Get your VCR back into working order

July 29, 2015

Although a VCR is definitely old school, many people still have their wedding memories or baby's first steps captured on video cassette – and why VCRs are still around. Got an old VCR that refuses to run? Here are some tips to get it back into working order.

Get your VCR back into working order

Manually clean neglected heads

If your VCR refuses to play — and a couple of passes with a commercial video cleaner does not help — you may need to manually clean the video head and tape path inside your VCR. Here's how:

1. Unplug the unit and remove the screws holding the case in place — be sure to keep different-sized screws together to make sure they go back in the right places. Some units may additionally require you to remove the front panel to access the interior.

2. Moisten a few chamois swabs with some denatured or isopropyl alcohol. Don't use cotton swabs, as you don't want loose fibres floating around inside your VCR. Clean the capstan, rollers and other components along the tape path. Chamois swabs are sold at audio and electronics stores.

3. Locate the head drum: It's a round, shiny disc with several small notches on the bottom (those notches house the video heads, so be careful when working around them). Dampen a fresh swab with alcohol and then slowly rotate the top of the head drum with your fingertips — don't touch the sides of the drum — and clean the entire circumference once or twice.

4. Never move the swab in a vertical (up-and-down) direction, because you're likely to damage a head if your swab accidentally comes in contact with one. If the swab is dirty when you're done, repeat the process as many times as it takes, using clean swabs, until no dirt is visible.

Remove trapped objects

  • Whether it's an old label peeling off a videotape or a toy inserted by a curious child, you need to remove foreign objects, because they invariably cause mechanism jams and other problems.
  • Unplug the unit, remove the cover and inspect the inside of the VCR.
  • When removing the object, be careful not to detach any wires or break any leads on the circuit board (use tweezers if possible).
  • After the object has been removed, clean up debris particles or residue with a soft brush or with denatured alcohol applied to a soft cloth.

When a videotape won't come out

Have a videotape that refuses to be ejected from your VCR? Before you pack the VCR off to the repair shop, try this:

1. Disconnect the VCR's power cord for about 30 seconds, then plug it back in again. This sends a reset pulse to the unit's onboard-computer chip. If the VCR is locked up, this will usually fix it; such lockups are caused by minor power surges or a buildup of static electricity. (This is actually the first step taken by many repairmen, who may charge you a considerable fee for the operation if they're successful.)

2. Other possible causes of a tape not ejecting include a warped cassette case, the metal basket that the cassette fits into being bent or a foreign object blocking the tape path or jamming a gear. Unplug the VCR and disconnect the cables and take off the top cover (it's usually held on by a few screws along the bottom edge and at the back). Then try to wiggle the cassette free.

3. Using both hands, apply gentle pressure on the cassette, being careful not to bend the metal basket. As you do so, look for places where the cassette might be binding. If the videotape is caught in the transport mechanism, free it first. If you must touch the tape, first put on cotton gloves.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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