When I learned to drive, I was told that if ever stuck in a dangerous position (e.g. a train track, middle of a road) when the car won't start, I should place it into gear and hold the starter motor on to pull the car out of the way.

I now have a 2009 BMW 3 Series which has a "Start button" - I need to push the clutch to the ground in order for the start button to work.

So, given I need to fully engage the clutch to start the car, is there a way I can move the car with the starter motor?

  • 2
    My instincts say that pressing and holding the start button ought to let you move the car with the starter motor (just like you have to hold an old-fashioned key turned). If the manufacturers have taken away a safety feature, I anticipate a lawsuit when a train next gets derailed by a stalled car whose owner says "I tried to move it with the starter, but the car wouldn't let me, so I ran! "
    – nigel222
    Apr 11, 2017 at 14:30
  • If it's truly an emergency situation like being stuck on a railway track, could it be better to take the handbrake off, leave it in neutral and push it? Depending on the ground conditions this could easily cause it to run away and crash, but if the alternative is a potential train derailment, might this be the best option? If other people are around, their help could be recruited to sit in the car and apply the handbrake when it's safely out of the way. This of course is all assuming you are strong enough, and there isn't a train literally approaching that second.
    – Muzer
    Apr 11, 2017 at 16:51
  • 5
    The start button on a BMW is not a direct link to the starter motor, its just a computer input. I recommend legging it in your scenario.
    – GdD
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:41
  • 4
    @nigel222 - In the States, every car I've ever dealt with has had a "neutral safety switch". If the car isn't in park/neutral (for an auto) or have the clutch depressed (for a stick), the starter isn't going to turn over. You have to go back many years in automotive history before you find a car which you can do this with (something like sixties era and before). I've heard tale you can find them with out one outside of the States, but I've not heard definitive word as to the validity of these statements. Apr 11, 2017 at 18:12
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    @JamesMonger - Nope. I mean both. Like I said, I've heard tale of it not being this way outside the States ... appears it may be accurate. I believe it's a safety issue which is law here ... don't know for a fact, though. Apr 11, 2017 at 20:25

4 Answers 4


I've got the same sort of function on my Seat Leon (and on my old BMW 320D) - if you drop the clutch quickly enough it will move the car a little. Although I doubt that's enough to get you clear of a railway track.

I would err on the side of caution in the event of being stuck on the track/road etc and evacuate the car quickly and safely (i.e. pay attention to traffic whizzing by). When SAFE call the relevant authorities to inform them of the problem.

  • 5
    Of course - if I do get stuck on a train track I'm going to run! But when taught it was "if you're locked in and the windows won't smash and the car won't start and no one can help" :P Apr 11, 2017 at 12:53
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    @JamesMonger you're forgetting that the evil psychopath dressed in a clown mask has used jacks to life your cars wheels off the car immobilizing it even if you did start it. Apr 11, 2017 at 20:35
  • @DanNeely Time to accept my fate I think. I'll just sit back and put some Pink Floyd on while I await the inevitable! Apr 11, 2017 at 21:12

This is not so much a safety feature that has been taken away, but one that has been added. The starter motor was never intended as an alternate means of moving a vehicle. It is much more likely to cause an accident if the driver attempts to start the car while unintentionally leaving it in gear. Also,if you intended to move it just a few feet on the starter, but the engine did manage to start, the car would continue to move, possibly out of control.

This interlock is now required by regulations at least in the USA and probably other countries. For the USA, I found 49 CFR 571.102, which includes:

"S3.1.3 Starter interlock. Except as provided in S3.1.3.1 through S3.1.3.3, the engine starter shall be inoperative when the transmission shift position is in a forward or reverse drive position."

(The exceptions are covering automatic start/stop systems.)

  • everything under 3.1 in that document pertains to automatics, There is only one section at the bottom for manuals and it doesn't say anything about an interlock.
    – agentp
    Apr 12, 2017 at 0:30

Given the safety interlock you describe and that this will be controlled via the engine management system then I would say no.


I'm going with no. My 1991 Mazda Miata (a car which was not filled with the latest and greatest technology even when new) has a clutch switch and won't start without the left pedal on the floor, which I think has been standard practice for quite some time.

I would guess instances of people needing desperately to move their cars a few feet are few and far enough between that manufacturers decided it wasn't worth supporting that, in favor of preventing people from accidentally moving their cars when they tried starting them in gear.

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