Power distribution is the key to great auto performance. Ensure even power distribution with a new Ignition Distributor or Ignition Coil Distributor now.
In basketball, a point guard is tasked to bring down the ball and create plays for his teammates. Prototypical point guards like Bob Cousy, John Stockton, and Isaiah Thomas specialize in distributing the ball. Without proper ball distribution, the whole offense will go astray. Your Ignition Distributor takes on a similar role for your car, except that instead of distributing a ball, it distributes electricity.
The distributor is an integral part of the ignition system. Its main function is to distribute high-voltage electricity to its cylinders at an appropriate time. It is composed of a cap and a rotor, both of which have significant roles in the distribution process. As the rotor spins through a succession of contacts, a high-voltage pulse is released from the ignition coil. The pulse then passes through the cylinders on its way to the spark plugs, as well as other electrical accessories.
Since the distributor is constantly exposed to high-voltage electricity, it tends to wear out if it isn't maintained properly. When this occurs, it will result in high-voltage misfires, which will cause the whole ignition system to go haywire. It doesn't matter if you have excellent ignition parts because with a second rate distributor, your electrical components won't receive electricity. To make sure that all your electronic parts get their needed voltages, make sure that the Ignition Distributor is always at the top of its game.
Distributor Buyer’s Guide
- The ignition system’s distributor is a small device that distributes high voltage current from the ignition coil to the corresponding cylinder.
- There are two main components of this assembly known as the distributor cap and rotor.
- It is required that you replace the distributor every 50,000 miles because the rotor and cap deteriorate over time.
- OE replacement distributors typically cost around $20 to $570.
- Replacing a failing distributor will guarantee uncompromised engine performance, reliability, and peace of mind.
Have you ever wondered what happens inside your car whenever you insert and turn your key in the ignition switch? In able to turn your engine on, cars are integrated with an ignition system. There are different types of ignition systems in existence, and most rely on an ignition distributor. But, what does a distributor do? To deeply understand how your car’s ignition system works, you need to know what an ignition distributor is and how it works.
What is a distributor?
The ignition system’s distributor is a small device that distributes high voltage current from the ignition coil to the corresponding cylinder. Its main function is to channel the high-voltage current from the coil to the spark plug. At the same time, the distributor controls the timing advance of the ignition coil by maintaining the optimal firing order. To give you an idea of what it looks like, the most common design features a cap with protruding tubes along the exterior’s sidewall. However, the design varies depending on the manufacturer.
Parts of the ignition distributor
There are two main components of this assembly known as the distributor cap and rotor. Before we delve into how the distributor works, let’s break down the different parts you can find inside the component.
The cap serves as the housing’s top cover which protects all the internal parts that make up the distributor. It comes with posts protruding along the sides. Each of these posts is connected to a cylinder. In a contact point ignition system, there’s a central post that connects to the ignition coil. The central post is where the is where the distributor receives the current from the coil.
Inside the distributor cap is a rotor that’s driven by the camshaft. It is important that the rotor rotates synchronized to the engine’s camshaft. The rotor is designed to pass electric current to every internal plug terminal, which are also known as contacts.
The distributor shaft is found in the middle of the assembly. A gear drive connects it to the engine’s camshaft, which spins it along with the rotor. The distributor shaft has a cam which it uses to break the point of the contact breaker.
The distributor’s contact breaker is a mechanical switch that controls the timing of the sparks that’s transferred to the spark plug. There are two ends on a contact breaker, which are fixed and movable.
Attached to the distributor shaft, the cam is what pushes the cam follower and breaker points to break the current. To open the contact breaker points, the cam features lobes, which are assigned to a corresponding cylinder.
Connected parallel to the breaker points, the capacitor is responsible for keeping the contact points of the breaker from overheating. It reverses the flow of high-voltage current through the primary coil. It also prevents premature wearing of the breaker points by suppressing sparking.
Spark Advance Mechanism
This component assures the perfect ignition timing for optimal engine power and fuel economy. There are two types of spark advance mechanisms: centrifugal and vacuum. A centrifugal or mechanical spark advance utilize weights and springs to rotate and configure the position of the timing sensor’s shaft relative to the engine. Vacuum advance mechanism, on the other hand, uses a manifold vacuum that works in conjunction with the rotation of the distributor’s position sensor mounting plate.
How does a distributor work?
Now that you know the purpose of an ignition distributor, as well as the parts found inside the assembly, it’s now time to take a closer look at how this device performs the job. One of the moving components is the rotor. The rotor spins inside the cap as the engine camshafts spins the distributor shaft. The rotor spins past multiple contacts, depending on the number of cylinders. As the tip of the rotor passes each contact, the coil generates an electric pulse, which arcs across the tiny gap between the rotor tip and contact. The current then flows through the spark-plug wire onto the spark plug, which sends it to the cylinder as part of the combustion process.
How much is a distributor?
OE replacement distributors typically cost around $20 to $570. Ignition system distributors are sold either individually or as part of a kit. A kit may include spark plug wires, 3-prong oval connectors, and ignition module. OE replacement distributors with direct-fit installation are available, as well as performance upgrade parts. You may also choose from remanufactured and brand new parts.
Although you can replace the distributor on your own, we still recommend scheduling an appointment with a certified mechanic. Since it is directly linked to your vehicle’s power supply, proper evaluation and adequate fitting is important. The mechanic can also trace any underlying problems surrounding the part to be replaced.
Symptoms of a failing distributor
The distributor rotor constantly spins to keep the engine running. In turn, the engine sends large amounts of electric pulses to the rotor through the ignition coil. It is required that you replace the distributor every 50,000 miles because the rotor and cap deteriorate over time. If your rotor begins to fail, the electric current won’t be distributed to the corresponding spark plugs. As a result, you could experience engine stall and a handful of other problems. For you to avoid misfortunes caused by busted rotor and cap, here are the symptoms you need to keep an eye out.
Suspect a worn distributor if your engine begins misfiring. This is probably due to carbon buildup inside the distributor cap. This carbon buildup affects the component’s performance as it can conduct electricity. This shorts the voltage and compromises the connection inside the terminal. Bad point connections are also culprits to engine misfires, as they cause engine overrun and timing issues.
Engine that won’t start
If the distributor cap is not fitted properly, the engine won’t be able to send the spark that’s required to move the pistons in the cylinders. Since the spark can’t be transported to the corresponding spark plug, the car won’t start.
Check Engine Light keeps on coming on
The Check Engine Light is meant to light up if the system senses issues relating the engine. Since the distributor is essentially part of your vehicle’s ignition system, it is recognized by the computer, which then turns the Check Engine Light warning on.
Weird engine noises
Malfunctioning rotor and cap can cause the cylinders to misfire. If the cylinders fail to fire, they produce tapping or clicking noises. As soon as you begin hearing noises under your hood, immediately seek a certified mechanic’s help and have your car thoroughly checked.
Importance of replacing a damaged distributor
You won’t know when and where your car will stall but you could avoid it by replacing any failing component. A malfunctioning distributor cap and rotor comes with a number of inconveniences that could lead to serious issues within the engine compartment. Replacing a failing distributor will guarantee uncompromised engine performance, reliability, and peace of mind. Lastly, you’re also achieving optimum fuel economy if your distributor is working properly.
Important Facts You Need to Know About Distributor
The first step to your vehicle achieving high speeds and enviable performance on the road is the properly-timed ignition of the fuel-air mixture sitting in the engine's cylinders. And for that, nothing gets the job started like a high-quality distributor. The distributor transfers high-voltage electric current from your vehicle's ignition coils to the spark plugs (which in turn ignite the fuel-air mixture in the cylinders). The distribution is aided by the distributor cap and rotor. The spinning rotor passes contacts set in the cap in the correct firing order, causing high-voltage electric pulses to be sent from the cap to the spark plug wires. Since ignition parts are exposed to extreme heat and pressure, it must be anticipated that they periodically wear out and need replacement. Should you need a premium distributor to replace your stock, CarParts.com offers the best replacement.
• Effectively directs high-voltage electricity from the ignition coil to the spark plugs
• Comes complete with cap and rotor
• Made with OE components to ensure quality and long service life.
How to Choose the Right Distributor
When you start to have problems during engine ignition, there's a good chance that the vehicle distributor is already damaged. The distributor is responsible for distributing high-voltage electricity to the cylinders at the correct time in order for engine ignition to happen. If you begin to experience hard starting, misfiring, or stalling, the ignition distributor has to be replaced. But before you do, there are some things that you should look into when buying a replacement distributor.
What type of distributor system does your vehicle have?
If your vehicle was built in 1975 or earlier, it's most likely that it's equipped with a mechanical ignition system, which is also known as original distributor cap style. You can always upgrade this to a high electronic ignition (HEI) without any problems with compatibility. Although it's recommended that you buy an aftermarket replacement, there is nothing wrong if you choose a second-hand distributor as long as it's sold by a licensed dealer.
Meanwhile, for vehicles built in the late 1970s and early 1980s, an electronic ignition system is used. This system is usually equipped with an electronic ignition module. In case your vehicle has one, you can upgrade to an MSD Ultimate HEI without encountering compatibility issues.
But for vehicles that were built during the late 1980s and early 1990s, a distributor is no longer necessary; hence, the name-distributorless ignition system. If your vehicle belongs in this category, you only need to replace your spark plugs at 60,000-mile intervals.
How do you use your vehicle?
If you use your vehicle for racing most of the time, then you need to choose high-performance distributors. Race cars generally use this type of distributor because it is specially made to meet the demands of a racing vehicle.
However, if your vehicle is intended mainly for street driving, it's better to spend on a distributor without the race-only features. These features can cost you more and can affect your vehicle's overall drivability.
The DIYer's Guide to Distributor Installation
Hard starts, misfires, and frequent stalling-these are just some of the symptoms of a bad distributor. The distributor is responsible for delivering high-voltage electricity to your engine spark plugs, thereby starting the fuel combustion process. With a malfunctioning distributor, you can expect a number of engine problems. This is why it's highly advised that you replace a damaged distributor immediately. Use the instructions below to correctly install your new distributor.
Difficulty level: Difficult
Tools that you'll need:
- Spark tester
- Replacement distributor
- Paper and pencil
- Distributor cap
- Spark plug wires
- Timing light
Step 1: Prop your hood open, then start your engine.
Step 2: Locate your distributor and disconnect its distributor cap using a screwdriver.
Step 3: At this point, you should see the rotor. The rotor can act as your guide on where the new distributor will be installed.
Step 4: With your pencil and paper, make a diagram that indicates where all the distributor's electrical wires are positioned. This way, you can easily reconnect all these wires once you start installing your new distributor.
Step 5: Disconnect the wires that are connected to the distributor.
Step 6: Make two marks on the old distributor. This will allow you install the new distributor the same way as the old one. The first mark must match the distributor housing and the engine mounting point. The second mark must be made to show the position of the rotor inside the distributor. It's crucial that you mark these points properly because there's a good chance the engine won't start after the new distributor is installed.
Step 7: Loosen the bolts and screws securing the distributor housing to the vehicle engine. Remove the distributor housing carefully. Take out all the fasteners that are keeping the old distributor in place.
Step 8: Put all the marks that you've made in step 4 on the new distributor. Place the new distributor in the engine assembly, and make sure the position of the rotor and housing remains the same.
Step 9: Reinstall all the fasteners that were removed in step 7. Don't tighten all the fasteners completely, because you'll have to adjust the position of the new distributor later on.
Step 10: Reconnect all the wires that were disconnected in step 5.
Step 11: Replace the distributor cap and spark plug wires.
Step 12: Check all the connections, and start the engine.
Step 13: If the engine fails to start, stop the engine and slightly rotate the newly installed distributor. Turn it away from the mark. Restart your engine. If it still won't start properly, continue rotating the distributor until the vehicle finally starts.
Step 14: Once your vehicle's engine has already started, let it run for a few minutes before stopping it.
Step 15: Attach a timing light on the number 1 spark plug.
Step 16: Set the ignition timing based on the recommendations found in the vehicle manual. The timing mark can be changed by slightly rotating the distributor housing.
Step 17: Fully tighten the fasteners of the distributor.
You can now test the newly installed distributor by taking your vehicle out for a drive. A new distributor should improve your vehicle's acceleration and response.