How to Restore VHS Tapes

By John Machay

Now that DVDs and Blu-ray Discs have made VHS tapes all but obsolete, you’d have as much luck finding a local service that deals with this archaic form of media as you would finding a Victrola repairman. Unfortunately, the plastic parts inside a VHS cassette become worn over time, preventing the tape from properly aligning with the playback head of a VCR. The result is a distorted or jumpy picture. When this happens, you have two options: throw it away or fix it yourself. The good news is the latter isn’t all that difficult.

Things You'll Need

  • Small Phillips screwdriver
  • Pen or pencil
  • Paper
  • New VHS cassette

Step 1

Place the damaged VHS cassette face down on a flat surface.

Step 2

Remove all the screws using a small Phillips screwdriver. Keeping the front and back of the housing together by gripping it with your hands, flip the VHS cassette over.

Step 3

Remove the top half of the plastic housing and set it aside.

Step 4

Repeat the process with the new VHS cassette. Since most of the tape guides aren’t securely attached to the housing, be careful not to knock them loose when removing the top half of the cassette.

Step 5

Draw a diagram reflecting how the tape is threaded through the guides in the new VHS cassette.

Step 6

Remove the tape assembly from the housing by raising both spools simultaneously while being careful not to knock out any of the tape guides. Set the tape and spools aside.

Step 7

Lift the tape assembly from the damaged VHS cassette and set it in the new housing. You may have to push the lock mechanism--the small, spring-loaded arm located between the two spools--aside to get the spools in place.

Step 8

Thread the tape through the guides in accordance with your diagram. Generally, the tape threads between the plastic and metal guide on the left, and around the single guide (which can be plastic or metal) on the right.

Step 9

Turn the left spool to take up any slack in the tape.

Step 10

Replace the top half of the plastic housing and--making sure to hold both halves tightly together--turn the tape back over to reveal the screw holes. Check to make sure the tape is completely contained in the cassette.

Step 11

Replace the screws and tighten.

Step 12

Insert the VHS cassette into a VCR. Fast-forward to the end of the tape, then rewind back to the beginning.

Tips & Warnings

  • Once you’ve made your tape playable again, it’s probably a good idea to transfer it to DVD as soon as possible. And if the video is important to you, make two copies--one to watch, and one to put in a safe place.