Although DVDs have nearly replaced video-taped movies, many homes keep a video cassette recorder/player for occasional use. This Fix-It Guide on video cassette recorder (VCR) tells how a VCR works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a VCR problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives simple step-by-step instructions for how to disassemble a VCR, how to clean the tape transport, how to service the idler assembly, and how to lubricate a VCR. This guide also refers to other Fix-It Guides for specific repairs such as electrical cord repair, electrical receptacle repair, power switch repair, motor repair, and others.
How Does a Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) Work?
A video cassette recorder (VCR) is an electronic device for recording and playing back video cassette tapes. To record, the VCR takes the video signal from the television carrier signal and records it to magnetic tape. To play the signal back, the VCR reads from the tape and sends the signal to the television.
VCRs have either four or two video heads and their own tuners. The tape is pulled across the heads using either a belt-, gear-, or direct-drive. Disassembly varies, but basic maintenance and repair procedures, such as cleaning, lubrication, and belt changing are about the same for most models. The electrical components are generally quite reliable, but if they do fail, it may be more economical to replace the unit rather than to repair it.
Don’t toss that VCR until you’ve checked to make sure that it’s not just the Fuse or the Electrical Cord that’s the problem. If you want a new one anyway, fix the old one and donate it to a charity or a friend.
What Can Go Wrong with a Video Cassette Recorder?
The power cord may fail. Internal parts may need cleaning. The idler wheel may become worn. The erase head may be faulty; tracking may need adjusting. Tracking may be off. The color board may be defective.
How Can I Identify a Video Cassette Recorder Problem?
- If the VCR won’t operate at all, make sure power is on at the electrical receptacle, test the electrical cord, and check your owner’s manual for proper connections to other home entertainment components; test the power switch. Also check the internal fuse.
- If the VCR does not record or play back, clean or replace faulty belts (see below). Inspect and service the idler if faulty (see below).
- If the VCR plays back but does not record, check for a faulty record safety switch. Also try cleaning the heads (see below).
- If playback does not work or a cassette won’t load, clean and replace the belts as necessary (see below). Test and replace a playback switch if it tests faulty (see below). Clean a dirty logic switch or have a faulty one serviced (see Appliance Controls).
- If the cassette is jammed or won’t eject, remove and inspect the tape basket for jammed gears. Inspect and replace belts as needed. Remove and straighten a bent tape basket.
- If a cassette binds when ejecting, test the eject motor and have a faulty one serviced or replaced. Also clean or replace a dirty or faulty logic switch (see Appliance Controls).
- If the VCR mangles tapes, clean the transport (see below) and check the idler wheel (see below).
- If recordings are of poor quality, clean the video heads (see below).
- If the picture quality is poor, clean the transport and adjust tracking according to your owner’s manual (many units have automatic tracking adjustment).
- If the picture is wiggly, adjust tracking, and clean the heads and transport (see below).
- If the picture is jumbled, clean the transport (see below).
- If there is excessive dropout, clean the transport and adjust tracking.
- If the picture bends at the top (flagging), have the unit serviced.
- If the picture jumps, clean the video heads.
- If there is no color, adjust tracking and clean the video heads.
If the cover is off when the VCR is plugged in for testing, be careful around the fuses and high-voltage power supply.
What Do I Need for Video Cassette Recorder Repair?
Replacement parts are available from the manufacturer and aftermarket suppliers as well as from local electronics stores. The tools you will need to fix a VCR include these:
- Small pliers or a pick
- Head-cleaning materials
- Denatured alcohol
- Canned air or vacuum cleaner
- Cotton or foam swabs
- Clean cloth
- Light machine oil
- Lubricating grease
What Are the Steps to Videocassette Recorder Repair?
Disassemble a VCR:
- Unplug the VCR and remove any screws securing the top and bottom covers. To remove the face, take out the face latch screws from the bottom; then turn the VCR over and release the latches while tilting off the face. Align the slide switches with buttons to reinstall the face.
- Tilt a circuit board away to access or test parts beneath it. Remove any mounting screws and latches.
- Remove the tape basket and disconnect the power plug and grounding screw.
- Remove the tape basket.
Remember to reconnect any grounding wires that may have been disconnected when disassembling the VCR.
Clean a VCR tape transport:
- Remove general dirt and dust with canned air.
- Clean the capstan and other tape loop components with cotton or foam swabs and denatured alcohol. Clean the video heads last to avoid recontamination.
- Clean the video head and drum with a swab. Without touching the drum, hold a clean cloth flat against the head and slowly rotate the drum.
Service the VCR idler assembly:
- Remove the split ring holding the idler assembly on the shaft using small pliers or a pick.
- Lift the idler assembly off the shaft. Remove the wheel to inspect and clean it as needed.
- Clean the idler pulley and wheel with a foam-tipped swab dampened with denatured alcohol. Replace the pulley and wheel if they are damaged.
Lubricate a VCR (lubricate sparingly and only where original lubrication has failed or been cleaned off):
- Lift up the capstan shaft washer and carefully add a drop of oil below it.
- If the tape guide needs lubrication, first clean it with alcohol-soaked swabs. Apply a dab of lubricating grease on each track and turn on the VCR to spread the grease.