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I have an old (1992) VW Jetta and it only starts if the transmission is in gear (and of course the clutch is pressed in.) it will not start if the clutch is engaged but the car is NOT in gear. Why is this?

  • Welcome to Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Repair! Just to make sure I understand what you're saying ... The second part where you say, "the clutch is engaged" ... you are saying the clutch pedal is out, correct? – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Oct 11 at 0:37
  • What do you mean by "not start"? Engine turns over but never fires? Engine doesn't turn over? Is the gear relevant? Will the car start if the gear is neutral and the clutch pedal is pushed down? Can you begin with the car in neutral or any gear, turn the key and get nothing (the engine doesn't not turn over/turns over but does not fire) but while still holding the key in the start position, depress the clutch pedal and then the car starts/depress the clutch and still get nothing but the car starts as soon as you then select any gear? More details please, and be precise.. – Caius Jard Oct 11 at 2:18
  • Ultimately I'd expect the gear to have nothing to do with it, and that the car will only start when the clutch pedal is depressed. On a modern vehicle this would be easy to understand as a safety feature; insisting the user depress the clutch before the starter motor will rotate the engine makes the starter's life easier and also reduces the risk of the car lurching forward/backward if started in gear, which could injure bystanders or damage property. I'm not aware of any cars so old having this feature though; mostly I'd expect it on auto stop start cars – Caius Jard Oct 11 at 2:22
  • When I go to start the car, if the car is in neutral and I have pushed down the clutch peddle, the engine won’t turn over or crank. To start the car, I have to put the car in gear (any gear but I usually put it in first, press down on the clutch and when I turn the key, the motor cranks and promptly starts. – Jeanine Rebsomen Oct 11 at 18:25
  • Sorry that should be: press down on the clutch, then put the car in first gear, then turn the key and the engine turns over and starts no prob. But if it’s not in gear and the clutch is pressed down, it will not start. My other Jettas always started when I just pushed down the clutch pedal and the car was not in gear. – Jeanine Rebsomen Oct 11 at 18:32
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If you turn ignition and nothing happens, the problem is usually in the interlock system. Manual transmission cars, including the Jetta from what I am reading, have a clutch switch or clutch interlock switch. It is basically a cylinder with a rod sticking out of it which is mounted on a bracket in front of the clutch pedal. Pressing the clutch pedal extends or contracts the rod, making it close an electrical circuit which ignition goes through allowing the driver to start the car.

See here for a good diagram of the switch: https://www.yourmechanic.com/article/how-to-replace-a-clutch-switch-by-marvin-sunderland

You may need to get a new switch, or perhaps the bracket to which it is mounted is bent on your car, or maybe the switch has loose fasteners.

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