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DIY Guide: Can a Bad Neutral Safety Switch Cause Shift Problems?

Can a bad neutral safety switch cause shift problems? Yes, a faulty neutral safety switch can cause shifting issues if it’s not working anymore. And in other cases, your vehicle won’t start, among other problems.

Below, we’ll explore all these issues caused by the neutral safety switch and other culprits that can cause similar problems.

But before we jump into all these possible scenarios, let’s learn more about the neutral safety switch and how it works.

What is a Neutral Safety Switch?

The neutral safety switch, or NSS for short, is a device that is often found on manual transmission vehicles.

Although that’s the primary demographic, automatic transmission vehicles can have a neutral safety switch.

Your neutral safety switch, is a device that prevents the vehicle from moving forward if it’s not in park or neutral.

Otherwise, your car would jump ahead when it’s in gear. I’m pretty sure you can tell how that would end.

Unfortunately, this device can stop working—like most electronics. As a result, your vehicle will have some problems, which we shall discuss down below.

You can also check our related popular review of best weighted shift knob

Can You Drive with a Bad Neutral Safety Switch?

We all love pushing the limits of our vehicles, but it’s not always a great idea when it’s acting up.

So, here are a couple of reasons why you shouldn’t drive with a broken safety switch:

Gears Slipping

It is unsafe to drive a car with a broken neutral safety switch. If it gets damaged, the gears will slip, making it incredibly dangerous to drive.

Engine Damage

Even though you might get away with driving with a bad neutral safety switch, there’s a high chance you could damage the engine and transmission.

For that reason, have a certified professional replace the bad neutral safety switch.

Car Might not Start

While your neutral safety switch could work here and there, you might not be able to start up the car in some scenarios.

Sure, you might turn it on and call it a day, but it might not start next time you’re trying to go home. Thus, you’ll have to call the local tow truck to get you out of that mess.

8 Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Neutral Safety Switch

Not sure if you got a broken neutral safety switch? Then make sure to check all these symptoms:

1. Car won’t Crank When It is in Park

As we previously noted, your car is supposed to start when it’s in park thanks to the neutral safety switch, but if it’s not starting up, then there’s a high chance the switch is not working anymore.

Although this problem is not always related to the neutral safety switch — don’t rule it out just yet.

First, make sure the battery is in great shape. Second, check your spark plugs. If one of them is not working anymore, replace it.

Finally, inspect the starter motor. Faulty starter motors are not unheard of, and they quit working here and there.

Once you’ve done all that, go back to square one and diagnose the neutral safety switch.

Throwing parts at your vehicle is expensive—so make sure to check every possible scenario before replacing anything.

2. Clicking Sound

If your gear shift safety switch is failing or has failed already, if you put the key into the ignition, you’ll probably hear a clicking sound.

This shouldn’t be the case. Instead, you should hear a “beam” sound when you start up the engine.

But there’s probably more to it. This is a common problem that needs serious troubleshooting before finding the culprit.

You should know that this problem can be caused by the electrical system, indicating a problem with your vehicle’s battery.

For instance, a healthy battery should have at least 12.65-12.45 volts. Anything below those two numbers means trouble.

So, test the battery and find if you’re getting the right voltage.

3. No Starting Problem

Having trouble starting up the engine? Well, it’s most likely a neutral safety switch.

But if you can start the engine—although with a bit of bit trouble, consider inspecting other parts of your vehicle.

For example, the starter could be your problem. If the starter is not working, then it’s most likely the culprit.

However, keep in mind that a damaged neutral safety switch wouldn’t provide power to the starter, completely blocking all the energy to the starter.

4. Engine Won’t Start When It’s in Neutral

This problem goes in hand with the first issue we covered, but if your car doesn’t start in neutral, it could be a faulty neutral safety switch.

Remember, the vehicle is supposed to run on both neutral and park. If you can’t start up the engine in any of those gears, then the problem lies within the neutral safety switch.

5. Service Engine Soon Comes on

Other warning signs of a faulty neutral safety switch hurst shifter include the service engine light flashing.

Typically, this light is solid and stays on during that period.

But if the light is flashing on and off, then it’s a more severe problem, and a professional should diagnose your vehicle to find the culprit.

6. Car Starts up in any Gear

If you can crack the engine in any gear, then you’re in serious trouble. As we noted before, the neutral safety switch prevents that from happening.

The vehicle should only move forward when it’s in neutral or park. This is a clear sign that the switch stopped working and must be replaced before it gets out of control.

7. Car Switches to Emergency Mode

There are several ways to tell your neutral safety switch is not working anymore, and one such occasion would be when the emergency mode or limp mode kicks in.

When this safety feature activates, the check engine light will come on, and the vehicle will slow down.

Moreover, the emergency mode will shut off the AC system. And you might also notice that you can still change gears.

However, the PCM cannot tell which gear you’re going into.

Don’t freak out just yet since it’s most likely the neutral safety messing up with the vehicle.

So, consider inspecting the neutral safety switch to find if it’s the culprit. If it is, replace it, and the limp mode should go away.

8. Struggling to Change Gears

Can a bad neutral safety switch cause shift problems? Like we explained before, the vehicle isn’t supposed to start up in any gear if you have a neutral safety switch.

However, you might struggle to change gears if you got a bad neutral safety switch.

In that event, your vehicle might also slip gears. It’s rare, but you might experience this problem from time to time.

Finally, make sure to inspect your transmission as you could have a couple of damaged gears in the transmission.

DIY Guide: How to Swap out a Neutral Safety Switch

So, you’ve done your fair share of research and found that you got a damaged neutral safety switch but still don’t know how to replace it?

Don’t worry, though. We got your back. Below, you’ll discover how to replace the switch:

1. What You Will Need

Before getting started, get all these tools to replace the neutral safety switch:

  • Floor jack and jack stands—for this job, use jack stands to raise the vehicle.
  • A sharpie—use a marker to index the drive shaft. Otherwise, it won’t be easy to install it back.
  • A pry bar and side cutters—get these two tools to remove cables and the drive shaft.
  • Wire brush—we suggest cleaning the selector shaft before installing the new neutral safety switch for better results.
  • Socket and a ratchet—to install and remove bolts, get all these tools.

2. Jack Up the Vehicle

Before replacing the bad neutral safety switch, put the vehicle in neutral, and then jack it up. Next up, draw a mark on the driveshaft and the flange.

That way, you can reinstall it just like it was before. Skip this part if you plan on replacing it.

3. Remove the Driveshaft

With that out of the way, get your pair of pliers and remove the clamp from the dust boot and then peel it back. If you can’t pop it off, use a screwdriver.

With the dust boot removed, index the yoke to the side of the transfer case housing.

After that, gently stick your pry bar in the middle of the yoke’s forks drive shaft. Next up, loosen the bolt using a socket ratchet and extension. From there, remove the u-joint strap and then move the drive shaft.

Again, get the pry bar in between and remove the remaining bolts. Finally, use the pry bar to remove the driveshaft from the yoke.

4. Remove the Neutral Safety Switch

By now, the neutral safety switch should be exposed. So, unplug the connectors from the switch.

Now there’s a cable you have to remove using pliers. Simply slide it behind the cable, and pull it out.

Next up, use your pair of vise grips and clamp on to the backside of the selector shaft.

Keep holding onto it, and then use a ratchet to remove the nut. Next up, remove the arm from the selector shaft.

After that, remove the bolts holding both the switch and plate. Finally, pull the neutral safety switch out.

5. Install the New Neutral Safety Switch

Before installing the new switch, clean the selector shaft. After that, gently put the new sensor back in and then tighten it down. Now install the selector lever.

Once that’s done, connect the cable eyelet using the pair of pliers and then reinstall the electrical connectors.

Moving on, put the driveshaft back in. When doing this, make sure to line it up with the marks you drew.

After that, install the strap and the bolts. Next up, slide the pry inside the yoke and then torque the bolts to secure it.

With that out of the way, rotate the driveshaft and install the remaining bolts. And finally, put the clamp back on.

Need help getting through the steps? Then watch this fantastic video:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The neutral safety switch is crucial to your vehicle, so any problem you have must be fixed immediately. That being said, here’s some info to help you improve it:

What are the symptoms of a bad neutral safety switch?

When your neutral safety switch stops working, things can get pretty annoying.

For example, a common sign that the switch is no longer operating is issues when shifting. And in other cases, the engine might not start up.

How much does it cost to replace neutral safety switch?

Any price is subject to change depending on several factors, including your location and mechanic.

But for the most part, expect to pay $160 for this job. This price includes the part, which costs about $60, and the labor, which costs $100.

Where is the neutral safety switch located?

The neutral safety switch is located just behind the front driveshaft.

Can you bypass neutral safety switch?

To get around the neutral safety switch, turn the key to the on position.

Next up, step on the brake and then put your car into neutral. After that, start up the engine. Now you can start the vehicle in neutral.

Conclusion

Can a bad neutral safety switch cause shift problems? To recap, yes, a damaged neutral safety switch can cause shifting problems.

But remember, your neutral safety switch might not be the root of the problem.

As explained before, you could have a bad starter motor or a damaged fuse. All these parts can cause shifting and starting issues.

So, before you replace the switch, check up on those two. And finally, avoid driving with a broken neutral safety switch. It’s pretty dangerous.

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