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Summary
  • Most older vehicles have a point-type ignition system, which uses ignition points, a set of electrical contacts that switch the coil on or off when the vehicle starts.
  • Attached to the points, the condenser or capacitor stores the current temporarily to prevent the points from arcing and turn off the current faster.
  • Ignition problems, an engine that won’t fire, and rough running are symptoms of faulty points and a malfunctioning condenser.

If you drive an older model, it likely has a point-type ignition system. Fully mechanical and electrical, this system uses ignition points, a set of electrical contacts that switches the coil on or off when the vehicle starts. It’s the oldest type, and it has parts that modern versions no longer have, like the points and condenser.

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What Do the Points and Condenser Do?

Let’s take a closer look at the functions of each part.

Points

The set of points refers to a stationary contact and a movable contact that a cam lobe can open in the ignition distributor. When these points are closed, current flows through the ignition coil and creates a magnetic field.

The distributor opens the contact points as the engine rotates, consequently opening the circuit to the coil. The coil’s magnetic field then generates electricity from the secondary winding of the coil, jump-starting the spark plugs and igniting the air and fuel mixture inside the engine.

Condenser

The condenser or capacitor is attached to the points. When the points open, the winding of the coil can arc across the openings. The condenser stores the current temporarily to prevent the points from arcing and turn off the current faster.

Symptoms of Bad Points and Condenser

Knowing the signs of bad points and a faulty condenser could save you from engine issues in the middle of the road. Here are some symptoms to look out for:

Ignition Problems

The ignition system is complicated, and ignition problems could stem from different faulty components, including a malfunctioning point or condenser. After all, these parts are responsible for igniting the air and fuel mixture in the engine.

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Take your vehicle to a nearby auto shop or call for professional help when you notice ignition issues in your daily driver. Driving with such problems is dangerous, as your vehicle may not start or you may lose power at any given time.

Engine Won’t Fire

If your engine won’t fire, it might be due to a faulty point and condenser that can’t generate the voltage to start the engine.

Rough Running

Malfunctioning points and condenser systems can cause rough running in addition to misfires and lean and rich conditions. Rough running is often one of the last symptoms before ignition failure.

What Do Points and Condenser Repair or Replacement Entail?

When mechanics repair or replace the points and condenser, they usually follow this process:

  • The battery is disconnected to cut the vehicle’s power.
  • The distributor cap is removed.
  • The points and condenser are disconnected and removed.
  • The new condenser and points set are installed.
  • The distributor shaft is greased for point gap adjustment.
  • The distributor is reassembled before test-starting the vehicle.
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When Should I Replace the Points and Condenser?

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Have a mechanic check the ignition system during your annual car maintenance to ensure all its parts are performing as they should.

Experts recommend replacing the points and condenser as soon as you determine that they’re malfunctioning, or if the points are out of adjustments. The system typically lasts at least 15,000 miles, but its lifespan could vary, depending on the engine’s mileage.

Have a mechanic check the ignition system during your annual car maintenance to ensure all its parts are performing as they should. Frequent inspection could save you money, as it’ll help you spot and prevent problems.

How Much Does It Cost to Repair the Points and Condenser?

Repairing or replacing the points and condenser costs somewhere between $15 and $20. Whether there’s a labor fee to pay varies, depending on the auto repair shop.

How Long Does It Take To Repair or Replace the Points and Condenser?

Repairing or replacing the points and condenser takes an average of one hour or more.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Tony Harlin is a Master Gas and Diesel Diagnostic Technician with over 18 years of experience. He works full-time at a large independent automotive shop as a driveability and repair technician working on all types of vehicles with a focus on diesels. ASE certifications include A1-A9, L1 and L2, as well as X1.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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