It's Saturday morning and time to cut the grass, use the gas trimmer or start the chainsaw to cut that firewood. Put on safety glasses and ear muffs for hearing protection first.
So far, so good. You set the choke and give the starter an energetic pull.
As luck would have it, only one good thing can happen and that would be the successful operation of the starter, and your machine starts. Sadly, several bad things can also occur and often do. Which kind of starter failure was it? You have your choice:
The rope seemed to come out okay when you pulled it, but the motor did not turn, Nothing happened. You pull it again, same thing. Who used this thing last?
The rope untied itself from the handle, and with a nice zippy sound, the rope disappeared into the hole quicker than a wink. It's too far in to reach with needle-nosed pliers.
The rope came all the way out, all right, but the far end disconnected completely from the rest of the machine and it is now blowing gently in the breeze.
The rope simply broke. The handle came off. And no wonder, it looks frayed, black and rotten.
You pulled the rope and there was a discomforting, squawky, springy sound like a broken alarm clock unwinding fast. No wonder it sounded like that, the spring was unwinding fast because it is broken.
The rope came out, turning the motor over and actually starting it, but the rope won't go back in. This is the best of the bad things, because at least you know the machine starts. Shut it off, you have to fix it anyway, it's unsafe to work with a starter rope dragging.
You don't even have a rope? Maybe you have a wind-up' spring crank starter type.
It doesn't work either. The spring won't wind, or the spring is broken. Maybe you should have stuck with rope recoil model, just as your spouse suggested?
Regardless of symptoms, your recoil starter needs to be fixed. Please note that if you are not mechanically minded at all, it may be safer and better to take it to a qualified repair shop. If you are reasonably mechanical, proceed further.
To fix a recoil starter, you need to understand how it works. A recoil starter, in the simplest form, is a mechanical arrangement including a spring that causes the re-winding and retraction of the starter rope. When you pull on the rope, you wind the recoil spring tighter, and mechanical parts move appropriately to grab the housing on the crank shaft, turning the crank shaft, which starts the motor. When the motor starts, centrifugal force immediately releases the same mechanical parts, disconnecting the starter from the rapidly spinning crankshaft.
Subsequently, when you release the starter handle, the recoil spring also returns to a relaxed state, and in the process of doing so, winds the starter rope neatly back into the stored position.
In the case of a starter with no rope, the spring and a release mechanism used to release the winding spring operate mechanically to achieve the same objective.
When either system fails, it is usually self evident. Here's how to fix that recoil starter.
You will need basic mechanical tools; small wrenches and sockets, screwdrivers, pliers, a pair of needle nosed pliers, and some spray lubricant. Try retrieving the rope first if you can see it and re-attach the handle if possible, but if not, fix that recoil starter.
Remove the starter by removing the starter housing as necessary. With most motors there are three or more bolts or Phillips-type screws to remove. Some lawnmowers may have a decorative plastic pop-out housing that must be removed prior to removing the starter.
Inspect the mechanical parts on the back of the starter. Check to see they move freely. The mechanical "dogs" or cleats must move freely. Actual design depends upon the specific model of machine you have. Spray them with lubricant and verify correct operation.
If the rope is still attached, pull the rope out using the handle. Does it feel very weak and will it turn the mechanism but does not go back to the "wound up" position?
If that is the case, carefully remove the inner screws or bolts, remove the spring retaining plate, and inspect the spring. Caution is required.
(Do hold the spring carefully to ensure it does not pop out of the housing. Use a clamp or spring retainer if you have one. A tensioned spring flying out of place can cause personal injury.)
Is the spring broken or looks like it is worn and bent? If the spring is not broken, has it been bent or merely slipped off of the retaining post and thereby allowing it to unwind?
If the "hook" end is still intact, carefully rewind the spring and use pliers to put the end of the spring back on the retaining post.
Replace any broken parts. Replace the spring with an identical spring if broken, carefully inserting it into the housing and place the hook on the anchor post or as the specific design dictates. Wind the spring prior to attaching the rope. Restrain the spring so it does not unwind.
Replace the broken rope as necessary. Use a piece of rope six inches longer than the original, but the same thickness and type of rope should generally be observed. Most starter ropes are tough braided nylon. Polypropylene rope is not suitable, although it may work temporarily, it may soon fail. Remember to allow extra length for rope routing on any machine that has the starter rope routed up through a loop to the handle.
Remember, the spring must be wound tightly when the rope is in the extended position so that it will relax, rewinding the rope on the spool back into the storage position. Insert the new rope through the hole in the starter housing and fasten it as required.
Reinstall the inner spring retainer plate and tighten the screws. Test the rope by pulling on it. It should pull out 20-30 inches, or just as it did when new, and rewind correctly.
Reroute the rope as necessary and reinstall the starter housing.
Reinstall the handle, knotting it appropriately around the metal retainer bar in the handle if the handle has one.
Similarly, for spring-operated wind-up starters, re-install a new spring, replace mechanical parts if broken, or repair the release mechanism as required..
Now you can test it and get back to work. You may get that machine started yet.