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Neutral Safety Switch Symptoms – What To Look Out For

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Neutral Safety Switch Symptoms – What To Look Out For

neutral safety switch symptoms

My name’s Robby, and I’m a certified master mechanic with over 20 years of experience repairing all types of vehicles. In my many years as a technician, I’ve seen just about every car problem out there, including plenty of issues with faulty neutral safety switches. These important components prevent dangerous rollaways and accidents by only allowing you to start your engine in park or neutral. When they fail, serious safety hazards and driving problems can result.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll draw on my two decades of hands-on mechanical expertise to walk you through recognizing neutral safety switch symptoms, diagnosing, and resolving common problems. I’ll explain exactly how these switches work, the warning signs of a failing unit, how to test for issues, and the repair or replacement process.

You’ll also get my experienced advice for preventing more severe and costly problems down the line by addressing neutral safety switch problems promptly. Whether you tackle the repairs yourself or hand it over to a professional, use this guide to get your vehicle’s safety switch working properly again. Let’s get started!

What is the Neutral Safety Switch and What Does it Do?

What is a Neutral Safety Switch

The neutral safety switch is a crucial safety device found in vehicles with automatic transmissions. It allows you to start the engine only when the transmission is in park or neutral. The switch prevents the starter from engaging if the transmission is in drive or reverse, preventing the vehicle from lurching forward or backwards unexpectedly.

The switch is typically located on the transmission selector lever or linkage inside the transmission housing. When the transmission is shifted into park or neutral, the switch closes an electrical circuit that allows current to flow to the starter motor. If the switch fails, the transmission could be started in gear, leading to the vehicle suddenly moving and a potential accident.

4 Common Symptoms of a Failing Neutral Safety Switch

A failing neutral safety switch will produce some clear warning signs. Watch for these key symptoms:

1. Engine Won’t Crank in Park

If the engine won’t turn over when you switch the ignition in park, it could point to a bad neutral safety switch not allowing the starter current to flow. However, issues like a dead battery or bad starter can cause the same symptom, so further diagnosis is needed.

2. Engine Won’t Crank in Neutral

The reverse symptom – not starting in neutral but cranking in park – also indicates a problem with the safety switch. The switch could be stuck or have a faulty electrical connection. A loose switch linkage could also be the culprit.

3. Engine Cranks in Any Gear

The most dangerous and obvious sign of a bad neutral safety switch is being able to start the engine even when the transmission is in drive or reverse. This should never happen, as it defeats the purpose of the switch. It likely has an internal short circuit.

4. Engine Won’t Crank At All

If your engine won’t crank over at all in any gear, the neutral safety switch could have a complete electrical failure. No starter current can flow through the switch to engage the starter. The problem could also be a blown fuse, damaged starter relay, or other electrical issue.

How to Diagnose a Faulty Neutral Safety Switch

symptoms of bad neutral safety switch automatic transmission

Don’t just replace your neutral switch without confirming it’s the problem. Here are a few simple tests:

  • Try to start the engine in each gear position – the switch should only allow cranking in neutral/park.
  • Check for power to the switch connector with a test light when the ignition is on. No power indicates an electrical problem.
  • Use a voltmeter to check for 12V at the starter relay port with the transmission in neutral/park. No volts points to a bad switch.
  • Inspect the switch wiring harness and connections for damage, rust, or loose plugs.
  • Watch for any check engine light – code P0841 indicates an issue with the switch or gear position sensor.

If you confirm the neutral safety switch is faulty through testing, replacement is needed.

Replacing a Faulty Neutral Safety Switch

A failed neutral safety switch is not safely repairable – it must be replaced. The replacement procedure is straightforward but can be tricky for those unfamiliar with replacing car parts:

Locate the Switch

Refer to your vehicle repair manual to find the switch location. It’s often found on the transmission selector lever linkage.

Disconnect the Electrical Connector

Unplug the switch wiring harness. Remove any mounting bolts or screws securing the switch.

Remove the Switch

Twist or pry the switch out of its mounting position. Some gentle wiggling or prying with a flat screwdriver will help free a stubborn switch.

Install New Switch

Align and insert the new switch into the mounting location. Reinstall any fasteners and reconnect the electrical plug.

Test Operation

Start the vehicle and confirm the engine only cranks with the transmission in park or neutral. The repair is complete!

Expect to pay $50-$75 for a new neutral safety switch and around $150-$300 in labor costs. Proper disposal of the old switch fluid is also needed. Replacing the switch yourself can save significantly on labor costs if you’re mechanically inclined.

What Happens if You Don’t Fix a Bad Neutral Safety Switch?

Driving with a malfunctioning neutral safety switch is extremely unsafe. Without a working switch, you could accidentally start the engine while in gear, causing the vehicle to lurch forward or backward unexpectedly. This could lead to injuries, accidents, or costly transmission and engine damage from stress.

Other serious issues like delayed acceleration, transmission slips/shifts, and engine stalling can also occur. Don’t take chances with your safety or vehicle – have any neutral safety switch issues repaired right away. Prevention is always better than a cure!

When to Call a Mechanic

auto mechanic park neutral safety switch

As you can see, neutral safety switch problems can create unsafe situations if left unattended. If you lack the tools, skills, or confidence for DIY repairs, always call a professional mechanic right away when symptoms arise.

The expert mobile mechanics at YourMechanic offer affordable mobile repair services with upfront pricing at your location. Their ASE-certified technicians will accurately diagnose your neutral safety switch issues and can replace a faulty switch to get your vehicle safely up and running again. If you are unsure and want more information before booking a mobile mechanic, you are free to use our online mechanic consultation service, where they can give all the advice and guidance you need online. Don’t hesitate to contact them for a quick quote today!

Conclusion

A properly functioning neutral safety switch is critical for safe vehicle operation. Watch for telltale symptoms like no engine cranking in certain gears or the ability to start in drive/reverse. Diagnose the switch with voltage, power, and gear position tests before replacing. Swap in a new switch yourself or have a professional mechanic complete the repair. With a working neutral safety switch, you can drive worry-free knowing your transmission will only start in the safe park or neutral positions.

Neutral Safety Switch Symptoms Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know if neutral safety switch is bad?

Signs of a faulty neutral safety switch include the car not starting when shifted into park or neutral, intermittent no-start issues, and the car starting in gear. You can test it by shifting to neutral/park and trying to start the engine. If it doesn't start, the switch could be defective.

Can a neutral safety switch cause shifting problems?

Yes, a faulty neutral safety switch can cause various shifting problems, including the car getting stuck in park or another gear, delayed shifts, rough shifting, and transmission slipping. This happens because the switch isn't properly signaling the transmission.

How do you start a car with a bad neutral safety switch?

With the parking brake on, shift to neutral but keep your foot pressed on the brake pedal. Now try turning the ignition key - the engine should be able to start despite the faulty switch because you've mimicked being in 'park.' This is only meant as a temporary workaround, though, the switch needs to be fixed.

Do I need to replace neutral safety switch?

If testing confirms the neutral safety switch is defective, then it will need to be replaced. Replacement is also required if you have shifting issues related to the switch and there are no wiring problems found.

How do you test a safety switch?

Use a multimeter set to test continuity to check a safety switch. With the switch disconnected, test terminals in different shift lever positions. There should only be continuity in Park and Neutral. If continuity registers in any gear position, the switch is faulty and needs to be replaced.

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Where Can I Find My VIN?

Your vehicle’s unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can be found on the title document, the vehicle registration, and the insurance policy. It is a series letters and numbers like this as example: WAUGC0896JA235262. The VIN can also be located on the following locations on the vehicle itself:

how to find VIN on vehicle