Can You Use a Remote Car Starter With a Manual Transmission?

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

Remote car starters are relatively simple devices, but safely installing one in a car that has a manual transmission presents some unique problems. The issue is that most manual transmissions use mechanical shift linkage, and there's no sensor to tap into to tell if the transmission is in neutral. Without that, a remote starter could engage with the transmission in gear with potentially disastrous effects.

It is possible to install a remote starter in a car with a manual transmission, and there are even multiple ways to do it, but not all of them are particularly safe.

The Trouble With Remote Car Starters and Manual Transmissions

When you install an automatic starter in a vehicle that has an automatic transmission, it typically checks two things before starting the engine: that the transmission is in park, and that the parking brake is set. In some installations, it will only check that the transmission is in park.

The biggest problem with manual transmissions is that there is no park. They have only have neutral, which is sort of like park, but the transmission is able to freewheel. There is no parking pawl, which is the component in automatic transmissions that locks the transmission in place.

The other big problem is that when you start a vehicle with a manual transmission, you must first push down on the clutch pedal. This is easier to deal with than the issue of making sure the transmission is in neutral, but it's still an additional hurdle that doesn't apply to vehicles with automatic transmissions.

How to Make a Remote Starter Work With a Manual Transmission

The reason that you can't start a vehicle with a manual transmission without depressing the clutch pedal is due to the clutch interlock switch. This is a switch that prevents the engine from starting until it is tripped by fully engaging the clutch pedal, so it's pretty easy to bypass.

The problem is the clutch interlock is a safety feature that prevents the driver from starting the vehicle with the transmission in gear. The interlock also prevents kids from accidentally rolling into a building or traffic when left unsupervised.

Removing this safety feature creates the possibility of starting the engine, or trying to, with the transmission in gear.

Although it’s unlikely that the engine would actually start under those conditions, it could lurch forward or backward depending on the gear it was left in. Even with the parking brake set, the vehicle could easily hit another vehicle under those circumstances. Without the parking brake set, the vehicle could roll into a building, a roadway, or even hit a pedestrian.

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

  • 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 on the remote, 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 can 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, it absolutely has to be left in neutral. To accomplish this, the remote starter alters the way you shut your car down. It also has to be wired into the door switches.

With this type of remote car starter installed, here's how it works:

  1. Drive your car as you normally would.

  2. Locate a parking spot and maneuver into it.

  3. Shift into neutral, and engage the parking brake.

  4. Turn off the ignition, and remove the keys.

  5. Due to the way the remote starter is wired, the engine will continue to run.

  6. Exit the vehicle, shut the door, and the engine will shut off.

How, and Why, Does This Work?

This might seem like an overly complicated process, and it is, but it effectively ensures that the parking brake is set, the transmission is in neutral, and that they both stay that way. There's no need for a complicated position sensor on the transmission linkage, since there's no way to arm the remote starter without the transmission being in neutral.

As an added security measure, a system that is set up in this manner will reset if any of the doors are opened 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.

The weakness of this system is that it can't be safely used in a convertible, and you also can't leave your windows rolled down.

Other Remote Car Starter Issues

Some vehicles present more of a problem than others, but a skilled technician can typically 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 a 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.

If you own a convertible, or a vehicle that presents any of these other additional issues, then you will probably require a unique solution if you still want a remote car starter.