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Asking Lufkin is your best option as they might repair or replace for free or low cost. The Official Site of Lufkin Brand Measuring Products
There are videos out there that will show how to take tape measures apart. However it can be tricky and if you are not careful the whole thing can become a mess to deal with. Most companies will not offer repair or replacement if you have tried to fix it yourself.
with a volt meter set to DC, pull the wires off of the starter solenoid coil (the small wires) and check for 8 - 12 volts DC at the wires when the key is turned. A poor connection at the solenoid coil will cause slow turning engine cranking or none at all.
If you have 8 - 12 volts there check for voltage to ground on the large cable that goes from the solenoid to the starter motor, one probe on the cable and the other on ground or ( - ) at the battery. Turn the key to start, if you have voltage to the starter motor but it does not turn loosen and retighten the mounting bolts to the starter motor and if that does not help do the same for the engine to ensure you have a good ground. If none of that works your starter motor needs to be replaced, if you have no voltage to the motor the solenoid or battery connections are faulty.
You can also quickly test starter health by conecting a set of jumper cables to a good battery, clamp the neg. to the engine block anywhere and tap the pos. to the starter cable connection from the starter solenoid, if the engine spins over your starter is healthy and the issue is certainly between the key switch and the starter solenoid.
It sounds like a starter problem. If the starter was used heavily -long runs or multiple times to start the engine- it could be shorted. Overheating is the enemy of the starters and happens when a starter is used hard to start a balky engine. Repalcing the starter isn't a big job and many B&S engines use the same starter. Find a working starter, replace yours with it and try to start the engine (with clean plug and full battery.)
It is also very possible that the compression relief valve is malfunctioning. It s mounted on the cam shaft and opens the exhaust valve to bleed compression from the cylinder(s) when starting. When it doesn't hold the valve open the starter can't throw the cylinder past top dead center TDC) to relieve compression. The work around is this: turning the pulley manually past TDC will allow a good starter and fully charged battery and clean plug to turn the engine and fire.
B&S has a high failure rate for the compression relief valve and states that the valve clearances are critical for the valve to function properly. And when the engine is worn and valve clearances are set right but it still malfunctions... the company has various reasons why YOU caused the problem.
Replacing the compression relief valve etc takes 3-5 hours and at $65+/hr you can see what the cost is- not including the relief valve which costs somewhere around a $100 (more for larger engines.) Even after replacement, it might not fix the problem.
The compression relief valve is not working. Pushing the engine past top dead center and turning the key works after a fashion. Keep the battery fully charged. This is a design/engineering fault in B&S engines which they cannot fix. It is in all of their engines. Most do not malfunction but those that do, do it all the time. I have had the compression relief valve replaced and the valve settings set to allow the valve to function (it uses the exhaust valve by holding it partially open while starting) but it still does not work properly.
Skip the below portion if you don't want to hear a negative view of B&S engines.
The engine problem resolved itself today (12-10-10) when it threw its rod into the cylinder wall. B&S engines power a huge number of the riding mowers in the US. It is difficult to escape them when buying a mower. Use it on more than a postage stamp yard and B&S will claim you abused it.
If it is an old battery (3 plus years) it probably needs to be replaced. The other failure point is the charger. That can be checked with a volt meter. should be about 4 volts for each battery in the system. 1 battery 4 v, 2 batteries 8 v. Depending on the system it maybe either ac or dc. Try both with your volt metter.
Amazon seems to have the least expensive replacements.
Search for Black & Decker VP143 Versapak Gold Twin Pack.
If it has gotten wet, muddy, or sand and grit in it you can spray WD40 in it and slowly move it in and out cleaning it as you go. do not pull it out to far ( no more than 6 inches past 49 1/2 feet. If ytou pull out a tape measure to far it will uncoil the spring and you will either need a replacement refill or just get rid of it and ask Santa for a new one. I have used broken tape blades for "measuring sticks". Simply cut them into 1 or 2 foot sections for hard to reach areas.....Joe