I have an old hatchback with a manual transmission without a clutch safety switch, which means that I can start the car without depressing the clutch. Today I accidentally turned the key without depressing the clutch and immediately switched the ignition off, the starter worked fine afterwards but it got me a little worried.

The question is, if the car is parked with the handbrake engaged and I attempt to start the engine without depressing the clutch, then essentially the starter motor is trying to move the entire car with the parking brake on, could this destroy the starter motor since that's more torque then it's designed for?

2 Answers 2


It definitely isn't good to do this to a starter, but if it is still working you probably don't have much to worry about.

The thing about electric motors is, they provide a quantitative amount of torque and that's it. If what they are trying to spin requires more torque than that, the electric motor will stall (not spin, but will still be applying that amount of torque). As the motor stalls, heat is created (energy has to go somewhere). If you had left it engaged for a long period of time, you could have started melting things and things would be damaged. Considering you turned it off right away, very little heat would have been developed, and therefore very little damage might have occurred.


I've accidently started my sports car when I was away on an assignment and forgot that I left it in first gear on an inclined driveway with parking brake on. The car lurched then I realized I forgot to press the clutch pedal and shift to neutral. Done that several times without breaking the starter. It too was before clutch safety switches were mandated.

I don't believe you did any harm as long as you suddenly realized it and stopped cranking. If you didn't leave the car in gear when starting, the starter has another small load of the transmission (hopefully not in gear) churning thick tyranny oil and should not overload the starter. If you hear the starter groaning or slowing down significantly, that may be a problem; engine cylinders dry, old battery, corroded battery cables, and worn out starter brushes.

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