Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Clutch Safety Switch

Last week, the clutch safety switch on my 1998 Civic stopped working. (For those of you who don’t know, this switch keeps you from starting the engine without pressing the clutch first.) I wasn’t able to diagnose it myself. I tried jump-starting the car first, but that didn’t help, so I push-started the car and drove it to my favorite shop. It was going to take them four days to get the part, and I needed the car, so I talked the manager into having his mechanic bypass the clutch safety switch. It saved me time and money.

Here are my questions:

  1. I’ve seen expensive sports cars that will start with the car either in neutral or with the clutch pressed. In these cars, you don’t have to press the clutch if the transmission is in neutral. Is there something special about these cars other than an additional sensor, or did Honda just go the cheaper route with the clutch safety switch? I would like to take advantage of the ability to start the car in neutral without pressing the clutch, but I am concerned this might damage something.

  2. In your opinion, should there even be a clutch safety switch? I don’t plan to replace mine, mainly because I don’t want its failure to ever leave me stranded again.

It’s now one of those “personality traits” your car has that may need explained to anyone else who drives it.

But otherwise, I wouldn’t replace it at all myself.

I think all of my trucks have had something or other that needed to be explained to the occasional driver or to the next owner.
" well, ya kinda gotta twist a little this way first."
“ya, it does that once in a while.”
“See , all ya gotta do is…”

If you are concerned about being stranded, you could wire a hidden SPST switch in parallel with the safety switch. You could hide the switch under the hood so you don’t have to run wires into the cabin.

Personally, I won’t own a vehicle with a clutch switch. I have hot wired the switch on every vehicle that had one in my possession. But then, I remove all the idiot switches from all the power equipment that I own also. If I want to get off my riding mower and leave it running and the blade turning I can. Anyone unable to safely start a car without a clutch switch doesn’t really need to have a license to drive.

The above post by Ron Knox could have just as well come from me. I shorted out my clutch switch a week after buying my new car just by poking a bent paper clip into the two contacts of the disconnected switch. That was many years ago and I have never looked back. The switches on my riding mower were outwitted merely with a piece of tape placed between the electrical contact points.

Federal standards require a clutch switch in all new cars. There is no reason the owner must put up with this nuisance.

Ouch! I usually avoid these sort-of political discussions here, but I want to mention two things in my experience that put me in favor of these government-mandated safety features. First, an acquaintance in my community is an orthopedic surgeon with a specialty in reattaching parts of hands. He has told of treating cases where some dumbo tried to pick up the lawn mower while it was running. I once asked him what fraction of his reattachment cases were the result of stupidity. He said, “About 90%.” I guess that’s how he paid for his real nice house.

Second, in my professional experience with the (mandated) safety features built into ordnance (weapons that go BOOM!), we usually said, “There is nothing so improbable that somebody won’t make it happen at least once in the lifetime of the weapon system.”

So I think that most of the mandated safety features are worth the small inconvenience to people who (think they) don’t need them. But I’ll agree that it is a matter of degrees. At least nobody here is proposing that we don’t need traffic control devices on the public roads. Are they?

Your experience with ordinance sound like a variation of Murphy’s Law.

As for the clutch safety switch, I always push in my clutch when starting my vehicles so I don’t find it annoying. If I had one go bad, I probably just jumper it out but I would not go out of my way to remove one that’s working.

" He has told of treating cases where some dumbo tried to pick up the lawn mower while it was running".
In familiarizing my computer science students with the binary system with 2 states, I ask them why they learned a system in elementary school where all numbers are expressed with 10 digits. If they don’t answer the question right away, I give them this hint: Suppose man had developed the rotary power mower before he developed the numeration system. We would be using a system based on 9 digits". I suppose that is why we have safety controls on lawnmowers that stop the blade when you let go of the handle.

On the Nash and Studebaker cars in the 1940s and early 1950s the starter was activated
by depressing the clutch and then giving the clutch an extra little push.

I salvaged, repaired and operated a B&S powered lawn mower when I was 11. The starter rope was kept hanging on the handle bar. The air filter was an oil bath type. The kill switch was a metal blade clamped over the spark plug base and pressing it into contact with the plug wire shorted the spark. I was always egotistical enough to think I was above average in intelligence and somehow cut enough lawns at $2.00 each to save enough money to buy a Harley Davidson when I was 13. I am now older than most who post here and have kept all digits on all four corners. And the conundrum of mandated Rube Goldberg devices to protect people from their own poor judgement has no conclusion, apparently. To each his own.

Years ago there was no such thing as a clutch safety switch. If you were dumb enough to start the engine without depressing the clutch pedal, well, good luck.

Bypass the switch and drive on.

I was dumb enough, once. When I was a kid, I was messing around in my parents’ Ford Econoline Van, which had three on the tree. I had gotten pretty good at moving the van without starting the engine just enough so I could play basketball in the driveway. One day, my sister was there. She handed me the keys and said, “start up the engine.” Not knowing to press the clutch, I turned the key. The van was in gear, so it violently lunged forward and scared the color out of my sister’s face. She should have known better. She was 17 and I was 11.

“I salvaged, repaired and operated a B&S powered lawn mower when I was 11. The starter rope was kept hanging on the handle bar. The air filter was an oil bath type. The kill switch was a metal blade clamped over the spark plug base and pressing it into contact with the plug wire shorted the spark”.

I prefered the starter rope to the recoil starter. If the starter rope broke, you just found another piece of rope and threaded it through the hole in the handle. These old engines also had a sediment bowl to keep the gas clean. The other advantage to a rope start is that if the engine really got ornery about starting, I would run a belt around the starter pulley to an old electric motor.

When I had my VW bus I learned to start it in gear and drive it around without using the clutch. This was when I had a string of broken clutch cables.

If there had been a neutral safety switch I’d have been walking.

I once depressed the clutch and started a car’s engine. Not realizing the transmission was in gear I took my foot off the clutch. The car slammed into the car that had just been used to jump start my car, and nearly injured the person who, moments before, had been standing between the two cars.

That was a close one.

A neutral safety switch would not have prevented this. It was just me not paying attention.

There is no way to idiot proof life.

It is probably a good thing my dad’s 1939 Chevrolet didn’t have a clutch safety switch. I watched him start it up with the emergency hand crank on several occasions when I was a kid.

It wouldn’t have made any difference, the safety relay only disables teh starter motor, not the ignition.

I’m keeping my clutch switch, on both of my manual cars. Not for me, but for the valet/tech/whoever else needs to drive my car and might do something stupid with it.

“It wouldn’t have made any difference, the safety relay only disables teh starter motor, not the ignition”.
Keith–you are correct. In fact, the starter on the old Chevolets could be activated whether the ignition was on or off. I don’t think Chevrolet changed this arrangement until the Powerglide automatic transmission came along in 1950.
The strangest safety switch arrangement was on the 1948 Pontiac with the GM Hydramatic automatic transmission. There was no Park position. Neutral was in the top position and Reverse was in the bottom position. The car was parked with the transmission in Reverse. The starter was activated by a starter pedal on the floor. Stepping on the pedal caused a lever to be activated which put the transmission selector in Neutral.

Shadowfax, I plan to warn technicians who work on my car, and I generally avoid valets, mainly because I am a cheapskate.

On the Ford bus I sometimes drive for work, there is a safety switch that keeps you from starting the engine unless the automatic transmission is in park or neutral. However, there is also a button under the dash you can activate to bypass the safety switch when the safety switch malfunctions. The button is under the steering column behind a removable panel, and directions on how to find it are in the owner’s manual, although it isn’t easy to find because the drawing in the owner’s manual is not to scale. If my Civic had a similar bypass button to keep me from being stranded when the switch breaks, I would agree.

Isn’t this safety switch pretty much the same sort of switch that activates the brake lights? Just some sort of a plunger switch that is operated by a pad on the clutch pedal lever? If it is it’s a pretty easy and cheap thing to replace, and what’s the big deal? If you are sophisticated enough to know how to disconnect it then you can certainly deal with it if it breaks. In the mean time it should not interfere with your life. And if you find it challenging to understand how it works or how to deal with it if it is a problem, then it’s better to leave it alone.

Just tell me why there’s no required connection so your lights go on when you turn on the wipers?

Klatu barada nicto…