Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Neutral Safety Switch

The neutral safety switch is a safety device that only allows you to start your engine when the automatic transmission is in either Park or Neutral. The purpose of the neutral safety switch is to prevent the car from starting while in gear, which would cause it to launch forward unexpectedly.

In the mid-1960's, the automotive industry underwent a tremendous shift in regards to overall vehicle safety. Many automotive historians point to the formation of the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) in 1963 as the moment when advancements in motorsports safety began to show up in production vehicles. Common safety devices found in motorsports such as seat belts and fuel shut off systems were invented for motorsport applications and found their way into production vehicles. Although most production vehicles have had a neutral safety switch as early as the late 1950's, their use on manual transmissions was mandated by the SFI Foundation and became commonplace in the early 1980's on all production vehicles.

The neutral safety switch for an automatic transmission is located inside the transmission case or in the linkage that allows the vehicle to shift gears. This switch prevents you from starting the engine when the transmission is in any gear other than Park or Neutral.

Manual transmissions have a similar safety device that is commonly located on the clutch pedal. This ensures that a manual transmission vehicle can't be started unless the clutch pedal is depressed. Once triggered, the neutral safety switch allows the electrical current to cycle from the ignition switch to the engine starter and ignition system which activates the ignition process. This is done to prevent damage to the starter motor and the transmission, but most importantly to reduce potential accidents.

When the neutral safety switch or one of the components that connects the switch to ancillary support systems that operate the device is damaged, there are a few warning signals or symptoms that may indicate a problem exists. Noted below are a few of these warning signs that should alert you to contact a local ASE certified mechanic to inspect and replace the neutral safety switch if needed.

1. Engine will not crank in park but cranks in neutral

When the driver turns the ignition switch and the automatic transmission is in park, or the manual transmission is in neutral and the clutch pedal is engaged, the car should trigger the starter to engage. However, if they turn the key under these circumstances and the vehicle does not crank over, it may be caused by a faulty neutral safety switch inside the transmission or clutch pedal. Since this symptom may also be attributed to battery issues, broken starters, or other component failures, a certified mechanic will need to inspect this in person to determine the correct course of action.

2. Engine will not crank in neutral but cranks in park

On the opposite side of the spectrum, when the vehicle cranks over when the transmission in in park but not neutral, it's typically due to a faulty neutral safety switch. In this case, the switch is either experiencing an internal component failure where it is activating in one gear but not the other. It may also be due to an electrical failure or that the switch is loose and needs to be adjusted. A certified mechanic can repair this issue if found early enough.

3. Engine does not crank at all, regardless of the transmission gear

If the engine will not crank at all, it's typical of a neutral safety switch that is experiencing electrical issues. In this case, no power is flowing through the neutral safety switch to the starter relay. This prevents the starter motor from cranking the engine. This symptom indicates a completely open electrical circuit inside the neutral safety switch which may be due to a faulty relay, blown fuse, or electrical problem with the switch itself. If the issue is with the switch, it will need to be replaced.

4. Engine cranks in any gear

Being able to crank the engine even when it is already running and the transmission is in gear is a sign of a neutral safety switch that has a short circuit internally. When this occurs, it's a serious safety hazard, as essentially it's as if there is no neutral safety switch installed on your vehicle. In this case, the safety switch must be replaced as soon as possible to avoid serious accidents or injuries.

If you experience any of the above symptoms or warning signs, it's smart to contact a trained technician like the local ASE certified mechanics from YourMechanic.


Next Step

Schedule Starting And Charging Inspection

The most popular service booked by readers of this article is Starting And Charging Inspection. Once the problem has been diagnosed, you will be provided with an upfront quote for the recommended fix and receive $20.00 off as a credit towards the repair. YourMechanic’s technicians bring the dealership to you by performing this job at your home or office 7-days a week between 7AM-9PM. We currently cover over 2,000 cities and have 100k+ 5-star reviews... LEARN MORE

SEE PRICING & SCHEDULING

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Recent Starting And Charging Inspection reviews

Excellent Rating

(4)

Rating Summary
4
0
0
0
0
4
0
0
0
0

Joseph

20 years of experience
640 reviews
Joseph
20 years of experience
Chevrolet Camaro L4-2.0L Turbo - Starting And Charging Inspection - Salt Lake City, Utah
Friendly, thorough , and most importantly (to me) was not dismissive or condescending. My cursory knowledge of some Chevrolet's interesting design choices with the Camaro, coupled with Joe's experience and perseverance is how we both found upon the problem. Highly recommended.
Dodge Neon - Camshaft Position Sensor - West Jordan, Utah
When I signed up for an appointment to have my camshaft sensor fixed it was saying it was going to take 1.5 hours and my appointment was scheduled for 12:30. He ended up coming an hour earlier than scheduled which I was happy about and the service lasted about an hour. He was really professional and thoroughly explained things that was very helpful to me. He recommended some things on my next oil change that will help my car out. At first I wondered if this was a good idea but I am thankful for someone who is not only willing to come to me but doing a great job at fixing my car. I would strongly recommend him and this company to other people.

Terry

30 years of experience
223 reviews
Terry
30 years of experience
Toyota RAV4 L4-2.0L - Car is not starting - Mesa, Arizona
Would've given him at 10 if it was a 10 score in…
Jeep Wrangler - Not able to change gears - Chandler, Arizona
Terry figured out the problem within minutes. Very knowledgeable.

Anderson

27 years of experience
91 reviews
Anderson
27 years of experience
Nissan Sentra L4-1.6L - Starting And Charging Inspection - Middle Village, New York
Anderson was very friendly and professional

Matthew

33 years of experience
1210 reviews
Matthew
33 years of experience
Honda Accord L4-2.3L - Starting And Charging - Hampton, Virginia
Matthew was very polite and informative. I would recommend him to my friends

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE

Related articles

P0903 OBD-II Trouble Code: Clutch Actuator Circuit Malfunction
P0903 P0903 OBD-II Trouble Code: Clutch Actuator Circuit Malfunction Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC): P0903 P0903 code definition P0903 is the OBD-II code for Clutch Actuator Circuit Malfunction. Other codes in the P0900 series may accompany this fault. What the P0903...
P3469 OBD-II Trouble Code: Cylinder 9 Exhaust Valve Control Malfunction
P3469 P3469 code definition P3469 is the fault code for Cyl9 Exhaust Valve Ctrl Circ/Open. Cyl9 specifies that the issue is likely taking place in engine cylinder number 9. Other 3400 series codes may also be set. What the P3469...
P3411 OBD-II Trouble Code: Cylinder 2 Deactivation/Intake Valve Control Circuit Low
P3411 means the system detected a problem with vehicle sensors due to electrical problems, bad solenoids, low oil pressure, or mechanical issues.

Related questions

Can I Look Up What Trouble Codes Mean?
When your Check Engine Light comes on (https://www.yourmechanic.com/services/check-engine-light-is-on-inspection) or flashes on the dash for you it is indicating there is a problem in one of the vehicle systems and has set a trouble code stored in one of the modules’...
2003 lincoln ls v6. P2270 code is read on scanner. I've changed the catalytic converter but the code is still coming back.
Hi there. The code of P2270 (https://www.yourmechanic.com/article/p2270-obd-ii-trouble-code-o2-sensor-signal-stuck-lean-bank-1-sensor-2-by-jay-safford) is coming up for an issue that is causing the emissions to be out of calibration. Check the following conditions on your engine. Check For an exhaust leak near O2 sensor For a...
1998 Ford Expedition - when I open just the driver side front door the dome light flickers on and off -- why?
The switch in the door frame is probably not making good contact. That is fairly easy to test just by bypassing the switch. If that is not the issue, a simple trace of the dome light circuit will reveal the...

How can we help?

Our service team is available 7 days a week, Monday - Friday from 6 AM to 5 PM PST, Saturday - Sunday 7 AM - 4 PM PST.

1 (855) 347-2779 · hi@yourmechanic.com