Car ignition behaving oddly

The car in question is a 1990 Chevy Lumina V6, automatic transmission. About once a week, when I turn the key nothing happens. No click, no starter grinding, nothing. When I move the gear shift from park over to neutral and back and try again, it starts up right away.

I am not an expert, but as far as I can tell, if it was a battery problem the car wouldn’t start every time after I moved the gearshift. Ditto for wiring and solenoid issues. If it was the starter, I’d hear the solenoid. If it was something after that, I’d hear the starter.

Logic tells me it has something to do with the car needing to be in park or neutral before the key’s turned, but my owner’s manual, Auto Repair for Dummies, teh intarwebs, and a Haynes repair manual have all so far failed to turn up a cause, let alone a solution.

Any ideas?

Neutral safety switch.

Sure sounds like the neutral safety switch. Two things to try:

  1. When it acts up, just shift into neutral and try starting it in neutral.

  2. When it acts up, hold the key in the start position (against the spring pressure) and wiggle the shift lever a bit while still staying at or near the park postition.

If it consistently starts by the above methods, that confirms a faulty switch.

Thank you.

Based on the way it’s behaved in the past, the diagnostics suggested here, and the research I’ve done now that I know the damn thing exists and what it’s called, the neutral safety switch is indeed the culprit.

Nicely done. This is one of the reasons I love the dope.