Your weed eater pull cord may be broken, stuck, or fail to retract. A worn-out, damaged, or torn pull cord needs replacement. However, a stuck pull cord or retraction issue may be due to other problems that require careful inspection and choosing an appropriate solution.
Here are 11 steps to fix a broken pull cord on a weedeater:
- Separate the shaft from the engine.
- Unscrew and remove the engine cover.
- Clean and lubricate the pawl springs.
- Access the pull cord recoil chamber.
- Inspect and replace the recoil spring.
- Get a new pull cord if everything else is fine.
- Test the engine motor’s spin manually.
- Insert a new pull cord and set up the pulley.
- Wrap and secure the cord onto the pulley.
- Rewind the pulley to retract the pull cord.
- Tug and test the pull cord and retraction.
The original weed eater invented by George Charles Ballas Sr. has had different avatars and brand names over the decades, including Poulan. Thus, you may have to tweak some steps in this guide depending on the model you have. Read on to fix a broken pull cord on a weed eater.
1. Separate the Shaft From the Engine
Turn off the power switch on your weed eater. Also, you may want to empty the gas reservoir, especially if it’s fully loaded and thus a bit heavy. Now, you need to separate the shaft from the engine housing. To do so, you need a screwdriver or hex key. You may not need a powered screwdriver for every weed eater model, but some bolts or fasteners can be unusually rigid.
Generally, the shaft and engine or motor housing have several screws. Check your model, locate the screws, and remove them. Be cautious when you pull the shaft from the engine cover to avoid damaging the throttle cable inadvertently. Also, remember where each screw was, as many brands and models use different types, to simplify reassembling the weed eater.
The pull cord recoil mechanism is in a chamber inside the cover. It could be at the front or elsewhere. Nevertheless, you have to open the cover, so removing the front and rear screws of the engine housing is a prerequisite to fix a broken pull cord on a weed eater.
2. Unscrew and Remove the Engine Cover
The original weed eater’s contemporary gas version usually has 4 machine screws in the front and 3 regular screws on the back. You need to remove all of them to open the engine cover. Most weed eaters have plastic housing, but the screws mounted on metallic parts tend to be machined or Torx. However, some models use quite a few of the regular or flat head screws.
You have to access the engine and motor housing to replace a broken pull cord on a weed eater if it’s stuck or won’t retract. All weed eaters have the pull cord recoil chamber inside the plastic housing in a specific alignment with the pawl and ratchet mechanism of the engine.
Both the initial steps of separating the shaft and opening the engine cover are essentially finding and removing the screws. You’re looking at around a dozen or more screws in total for the first phase of this project. Keep the screws safe, and note the compatibility of the different types.
3. Clean and Lubricate the Pawl Springs
You may have to remove the spark plug, clutch plates, and other engine components before you can separate the engine from the pull cord recoil chamber. Ideally, refer to the owner’s manual if you’re not sure about these parts to avoid any accidental damage.
For instance, you have to detach the throttle cable inside the engine housing of the original weed eater’s modern version to conveniently access the pull cord recoil mechanism. This step may be unnecessary if the pull cord recoil chamber is elsewhere in a weed eater model (source).
Now, this juncture is when you check the ratchet and pawl of your weed eater. A pull cord may be ineffective if the pawl springs are dirty, grimy, and almost unresponsive. Luckily, the remedy is as swift and straightforward as cleaning the pawl springs with a carburetor cleaner and lubricating them.
4. Access the Pull Cord Recoil Chamber
Unluckily, your problem may not be a grimy pawl and ratchet system. A torn pull cord needs replacement. A pull cord that’s stuck or not retracting may need a new recoil spring. Both fixes require you to access the recoil chamber to inspect the spring, pulley, and other anomalies.
Your weed eater may have two or more screws and retaining tabs on the recoil chamber. Remove the tabs and screws to access the pull cord pulley and recoil spring. Exercise caution at this stage because the recoil spring has tension, and the pulley is designed to cover it.
Any broken component may be loose if your pull cord is stuck or not functioning as it should. Also, don’t tug the pull cord at all during this phase unless you have the pulley under your control. Otherwise, you may have the recoil spring unwind and spiral out of the chamber.
Here’s how you can access the recoil chamber on some weed eaters, and also what not to do with the pull cord when you have an open case with screws and retainer tabs removed:
5. Inspect and Replace the Recoil Spring
More often than frequently, a weed eater’s pull cord gets stuck or doesn’t retract due to a faulty recoil spring. Also, it’s possible that the recoil spring is alright, but the case hosting it is broken or misaligned. Inspect the recoil spring, its case, and the small shaft or spindle of the pulley.
Here’s a YouTube video of a broken recoil spring case in a Weed Eater FeatherLite XT260:
Now, you may try to work around with the recoil spring by bending it a little to make the clamp, like in the video. Alternatively, you can simply buy a recoil spring to avoid the elbow grease. If you buy a recoil spring, don’t get one without the case unless you can reuse the original.
A retraction issue or stuck pull cord can be fixed with a new recoil spring. Ensure you align it properly when reinstalling the recoil mechanism. You may have to rewind the pull cord on the pulley to set up the tension of the recoil spring, which I’ll explain in the subsequent steps.
6. Get a New Pull Cord if Everything Else Is Fine
You may have a torn, frayed, or worn-out pull cord, while everything else is fine. Thus, the easy remedy is getting a new pull cord and integrating it with the pulley and recoil mechanism. Buy a compatible pull cord because your weed eater model requires a specific diameter. A thicker pull cord may not wind up around the pulley properly, and the recoil mechanism can malfunction.
Check your weed eater’s manual and buy a new compatible pull cord if the old one is torn. In some cases, the pull cord may be in usable condition, and the entire recoil mechanism could be fine. Still, you may have a stuck pull cord or another issue related to its performance. Such scenarios call for one additional inspection to check if the engine or motor is jammed.
7. Test the Engine Motor’s Spin Manually
Generally, a stuck or jammed pull cord can have one or more issues. Any broken component inside your weed eater can prevent the pulley, recoil spring, and pull cord from functioning as they should. The first six steps in this guide should reveal any evident damage or broken component in your weed eater. However, what you may have is a jammed engine or motor.
Weed eater engines with oil, grime, and debris buildup can be stuck, especially if they’ve been stored or unused for some time. The problem could be worse if a weed eater was stored improperly, with gas in the tank and without a thorough cleaning despite sufficient use until then.
Fortunately, you can fix these components with carburetor cleaner and lubricant. A locked motor or engine isn’t impossible to remedy, but you may need several rounds of cleaning to eliminate all the sticky grime, carbon buildup, and hardened fuel or oil residue from the engine.
Watch this YouTube video to fix a locked weed eater engine:
8. Insert a New Pull Cord and Set Up the Pulley
Now that nothing’s wrong with the recoil mechanism and your weed eater engine isn’t stuck, get the new pull cord, insert it through the cover and the pulley hole, and fasten it. Weed Eater FeatherLite and some models have a fastener on the pulley. Your model may or may not have it.
Thus, make a knot at the end of the pull cord that you insert through the hole of the pulley and secure it on the small socket. For models with fasteners on the pulley, you can tighten it, and your new pull cord will be held firmly in place. You may refer to the following YouTube video for live help:
9. Wrap and Secure the Cord Onto the Pulley
Inserting a new pull cord is simpler than wrapping and securing it on the pulley. You must wind the pull cord snugly around the pulley so that it’s firmly secured without preventing its normal unwinding, extension, and subsequent retraction.
A practical way to ensure this is by using any available notch on the pulley. You can take a bit of the pull cord farther from where you have to wrap it around the pulley for the first round. Hold this bit on the notch, and work on the first winding cycle. Check if the pull cord is snugly wound.
10. Rewind the Pulley To Retract the Pull Cord
When you wind the pull cord once or twice around the pulley, you can restore it with the recoil mechanism. Don’t wrap as much of the pull cord as you want around the pulley because you need to set up and create the requisite tension with the recoil spring for the retraction to work.
Thus, reinstall the pulley, screws, and retaining tabs, if any. Rewind the pulley to retract the pull cord, and set up the recoil spring. You may conduct an interim test to check if the pull cord is unwinding and retracting as expected before you rewind the pulley to the optimum extent.
11. Tug and Test the Pull Cord and Retraction
Finally, you’ll have most of the pull cord’s length wound up on the pulley, and the recoil spring will have the maximum tension necessary for retraction. Don’t rewind the pulley or coil up the pull cord entirely because you need some part of it to extend through the cover onto the handle.
Now, tug and test the pull cord. Assess if the action is smooth and there’s no blockage or any resistance as the pull cord extends. Check the retraction for a similarly smooth operation. Keep an eye on the pull cord handle because it must be flush with the exterior cover post reassembly.
If everything is alright, you can reinstall all the components and put all the screws back in. Don’t tighten any screw with excessive force. A snug fit is ideal. Load some gas on the reassembled weed eater, turn the power switch on, and pull the cord to test if it works flawlessly.
A few weed eater models may need a recoil spring assembly kit. Also, you may use ‘weed eater starter recoil spring’ if you don’t find the right one when searching for this part online. Buy a pull cord, recoil spring, and other parts only after ensuring they’re compatible with your weed eater.