How to Make Simple VCR Repairs

By Paul M. J. Suchecki

Even though most of us watch rental movies on DVD's today, your probably still have a few VHS tapes lying around, even if they are only home videos or early James Bond movies. There are few things more frustrating than popping your old tape of "Dr. No" in the machine mid winter to take a look at Ursula Andress emerge from the warm waters of Jamaica in a bikini, only to see what's already outside your window - snow. Here's how to do a few simple VCR repairs.

Step 1

In video terms, snow is random noise. The most common cause is a blank tape. If it's on a tape you've played back before, your snow is most likely caused by a dirty playback head. The simplest solution is to buy a cleaning tape. There are two types, wet and dry. The dry cleaning tape tends to abrade your heads more. The wet tape uses cleaning fluid and is better for your deck.

Step 2

The best cleaning solution to take the time to buy compressed air, head cleaning solution and professional head cleaning tips made from chamois. They are available on line, from professional VCR repair places or electronics supply houses. You don't want to use cotton swabs because the fibers can get caught in the tape path. Remove the cover of your deck. Load a tape and watch the tape path when it threads. Note where the tape comes in contact with the heads (within the drum) rollers and wheels. Now eject the tape. Blow out the chassis with your can of compressed air. Wet the head cleaning swabs with the denatured alcohol based solution, and clean in the direction of tape travel, rotating the drum by hand so you clean the heads. You don't want to clean the surfaces up and down like brushing your teeth.

Step 3

If your VCR's clock has suddenly stopped blinking 12:00 AM and it doesn't turn on at all, you probably have a power problem. Check your plugs and all connectors. Most VCR's have a dew indicator that turns a machine off if the air is too damp. This switch is on the main circuit board. If you see the light on, let the machine dry out thoroughly before attempting to operate it.

Step 4

Additional points of vulnerability for a VCR are the belts. If they are worn or broken, the tape won't transport, record or playback. Open the tape deck and look. Be sure to remove any suspicious belts carefully noting where you got them from. You'll need to replace them with those of an exact size or a little smaller in case they have gotten stretched out of shape.

Step 5

Since many of us don't use tapes that much, here are a couple of reminders of problems that can be easily fixed by using the VCR's controls. If the top of your picture is shifting or rolling inconsistently, you might have uneven tension across the length of the tape. Trying packing your tape, by fast forwarding it to the end and rewinding it to the beginning before playing it again. Video tapes are made from polyester. If you ever wore a polyester suit in the 70's, you remember how unevenly the fiber can stretch. One of the most common tape problems is bad tracking. If you find a noisy area in part of the picture, your head alignment might be off. This is particularly true if the original tape was recorded on a different machine. Adjust the tracking control to better align your heads.

Step 6

If your VCR eats your tape, your deck's hunger is probably caused by a worn idler which regulates the action of the take up reel. First try cleaning it. If you are confident in removing it and replacing it, do so, otherwise, it's time to take your deck to a tech, and fork over the high hourly rate required. Better yet, head to a local thrift shop and pick up a VHS deck there for a song, but be sure you have the right to return it if it doesn't work.