Generator Pull Cord Won’t Retract: 5 Quick Fixes

One of the ways to start a portable generator is by pulling its pull cord. Hardly there are generators that can be started with a remote or switch or key. 

When the pull cord is operating normally, it is expected to come out when pulled outwards and retract back when released. The pull cord retracts because of a recoil spring wounded around the pulley on its lower side. 

Now, sometimes, the generator won’t pull start. It means, when the pull cord is stretched out, it fails to retract back. Due to this, you cannot start the generator using the pull cord again.

If you are going through a similar issue, you have come to the right place!

Generator Pull Cord Won't Retract

This guide examines the various causes that lead to such a situation and how to fix it. Without delaying any further, let’s go know what leads to a  generator pull cord locked.

Why is my pull start locked?

Remember, this issue isn’t likely to happen with a new generator.

The pull cord fails to retract usually due to wear and tear of the machine parts. 

Why is my pull start locked

Let’s go through the various reasons one by one below:

Damaged pulley

You must know that the recoil spring and the pull cord are located inside a pulley. The pull cord is wrapped around the outer side of the pulley in one specific direction. The recoil spring is wrapped around the inside of the pulley.  When this setup is done properly, both the recoil spring and the pull cord are unwinded when pulled. When released, the recoil spring comes back to its original position, also pulling back the pull cord. 

Now, if the pulley is a cracked one, it would fail to ensure that the recoil spring retains its tension and pull back the pull cord on time. If the pulley is broken, you can expect the pull cord to get stuck in the holes or crevices.

Problems with the pull cord

Though most generators use a pull cord of high quality, it’s prone to wear and tear over time. When it’s used repeatedly, the friction that occurs against the surface of the pulley wears it out. 

Is your generator pull cord stuck? Sometimes the pull cord forms a knot, preventing it from being stretched fully or from retracting to its original form. In that case, unknot the pull cord and see if it retracts properly.

Malfunctioning recoil spring

By now you know that the recoil spring is responsible for the pull cord to retract to its original position. The recoil spring works because of the recoil starter.

Sometimes, the spring loses its tension, it gets worn out, stuck, or breaks after being used for a prolonged period. In any of these cases, the spring would fail to function properly, and therefore, the pull cord wouldn’t retract into the starter immediately after it’s released. 

Sometimes, the recoil spring comes off from the pulley. If that’s the case, it can be fixed immediately. But, if you notice that a large portion of the pull cord is remaining out, while a little portion is getting wounded around the pulley, upon releasing the pull cord, it means the spring is losing its tension slowly.

Broken or worn-out friction plate

Another reason why your generator pull cord won’t pull can be the wear and tear of the friction plate or driver plate. Sometimes these plates also break, because they are mostly made from plastic. If these plates are worn out, the pull cord would fail to move into and out of the pulley easily. Sometimes, the pull cord might even get stuck when it’s pulled out. 

Piston Seized-Up

This is a rare occurrence but if none of the above-mentioned reasons have occurred, you must consider this as a cause of why your generator pull cord won’t retract.

Sometimes the piston gets seized up. This could be due to various reasons. For instance, if the generator runs for a long time without sufficient oil, or if the piston isn’t lubricated properly, it gets seized up. 

If the reason behind your pull cord not retracting is a seized-up piston, pour sufficient oil into the engine and the combustion oil and let it sit for some time. 

After about an hour, stretch out the pull recoil spring and the spark plug to see the position of the piston, after adding oil. 

Malfunctioning clutches

You must have noticed that some models of generators use clutches and not spring-loaded pawls.  When you have a clutch, it means there are ball bearings present to enable it to remain free and move in any direction. 

Now, sometimes this clutch gets stuck while moving. When this happens, the pull cord also gets stuck inside the pulley. 

How to fix a pull start that won’t retract

How to fix a pull start that won't retract

Now that we know the causes that are likely to stop the generator pull cord from retracting, we must look into ways of fixing the issue. Below mentioned are five effective ways of fixing the issue and getting your generator started again. Let us go through the ways one by one below.

Fix the broken pulley

Whenever you notice your generator pull cord won’t retract, inspect the pulley first.  Start by taking out the starter and see if there’s any damage on the surface. If you see the pulley has cracks or is broken, it’s time to replace it with another one.  For that, follow the following steps:

  • Stretch the pull cord entirely out of the pulley.
  • Insert a screwdriver to lock the pulley in position.
  • Now take out the recoil spring from the inside of the pulley using a screwdriver.
  • Next, you must remove the friction plate. Loosen the center bolt and take the plate out.
  • Now you can access your old pulley. Remove it and place a new one in its place. Ensure it’s properly aligned and in the correct position.
  • Now, you must tighten the recoil spring. Use the screwdriver to lock the pulley. Next, attach the pull cord to the exterior of the pulley.
  • Before putting up the cover, to protect the pull cord, let the recoil spring pull back the cord slowly. Do not do it manually.
  • After the new setup is complete, restart the engine by pulling the pull cord and notice its behavior.

Inspect the condition of the pull cord

If the pull cord is tangled, you can unknot it. But if it’s old and frayed in some places, it’s time to replace the old pull cord with a new one. For that follow the following steps:

  • To get hold of the pull cord, start by taking out the generator’s starter.
  • Remove the rope. Find out the end with the knot.
  • Use a screwdriver to lock the pulley in position. It shouldn’t move because later on you would require the end with the knot.
  • Now cut off the knot, removing the old rope. Use a new cord and make a tight and small knot with it.
  • Now unwind the pulley by taking out the screwdriver. If everything goes well, the recoil spring would pull inside the new pull cord.
  • If the trial ends well, you can attach the covers back to the pulley. Now start the generator engine. If the issue was caused by a poor, worn-out rope, this should solve it.

Examine the recoil spring

We have already stated how the recoil spring can prevent the pull cord from retracting. Therefore, it’s important to inspect the recoil spring by following the below-mentioned steps:

  • Take out the starter from the generator. Get hold of the recoil spring.
  • Remove the cap, bolt, and pulley.
  • Now have a close look at the recoil spring and inspect it. If the recoil spring is stuck, you can set it free. If the spring has been uncoiled, recoil it again.

If the recoil spring is broken, you will need a new one. While installing a new one, make sure to place it properly in the hooks to prevent it from coming out again.

  • While attaching the spring, keep one end fixed and rotate the other end until it reaches the next attachment point.
  • Fit the center screw in position. Fasten its cap. Next, you can fix the pulley in place.
  • After fitting into position, rotate the pulley to see if the spring has proper tension and its functioning properly.
  • Wind up the recoil spring slowly. You can turn the pulley in the direction opposite to the direction of unwinding the spring. Basically what you need to do is pull the spring apart by using the pulley. 

In this way, the new spring is expected to work fine. While buying a new spring make sure you buy a good quality one otherwise it will lose its tension soon. 

Inspect the condition of the friction plate

To examine the friction plate,  you must remove the starter. If you see it’s broken, remove it right away and place a new one.  If it’s not entirely broken, try pulling the rope and see how the various parts of the pulley system are behaving. While doing so, if there are weird grinding noises produced, it means the plate is worn out. 

To remove the broken plate, you will have to remove the center bolt and then the cap. After replacing the friction plate with a new one, see if the cord flows freely before you fit the other parts of the system in place.

Sometimes dirt and debris inside the pulley system also keep the pull cord stuck. While inspecting the system, if you find dirt or debris, use a soft brush to clean it.

Fix the broken clutch

At times, the clutch gets broken or stuck. In that case, follow the steps mentioned below:

  • Remove the starter first. Then the fan shroud to get hold of the clutch.
  • See if the ball bearings are dysfunctional or damaged.
  • Take out the clutch using a pry bar. Be careful while doing that.
  • Now replace the damaged clutch with a new one. After that’s done, you can install the other parts of the machine.

Don’t miss:

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Final Verdict

These steps are expected to fix the issue and allow your generator pull cord to retract when released.

So the next time you see the generator pull cord not retracting, do not panic. You already know the causes that can lead to such a situation.

Find out the cause and follow the appropriate measures to fix it. We however advise homeowners to call a professional and allow him to inspect the issue.

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