, you will need to look at all the components that are responsible for starting the engine. If there are no obvious steps that can fix the problem, you may need to begin taking things apart and looking at individual problem areas. Inspection of a mower should always be done safely.

Unplug and remove the spark plugs and ground the spark plug wire to make sure the mower will not fire suddenly. Check the spark plug hole for signs of oil, and look at the recoil starter. Finally, check the blade for debris jamming before moving on to more detailed looks at the trouble zones.

Possible CauseWhat to CheckWhat to Adjust
Factory Safety LockWhere the handle extends below the mower deckRemove any pieces that obstruct the blade shaft
Fly Wheel Brake StuckHandle and Cable Tighten or loosen the cable and open and close hand grip
Debris JamUnder Mower Deck and BladesRemove clumps and anything stuck or tangled
Hydro-LockEngine and cylinder headPour the oil out of the spark plug hole
Snagged Starter RopeRecoil Assembly Replace the whole unit; do not take it apart
Loose or Missing BladeMower Blade and HardwareReplace or attach the blade and tighten the nuts 
Damaged Crankshaft or EngineEngine Cylinder and started mechanism near the crankshaftReplace any damaged or faulty parts 

Factory Safety Lock

Some mowers come with a block or wedge to keep the mower blade stationary in transport. Other brands have a handle that holds down where the blades sit for transport and then needs to be removed before starting. Check to make sure that everything restricting starting has been removed before investigating further. 

Flywheel Brake Stuck

This slows the mower down quickly to prevent injury or to help keep lawn cuts clean. The flywheel brake can get sticky with lawn debris and other grime and may stay engaged even when you have released it. With the brake engaged, it will be hard to generate the pulling power needed to start the motor. The recoil spring uses the flywheel to counter the pull and start the blades, so if that can’t occur smoothly, it is unlikely your mower will start. 

Debris Jam

While it is usually a good idea to clean your mower between uses, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes pesky weeds or fibrous material can get tangled around the blade and make it hard to start. There have even been occasions where something like wire or rope has worked its way under and jammed up the blades.

Whatever is causing the obstruction, you will need to remove it. Make sure the mower is safe to work on, and then while wearing gloves, try to remove all of the jammed materials and free the blades. 


This is an issue when a mower has been flipped upside down or tilted aggressively. Oil makes its way into areas of the engine it shouldn’t and prevents the mower from starting. To reverse this process, you will need to remove the spark plug and dump any oil out of the hole. Make sure you don’t spill fuel or anything else into the engine while trying to clean it out. Once it is drained, reconnect everything and try to start it again.

Snagged Start Rope

Anywhere between where you hold the starter and where it cranks the engine, there is a chance for the cord to snag. If the rope catches, it may not direct enough energy into the engine to start the mower. Enough snags can fray the wires and lead to snapping. Older mowers may have cords tied back together, and the knots have the potential to catch regularly. Make sure the line from the handle to the engine is clear before yanking on the starter rope.

Loose or Missing Blade

I have forgotten to put the blade back on after sharpening. The counterweight was wrong, and the mower wouldn’t start. Once I replaced the blade, it fired up on the 3rd tug. A loose or wobbly blade can also prevent an engine from starting since the flywheel will recoil in a jerky motion and not give a smooth glide that fires the cylinders. Also, check that the blade is tight before operating your mower. 

Damaged Crankshaft or Engine

The crankshaft is what turns over inside the engine and leads the combustion. When you pull and hear what sounds like cables moving and gears churning, that’s the crankshaft. If there is damage or slippage, your engine may not fire. Rocks and other hard pieces flying around can sometimes lead to damage, but often it is improper storage, and lack of maintenance can mess these parts up. Often you will need to get it repaired or replace the entire piece to fix this problem.

Should I Replace My Mower’s Pull Cord?

Briggs & Stratton Starter Rope & Grip 5042K

If, after all the troubleshooting, you are still unable to get the cord to work, you will need to start replacing parts. It makes sense to start with the cord and the rest of the recoil box before moving on to the more expensive mechanical and electrical components. The cords can become old or be subpar material and need to be replaced. 

To get a return in combustion, you can replace a mower cord that is too short, damaged, too long, or that has a difficult-to-use handle. By adjusting and customizing your pull cord, you can make it easier for you to start your mower without investing in expensive upgrades or engine components. If you need to work on the recoil housing, it is usually best to replace the whole thing unless you know what you are doing to avoid it whipping out and causing injury.