Remote Car Starters For Manual Transmissions

The Trouble With Manual Transmissions and Remote Car Starters

manual transmission remote start
Manual transmissions present some unique problems for remote car starters due primarily to the gearshift and shift interlock. Allain Daussin / The Image Bank / Getty

Question: Can a car with a manual transmission use an automatic car starter?

One of my neighbors had a remote car starter installed recently. At first I thought it was kind of silly, but I have to admit that I’m getting more and more jealous as the temperature steadily drops. Maybe it is silly, but every time I climb into my freezing cold car, I can’t help but think about how great it would be if it was toasty warm instead.

The only problem is that my car has a manual transmission, and I’m not sure how that would work with an automatic car starter. Is it even possible to get one of these wonderful devices installed in a car that has a manual transmission? And if it is possible, is it safe?


First of all, you are correct on two main points: it is great to jump into a warm car on a cold morning, and a manual transmission is one of the main complicating factors in remote car starter installation. In fact, off the top of my head, there are three main factors that can throw a wrench in the remote car starting process: an engine that uses a carburetor instead of fuel injection, factory anti-theft devices (i.e. “chipped” keys), and manual transmissions. Each of these complicating factors presents a unique challenge, but the good news is that it’s possible to overcome every single one of them.

In regards to whether it's safe to install a remote car starter in a car with a manual transmission, that all depends on the skill of the tech who does the work and how you use it.

There are places where remote car starters are illegal, primarily due to theft concerns, and those issues still exist for manual transmissions with a number of additional problems added on top. 

Problems with Remote Car Starters and Manual Transmissions

There are two main issues with manual transmissions that an remote car starter has to address.

The first is that vehicles with manual transmissions won’t start unless the clutch pedal is fully depressed. This is due to a “clutch interlock” mechanism that is designed to prevent the starter from activating unless someone has pushed down on the clutch pedal.

The other main issue is also closely tied into the clutch interlock mechanism. Since it’s necessary to bypass this mechanism in order to remotely start the engine, you could run into trouble if you accidentally leave the vehicle in gear when you shut it off. Although it’s unlikely that the engine will actually be able to start under those conditions, it very likely could lurch forward or backward depending on the gear it was left in. If the parking/emergency brake isn’t set, that could result in the vehicle rolling into a building, a roadway, or even hitting a pedestrian.

That means there are actually three things that an remote car starter has to do if it is installed in a vehicle that has a manual transmission. It has to:

  • disable the clutch interlock
  • verify the transmission is in neutral
  • verify that the parking brake is activated

Solving the Remote Car Starter Manual Transmission Problems

The simplest issue to take care of is the clutch interlock switch.

In order to bypass the need for someone to actually depress the clutch pedal, the remote car starter has to be wired into the clutch interlock. When you press the start button, the device will then disable the interlock before activating the starter. In a similar process, the device can also be wired to the same parking brake switch that activates the parking brake light on your dash. If that switch isn’t activated, the remote starter will be disabled entirely.

The issue of verifying that the transmission is in neutral is more complicated, and there have been a number of “solutions” throughout the years. Most of these so-called solutions were overly complicated and prone to failure, but modern remote car starters take advantage of a lot of years of trial and error.

There are a number of ways to ensure that the vehicle is in neutral, but one of the safest involves a multi-step solution that essentially makes it impossible to accidentally start the vehicle when it is in gear. This setup involves wiring the remote starter in such a way that when you park your vehicle, you push a button on your remote, shut off the key, and the engine keeps running. You then get out of the vehicle and shut the door. The remote car starter is also wired to the door switch, which signals it to shut the engine off. Since the engine was running when you took your foot off the brake and got out of the car, it has to be in neutral at that point, which means it will be safe to start later on with the remote.

As an added security measure, a system that is set up in this manner will “reset” if the door is opened again prior to activating the remote. That essentially means that if anyone opens the door (and potentially shifts the transmission into gear), the remote car starter will be deactivated.

Other Remote Car Starter Issues

Some vehicles present more of a problem than others, but a skilled technician will typically be able to find a safe workaround in just about any case. For instance, some manual transmission vehicles are designed so that the key can only be removed when the transmission is in reverse. That obviously won’t cut it for an remote starter, but a knowledgeable technician will typically be able to alter the wiring to make it work.

Other vehicles that have carburetors or anti-theft devices require additional equipment and work, and some are best left in the hands of professionals, but even if there isn't an off the shelf remote start kit that works, there’s almost always a viable solution available.

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