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98 ford ranger, intermitent problem starting/stalling

hi guys. new here, need some help figuring out what’s wrong with my 98 ranger. automatic trans, rebuilt last year. over the summer i’ve replaced the battery and the alternator. oh, the radiator too, though why that would matter i don’t know. believe it’s the 4 cylinder, 2 wheel drive.

without any rhyme or obvious reason, sometimes it won’t start. always after driving somewhere then parking. like after i go get groceries then go to return home. sometimes when i’m parking it’ll stall out too.

electronics and ac come on when i turn the key, but no mechanical sounds at all. headlights aren’t dimmed when i turn the key or anything. no clicks, no starter trying to rev, nothing. check engine light is not on. recently got it inspected (state inspection) and had the battery tested during an oil change at walmart. no problems found.

i discovered over the weekend that if i shift it into neutral and roll it a foot, come to a full stop, return to park, and try to start it, it works like nothing is wrong.

i have no idea what this could be. any one got any ideas?

Sounds like the neutral safety switch or transmission range sensor (don’t know which your vehicle uses) is out of adjustment or defective. Next time you have the problem, shift into neutral and try to start it.

EDIT: It appears that it’s a transmission range sensor, at least according to the Rock Auto website.

Concur w/ @NYBo above. Ford designed your truck so it won’t crank unless the transmission is in neutral or park. It’s a safety feature, for like if you leave your kids in the cab when you go into 7-11 for a big gulp. They won’t be able to turn the key and roll the truck through the 7-11 window. That’s a good thing, right? It’s done by a gadget called a “neutral safety switch”.

But the downside is that the mechanism gets out of whack over time, and then it won’t crank even in park and neutral or any other position. This is one of the most common complaints we see here, so you are not alone. Could be the alignment of the switch w/the mechanism, which you might be able to re-align, or the switch itself is faulty.

If you want to confirm you are on the right track, you could measure the voltage on each side of that switch. When the key is set to “start”, there should be something close to battery voltage on both sides. The output of that switch usually goes to the “start” terminal of the starter motor. On some Fords — like my Ford truck – instead it goes to a separate starter solenoid located in the engine compartment.

don’t think i have anything to measure voltage, so that’s out. but knowing what it likely is helps a great deal.

thanks guys!

Take the plunge - for $30 to $90 you can buy a decent volt ohm milliamp meter (VOM). This won’t be the last time you’ll need it; useful tracing down vehicle or household electrical issues for years to come. If it helps you save the garage diagnostic fee, it’s already paid for.
I think the neutral safety switch is the most likely candidate. I did have a Ranger with a bad solenoid which acted like this too. Again, it has to be tested with a voltmeter.

"sometimes when I’m parking it’ll stall too.

You have two problems.

The park/neutral safety switch only prevents the starter from functioning unless the transmission is park or neutral.

Once the engine starts, the P/N safety switch has no effect on whether or not the engine runs.


yea, i realize that. the stalling is rare, comparatively. one thing at a time.