How to Get a Stuck Tape Out of a VCR

It's fairly easy...


Recently I had a tape stuck in a VCR. I looked all over the Web for some hints on how to remove it without wrecking it, but all the sites seem to be run by repairmen! What's wrong with that? Simple! They'll tell you that you need a repairman to get it out! And that if you don't want to pay for a repair shop to do it, that your safest alternative is to cut the tape outta there (wrecking the tape).

Needless to say, I didn't buy any of this malarkey, and when I found out just how easy it really is to get a jammed videotape back out of a VCR, I decided to write this page on how to get a stuck tape out of a VCR to blow holes in the curtain of nonsense that's out there on this particular subject.

Enough lead-in talk. Here's how to do it:

First UNPLUG THE VCR! I don't want anybody electrocuted in their quest to not pay for fixing this simple problem! Then:

1. Get a screwdriver.

2. Check out the case and find out where the screws are for the part of the housing you'll need to take off. Take off the part which will expose the part of the guts where the tape is! On my Deawoo, that's the top, and there are two screws for it--one on each side. Easy enough!

3. Unscrew the screws. The housing may not want to come off. Don't break anything by forcing it! Check if there's any plastic tabs, etc. which need to be depressed to fully release it. Release any tabs, and patiently work the top off. Eventually it'll loosen up and come off.

4. Stop and LOOK at what you see now. Don't just start grabbing stuff! Your eyes will find the videotape cassette follow the path of the actual tape with your eyes. Visually find the "route" it'll have to take, before it'll come free.

5. The general direction of removal should be "up". In my case, it was only held up on one little part, but it may be more galled-up than that. A lot more! But in any case, it should be possible to work it off of all parts it's wrapped around.

6. GENTLY coax the tape off of the intervening parts. Make sure not to put strain on or pull on any parts!!! This is where the repairmen's sites will try to strike fear into your heart. It's not that bad--just don't be a clod and things should be fine. If you're truly ham-handed, draft someone with more dexterity to do it. A spouse should do...

7. Once you've got the tape off the parts and freed up, remove the cassette from the VCR. Hold the door open so it doesn't close up on the tape. If it binds up on something, look and see what it's binding on, release it from that part, and continue removal. It should come right out, and if it doesn't, it's not sufficiently released. So use your neurons (brain cells) and don't just yank!

8. Once you've got the cassette and its tape out of the machine, put the cover back on (make sure you engage any tabs that should be engaged) and screw it down. You can plug it back in now.

Now, you have a cassette with some of the tape hanging out. When you try to reel it in, you will find that it won't reel in!!! At least, not unless you know the trick for getting tape back into the VCR cassette, it won't...So here's the trick for getting the tape itself working again:

9. Flip up the flap where the tape is coming out.

10. Straighten out the tape where it's crinkled, and make sure the tape isn't twisted anywhere. Yeah, you'll have to touch the tape. And yeah, it will make a slightly blurry spot flash by for an instant when you play the tape again! But it beats cutting off the damaged part and splicing it!

11. The trick: On the side of the cassette (I think it's the right-hand side, but it may be the left), under the plastic flap you lifted up, there's a little button thing which can be pressed in. Press it in. This will release one of the reels sufficiently enough to be hand-turned.

12. While keeping the thingie pressed in, AND keeping the tape from around until you find the reel that'll move. If it won't turn one way, it'll turn the other way. But you'll find one way which will co-operate and let you reel that tape back in. Sorry but I don't remember just which one or which way it turned.

12a. If nothing will turn, no-way no-how, use a screwdriver (try a phillips because the head's a bit wider) to push the button in further. It'll go in another 1/4-inch or so. That'll release one of the reels and if it doesn't seem to move then, GUT UP and be more adamant about turning it! The free one WILL move! But it won't "just do it" takes a slight bit of "convincing" (but not outright forcing!). It may make a bit of a ranching noise, too, depending on the tape manufacturer. Remember to make sure to get all the twists and crinks out or it'll just fudge-up again as soon as you try to play it! Especially the twists!!!

13. Let the flap down.

14. BEFORE USING THE VCR AGAIN, RUN A CLEANING TAPE! Why??? Because--the reason it got messed up in the first place was because the machine was dirty, magnetized, or staticked! You may not be able to *see* the dirt--I wasn't able to on mine--but I know that that's what causes this, from experience! It's the same thing that messes up audio cassette tapes in tape decks. That and HEAT. Combine the two and it's deadly. But things can get screwed enough even without heat!

UPDATE: Soon after writing this page, I received a note which said in part: " The reason I am writing you is to say that you shouldn't use a cleaning tape because they are abrasive and eventually will corrupt the head. The best way to clean the head and the capstans is with a Q-tip slightly moist with surgical spirit or alcohol. Make sure that the spirit has evaporated off before turning the power back on. It usually evaporates quickly anyway."

Personally, I hardly ever use the VCR (I usually have my eyes glued to the computer screen) so haven't had any problems with using the tapes, but if you use yours more than once in a blue moon it may be important to use the nonabrasive method. The main point I'm making in this section is to CLEAN IT somehow!

15. Once the cleaning fluid (if you used a wet system) dries, it's time for THE ACID TEST. Play the tape...

16. It should play okay, but if you hear any ranching, other racket, iffy-anything...stop the tape! It's trying to fudge-up again! See if there's anything you can straighten out with the tape. Re-run the cleaner and let it dry. Try again...

17. It should play now. But be attentive when it gets to the part that had been stuck because usually there's a few remaining crinkles and that's a common hanging point. With some tapes, unfortunately, it will take a few runs through with you doing irritating fiddling with them along the way before they will run without any protest again. (With audio-cassettes, you would just manually run a tape back and forth a few times to ready them for play, but VCR tapes are too hard to manually move in both directions instead of one to do that.) If the messed part is at the beginning of the tape or at the end (before or after the movie), the answer is simple--don't rewind it all the way and never play it up till the auto-shutoff point! But Murphy's Law says that all tapes must buck-up in the middle. ;-) (And I hate to say it, but every so-often there is a tape that won't play again. But there's a lot better chance of saving it this way than if you did like some other sites say and just chop it out of there...)

So there you have it. It's DIRT-easy to get a stuck videotape out of a VCR, and fairly easy to salvage the tape as well. Plus, there are times where you HAVE TO salvage that tape--for instance, if you rented it! You don't want to have to worry that a splice-job will come apart and that you'll suddenly get this big bill from the video-rental place...