Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Mechanic or Exorcist? Car moving when off and parked

Over the past couple days my 5-speed 2000 Saturn SL1 has been doing something very strange. The other night around 11:30 pm I heard a big crash in my garage. I ran out to see what it was, and the car had moved forward about 4 feet, knocking down some boxes in the process. The car was in first gear, and had been off for at least 6 hours. The freaky thing is it moved forward against the grade of the garage. That’s right, the car was off, in first gear, with no one inside, and moved uphill on its own. A couple days later it did the same thing but with the emergency break on! It crashed into my parents garage door. The car managed to move up a steep driveway with the e-brake engaged. Again it moved about 4 feet.

Any ideas about what is happening here? I can’t find anything online about anyone having a similar problem and I’m stumped. The best I can come up with is that the car is possessed…

Sounds like a poltergeist. Did you buy the car used?

Look closely for a remote start module.

Why do you park the car in gear when it is in your garage?
Until you figure out exactly what the problem is, you would be VERY foolish to leave it in first gear–or any other gear–when it is unattended, no matter where it is parked. Leave it in neutral and use the e-brake.

And, I believe that Rod Knox is correct about the car having a remote start module. If you purchased this as a used car, God only knows what “modifications” were done to it prior to your ownership. Just because you were not given a remote control for remote start doesn’t mean that the car is lacking this feature.

I would not only park the car in neutral with the parking brake on, but I think I would disconnect the negative battery cable. There are two reasons for disconnecting the cable: 1) I think your car is being pulled forward by the starter motor; 2) There is a possibility of a fire with the current that is being drawn to energize the starter.

One more thing I would do besides disconnecting the negative battery cable, setting the parking brake and putting the car in neutral: put a wood block in front of one wheel and another wood block in back of a wheel on the other side and other end of the car.

Whoa…yeah aside from a poltergeist… Rod Knox stole the words from my mouth. Look for a remote start module that had been previously installed without your knowledge. IF you have one…it isnt even hooked up correctly in your manual trans vehicle. This can be more than dangerous and even fatal to others…NOT a laughing matter actually.

WHEN did you get this vehicle? Is it possible that you have a remote start unit in the car? I was a Professional Installer of Remote Starts/Car Alarms/Custom Stereo systems…etc for Automotive applications for over 12 Years… I can tell you right off the bat that IF one is in your vehicle, then it isn’t installed correctly…many reasons how I know, I wont bore you with the details.

SO…We need to know when you got this vehicle…Is it “new to you”? If not it is surprising that this would crop up after you have owned it a long time…so I am guessing that you just recently got the car? Yes, No?

Aside from this…and a Poltergeist…there arent many things that could cause this…

The only other thing I can think of it that you may have a faulty Starter control relay…and this shouldn’t be possible actually…but if the relay energized the starter motor by itself…the car could “walk off” by itself under starter motor power while in gear…thank God it cannot start itself also…IT CAN start itself if a remote start module is in there…and all hell would break loose if and when it started while in gear.

Like the others mention…disconnecting either batt terminal would stop this in its tracks till you figure out the culprit…

Hell…just answer the first few questions for us about how long you had the car and if there is a possibility of having the remote start module… THEN I could walk you thru a lengthy process of troubleshooting it…that will take up some time and space… So first things first please…


You don’t say how many mules are on this car but one possibility no one mentioned is the bearing in the end of the starter being worn out to the point of letting the armature ground against the side of the case which would provide power to the starter. Had a tractor trailer do this to me once when I was standing alongside it. Luckily I had witnesses when it plowed into the truck in front of me.

I have to go with a starter malfunction in this case. A good friend of mine had this same problem years ago with a Ford pickup truck. The problem turned out to be a starter solenoid that was not disengaging after he parked the truck.

I agree with
pull the battery cable.

If it’s the starter circuit problem, that will prove it out AND prevent it from happening.

If it’a compression burp ( Which I haven’t seen it cars yet THE reason to avoid the prop arc at all times even with cold parked air planes ), it may still happen again.

Unless you park in neutral.

Aside from a hidden remote start it absolutely could be the starter system…As I mentioned in my previous post… I’d vote for starter relay…first…then solenoid…last the starter motor as it is just a slave to the first two in the list…

The prob WILL go away with no battery power and if it doesn’t…Call a preist

Also you have some questions to answer and tests to perform…please let us know…

If you pull the batt cable it will stop so I would rather you pull your starter relay first…if it stops…you found it…if it continues…then its the starter solenoid and you cant pull that easily…but at least you will know

If this car were mine, I’d park it out in an open area where it can’t do any damage and right up against a tree with a chain keeping it from getting away, so I could find it later on…


LOL…this is going to be easy to figure out, just need the OP to cooperate

Yeah, no reply since the original post. But it’s a holiday, time for family etc. May hear from them in a few days. Wonder how far the car will go in that much time? The whole thing strikes me as too funny, but probably not if it’s your garage door thats getting trashed. That’s why I visualized the thing chained to a big old oak tree far away from anything it could crash into.

Parking brake-On

Thats all you need.


I agree with transman of course but that won’t fix the problem of the starter motor engaging and killing the battery and/or frying the starter if it decides to start up again on its own. :slight_smile:

Tough call on this. The factory security system is a bit complicated but if the cause is not in the security system then a few guesses (wild ones at that) might be a starter solenoid failing internally and causing the starter motor to energize or an iffy ignition switch.
Less likely would be a wire harness fault where a power lead was bleeding into the solenoid wire.

The old VW Rabbits were prone to this but there was simple reason for those. The radio antenna grommets were faulty and during a rainstorm water could run down the cable, past the grommet, and then into the fuse block where it would short out the starter solenoid wiring. Manual transmission cars left in gear without the park brake would travel on their own until the battery was dead, the starter fried, or it plowed into something.
In the case of a VW towed in to us once the owner had reported the car stolen. The cops found it a block away against a utility pole with a dented bumper, broken grille, dead battery, and burnt up starter motor… :slight_smile:

Thanks all for the posts! Sorry I didn’t follow up sooner, thanksgiving with the fam.

To answer a few common questions, I bought the car used about 7 years ago. There’s no remote start system. The car has moved on its own only twice, both times in the last week and after the car had been parked for several hours. Since then I’ve been parking in neutral with the e-brake on and of course it hasn’t moved.

Sounds like a faulty starter control relay or solenoid? Blackbird seems pretty confident and with the limited knowledge I have that makes as much sense as anything could for this situation. I have no idea how to diagnose/troubleshoot this problem so again any input would be much appreciated.

Thanks again to everyone!

Dont confuse my “confidence” for real world truth…lol…but yeah…really cant be too many other culprits…if you read all the posts here all the guys are actually on the mark. Trans in neutral would neutralize the situation but not solve the problem… Disconnecting the batt is the same thing…

HOWEVER if you pull the starter relay you are on the road to actually solving the issue…

“I bought the car used about 7 years ago. There’s no remote start system.”

To the best of your knowledge, there is no remote start system, but this wouldn’t be the first case of someone buying a used car and not being provided with everything that should have come with the car–such as the appropriate remote control and manual for a remote start system, the Owner’s Manual, the Maintenance Schedule, etc.

Honda Blackbird and others are likely correct with their theories, but for your own good, you should not automatically dismiss the concept of a remote starter existing on this car. On more than one occasion, we have had folks in similar situations who discovered–after the fact–that their used car did have a remote starter module.

There’s a difference between an add-on remote start system and a factory security system with the latter being much more complex.