I was at a red light and my car was in neutral and got stuck (wouldn't go to first). My mechanic told me that it is the clutch and is going to cost $1,200 to replace. The guy at AutoZone said that it may not be the clutch and that it could be the neutral safety switch or the synchronizer. How can I tell if it's as simple as the neutral safety switch and not a full blown clutch?

2002 Hyundai Elantra
120,000 miles

4 Answers 4


I don't think the Neutral Safety Switch can jam a transmission, but the throw out bearing in the clutch can do this. I doubt it would be a sychro, but you never know. How many miles on the car/clutch?

  • 120,000 miles on the car
    – user721015
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 23:44
  • 2
    If this is the original clutch, than it can definitely have a problem with the throw out bearing. Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 19:43
  • 2
    It could also be a leaking clutch master/slave cylinder (relatively cheap fix), which would prevent the pedal from disengaging the clutch. Look in the foot well to see any fluid has leaked out, and check the clutch fluid reservoir. Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 18:53

A synchro issue would usually cause problems with one or two gears, not all of them. Does it go into gears easily with the engine switched off?

I've never come across a manual car with a neutral safety switch, but I doubt it would cause an issue with selecting a gear - a problem with that would be more likely to prevent you starting the engine (This is a common issue with some older cars that have a bypass wire fitted to manula versions, and a switch on automatics - the connections corrode over time and stop the engine from starting)

You don't specify where you are, and thus which currency you're in, but I would expect a clutch change to cost somewhere in the region of £3-400 / US$5-600 unless it is especially complicated.

  • I'm in Texas so that's US$1,200. I'm going to try later on to see if I can switch gears with the engine off and get back to you. Thanks.
    – user721015
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 16:22

How can I tell if it's as simple as the neutral safety switch and not a full blown clutch?

I would normally expect a neutral safety switch on a manual to prevent you from starting the engine, not getting into gear once the engine is running. This is the behavior that my car exhibits: if you don't have your clutch pedal pushed down, the car won't start.

So, if the car was already running, a bad switch doesn't sound like the culprit.

How did the car behave when you tried to engage first? Did the gears grind? Did the stick move at all?

How did the other gears sound? With a usable clutch mechanism, you should be able to engage top gear at a dead stop (although you won't be able to move, most likely).

If all the gears sound bad, I would be concerned about the clutch. If only first is bad, I would be worried about a gear or a synchro.

Final question: did this occur suddenly? Were you driving fine at one stop light and things were broken at the next light? If so, think back: was there a distinctive sound or symptom of the failure? A mechanical failure of this sort would likely have been very noticeable. An electrical fault could have been much more subtle.

Responding to the comments

When you say that you couldn't get out of gear, what do you mean? Does the stick move at all? Can you push the stick towards one of the gear gates? Do the gears grind when you do? Or is there silence?

If you can't move the stick at all, I would be concerned about the shift linkage.

  • How did the car behave when you tried to engage first? - I was in neutral and it just didn't move at all. I can't even get out of neutral. How did the other gears sound? - The gears sounded normal (as in I didn't hear anything out of the norm, but I wasn't listening for anything either). did this occur suddenly? - Yes. No issues prior. did this occur suddenly? - Literally. The light turned green and I couldn't get out of neutral. I had to push the car into a parking lot from the light.
    – user721015
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 19:04
  • I answered all your questions, but couldn't format.
    – user721015
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 19:07

While it may or may not be a bad clutch, I would definitely call around and get a few more estimates. I feel like $1200 USD is straight-up robbery for a job like this. My experience:

  • In early 2000s, my local VW place charged me roughly $150 for a clutch replacement on an 80's Jetta. I remarked that the price seemed "really cheap", and they said "When you've done as many as we have, we can finish it pretty fast".
  • Around 2010 or so I had an 80's Toyota 4x4, and actually completely shattered the clutch plate starting on a very steep hill . I got the clutch done at the same shop and it was in the neighborhood of $600-700. The cost difference was because both the transmission and the transfer case have to be removed to get at the clutch on that 4x4, and the labor is not easy. They also weren't quite as good with Toyotas as they were with VWs.

Given your car is a 4-cylinder with front wheel drive, I would expect a clutch job to be much closer to the 1st figure instead of 2x the second figure.

Incidentally, on the truck I had the same symptom where I could not shift while the engine was running, and basically had to drive it around in 2nd gear. Plus a lot of funny-smelling smoke had come out when it initially broke.

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