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Can You Start A Car In Neutral? | What You Should Know

There are reasons you may want to try to start your car in neutral. Maybe the key is not engaged while the car is in park. Perhaps you are troubleshooting a problem, and someone told you to start your car in neutral. Some new drivers may even wonder if you need the car in neutral to start it.

Most cars can be started in neutral. Cars that have a manual engine must be started in neutral. Automatic vehicles should be started while in park unless there is an emergency or a mechanical issue.

Even though you can start an automatic vehicle in neutral, that doesn’t mean it should always be done. In this article, I will be discussing when it is appropriate to start a vehicle in neutral and what neutral is used for in an automatic car.

Automatic gear in neutral position

Do You Start an Automatic Car In Neutral?

Automatics can be started in neutral when it is necessary to do so. The park position on the gearshift of an automatic vehicle is the safest gear to start the car’s engine for daily use.

Whether you are a new driver or just not accustomed to driving an automatic, it is important to know how to start an automatic vehicle. Unlike a standard car, the automatic is to be started when the gearshift is in the park position. Your automatic vehicle is designed to be started while the car is in park.

Do You Start a Manual Car in Neutral

The manual car is always started in neutral. To start a manual car, depress the clutch and the brake while the car is in neutral. Turn the key in the ignition until the engine engages and the car turns on. Now, release the clutch and allow the car to idle.

Manual vehicles are referred to by a few other names:

  • Standard
  • Stick-shift
  • 5-speed

Manual means you must physically change the gears of your car while you are driving it.

Each time you need to shift, you will need to depress the clutch before switching gears.

When you are ready to drive the standard car, depress the clutch with your left foot, and the brake with your right foot. Put the car in first gear or reverse gear. Now slowly release pressure on the clutch while gently applying pressure to the gas pedal.

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Hand switching gears in the car with a manual transmission

What Are The Gears in an Automatic?

There are four to seven positions indicated on an automatic. These are:

  • P for Park
  • R for Reverse
  • N for Neutral
  • D for Drive.
    • 3
    • 2
    • 1 or L

These indicate the gear that the car is in.

Park means that the car is locked into place. In this gear, it can be turned on, but it is not going to move forward or backward until you move the gearshift into another gear. When in the park the car will not move even if the brakes are not applied.

It should be noted here that when starting any vehicle at any time, it is safest to apply pressure to the brake to ensure it is not going to move. You should always apply the brake before putting your automatic car into gear.

Reverse is the gear that will allow the car to back up. It is the second position of the automatic gear shift. This is why you should have your foot on the brake before engaging any other gears from the park position, as many vehicles have enough torque to propel them once they are in gear.

Neutral is used to transition between reverse and drive. When your automatic is in neutral, the engine can be engaged, but it is not connected to the transmission. Shifting into neutral is helpful when you need to push your car or tow it.

Drive simply means to go forward. There are up to 4 positions for driving. D is the standard position for everyday driving. D3 to D1 are all lower gears, with one being the lowest. They are used when you need to slow the car on steep downslopes or in bad weather.

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When Should I Use Neutral to Start My Automatic

A driver's hand moved the gear selector to the neutral (N) mode of the automatic transmission in the car

Use neutral to start the automatic when experiencing mechanical problems. If the car does not start in park, it may be necessary to start it with the gearshift in the neutral position. Just remember that neutral in an automatic, the wheels are free-spinning, use the brake.

If your automatic car only starts in neutral, you should have it checked and repaired by a mechanic. If you are mechanically inclined, you may be able to trace the problem yourself and repair your vehicle.

Some reasons your automatic might only start in the neutral position are:

  • The safety switch for neutral has failed and needs to be replaced.
  • There is an issue with the battery.
  • A sensor has gone bad.
  • The transmission is failing or in need of transmission fluid.

A diagnostic scanner, like this one found on Amazon, may help you narrow down the problem. A diagnostic scanner is plugged into the car and will give you codes to research if there is a problem detected with the car.

When Should I Use Neutral in An Automatic Necessary?

There are certain times that using neutral is recommended and necessary.

If the car is experiencing mechanical problems, neutral might be the only gear that can be used. Neutral is also used when performing some types of car maintenance.

Use neutral sparingly.

Use neutral while pushing your car or having it towed. Neutral allows the tires to move. It also allows you to control the steering wheel. It is also necessary to put your vehicle in neutral when it is being towed.

Sometimes, the vehicle manufacturer will recommend putting the car in neutral while checking the transmission fluid. However, you should start the vehicle while it is in the park position.

Starting A Car in Neutral

Starting an automatic car in neutral should only be done when it is necessary to do so. Though an automatic will start in neutral, running a vehicle in neutral may cause excessive wear on the car’s engine and transmission.

Thanks for reading!