Why Does My Car Only Starts in Neutral but Not Park?

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Many drivers ask “Why does my car only starts in neutral?” when they encounter this bizarre issue. A car that starts in neutral but not in park has a faulty neutral safety switch or a dead battery. The car may also have a failing transmission or low transmission fluid level.

Car Only Starts In Neutral

In this informative guide, you will learn how to detect these issues and get inexpensive solutions you can implement at home.

Why Does Your Car Only Start in Neutral but Not Park?

Your car only starts in neutral not park because of low transmission fluid, low battery, and a neutral safety switch problem. The transmission could also be failing. A new safety switch, a charged battery, and a transmission fluid refill will resolve the issue.

– Old or Low Battery 

A car with a drained or old battery may fail to start in park. You can charge a dead battery and try restarting the car again. However, if the battery has been used for a long time, the starting problems in park may persist. Before buying a new battery, you need to confirm that the old or drained battery is the underlying cause.

Why Car Only Start in Neutral but Not Park

If the battery is the problem, your car lights will not turn on when you start the car engine. If the lights come on, they are dim. The radio does not turn on as well with a dead battery. Another sign is a missing or weak crack when you turn the ignition switch.

Charging the battery will bring back the functions if the battery is still in very good condition. If the car has a charged battery but fails to start in park, inspect other parts to identify the problem.

– Transmission Fluid Problems

Transmission fluid in an automatic car supports several operations, including gear lubrication, transmission cooling, and friction control in the brake band. Low transmission fluid level affects these and other operations, including starting the vehicle.

You can check the level of the transmission fluid with a dipstick. The dipstick has marks for the minimum and maximum fluids, but you can also check your manual for instructions. In addition, check for fluid leaks when your car is parked on level ground. Unresolved leaks reduce the transmission fluid level to a dysfunctionally low level.

The failing transmission also causes your car to start only in neutral but not park. The gears may be worn-out or defective. The park gear position throws worn-out gears out of balance. Hence, you cannot start the car efficiently until you repair the old and broken gears.

Your car gives you additional signs of insufficient transmission fluid, such as warning lights on the control unit, strange sounds when you accelerate, and gear problems. The fluid changes to a dirty green or dark brown as its level reduces. Do not ignore such signs.

– A Bad Neutral Safety Switch

The neutral safety switch prevents the vehicle’s engine from starting until you engage the neutral or park gear. The switch protects you or any other driver from accidents related to engaging the wrong gear. You can start the car in neutral or park if the neutral safety switch is working normally.

If the safety switch has a problem, you can only start the car in neutral. You may also have difficulties switching off the engine in park. A bad safety switch will trigger the check engine light for you to check the malfunction.

Another sign that the neutral safety switch is defective is that the engine doesn’t start in all gear positions. Such a situation means that the safety switch is not transmitting any power to the start relay.

If the problem with the switch is unresolved, the car will start in any position, which is risky. Any inexperienced driver or minor can start your car and risk their life. It is advisable to check the switch as soon as the engine fails to start in park or the check engine light comes on your dashboard.

– A Bad Starter 

A faulty starter may cause the car to start in the neutral gear but not in others. When you turn on the ignition, you will hear a clicking sound if your car starter is defective.

Electrical issues may also cause the car to fail to start in the park position. However, the connection between electrical problems or a bad starter with failure to start in some gears is rare. The problem lies with the transmission and safety switch.

How To Fix a Car That Only Starts in Neutral but Not Park?

To fix a car that only starts in neutral but not park, ensure that the transmission fluid is enough to start and run the engine. Inspect the neutral safety switch and replace it if broken. You may also need to replace an old battery and keep the new one charged.

– Neutral Safety Switch Replacement 

It is unsafe to drive a car with a broken safety switch. Replace it when you see bad safety switch symptoms or get the check engine signal. Use your car manual to locate, inspect, and replace the switch.

Fixing Car That Only Starts in Neutral but Not Park

The replacement cost of safety switches is low. Alternatively, you can tow your vehicle to a garage or car shop for a professional mechanic to install a new safety switch.

– Refill the Transmission Fluid Regularly

Be sure to check the transmission fluid level before your gears fail. Your mechanic will check it on your regular car service. However, you must be proactive in keeping all fluids at the standard level.

Buy premium fluids and stock them in your home garage for regular refills. A qualified mechanic will help you fix a failing transmission.

– Replace or Charge the Battery 

It is tempting to push your car battery to its full-service life. However, an old battery will fail when you least expect it. Consider buying a new battery if the car is already developing gear problems.

Replacing Car Battery

However, if you recently replaced the battery, charging it will eliminate any power problems causing the gear problems.

– Get a Full Car Diagnosis 

Professional help is advisable if repairing and replacing the safety switch and battery does not fix the problem. Call your mechanic if you need clarification on diagnosing even the simplest parts of the gear system. Advice from that, a certified mechanic will also help you prevent further gear issues.

A complete car diagnosis will help you identify other mechanical issues that may cause your car to stall unexpectedly. For instance, the car may have electrical issues or a failing transmission that may stop the engine after a successful start.


1. Is It Safe To Start Your Car in Neutral?

No, it is not safe to start your car in neutral. It is possible to start a car in neutral, but using it excessively wears out the car engine. The starter motor runs continuously to reach the required RPM to activate the fuel injector.

2. Why Won’t Your Car Start in Neutral? 

Your car won’t start in neutral because of a defective neutral safety switch. The same problem may cause your car to start in neutral but not park. When the switch is working properly, the car should start in both, but starting in neutral is not advisable.

3. Should You Start an Automatic Car in Park or Neutral? 

You should start an automatic car in park and ensure that the gear is back in park when switching off the engine. Starting in neutral is possible but not advisable for your engine. You only start the engine in neutral if all other options fail.

When should you consider starting your car in neutral? You should start your car in neutral in case of mechanical failure or emergencies. For instance, you can use the neutral position to park the car safely when the brakes fail, if your car is stuck, or if the park gear fails. Otherwise, you should always start the car in park.

Why Does My Car Only Start in Neutral but Not Park Conclusion

Can the Same Fixes Apply to a Jeep Compass That Won’t Start in Park?

If your Jeep Compass is facing starting issues in park, it’s essential to consult a jeep compass starting issues: troubleshooting guide for possible solutions. Various reasons can contribute to this problem, such as a defective starter motor, a faulty ignition switch, or a dead battery. A thorough troubleshooting guide can help you identify and address the specific issue causing your Jeep Compass to not start in park.


Mechanical failure may cause your car to start in neutral but not park.

Here are the tips to remember in such a situation:

  • A faulty neutral safety switch is the leading cause of a car starting in neutral but not park.
  • Low transmission fluid, failing transmission, and a low battery can jam the park gear.
  • Starting a car in neutral is possible but only advisable in emergencies.
  • Replacing the safety switch, battery, and transmission fluid will fix the gear problem.

You have no reason to panic the next time your park gear fails. Park the car safely in neutral, inspect and fix the components mentioned, or engage a professional mechanic.

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