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A very common source of a vehicle’s problem lies within the ignition system. There are many parts to the ignition that all work together to start the engine and keep it running smoothly. If any one of these areas start to work improperly or not at all, there could be an instant loss of all power to the engine.

Thankfully most ignition parts don’t cost a large amount on their own, but they may need to be installed by a trained and seasoned professional mechanic. An ASE certified mechanic should have no problem diagnosing and fixing problems if it becomes too much for you to handle by yourself working in your driveway.

Spark Plugs

Spark plugs and spark plug wires are essential parts of the ignition system that can drastically affect the performance of your vehicle’s engine. A volt meter can be a very handy tool when checking to measure the resistance of the spark plug wires. Too much resistance won’t allow spark on that cylinder and the wire will need to be replaced.

Pulling the first spark plug and checking the color on the tip will often be a great way of understanding if the car’s engine is running “rich” or“lean.” Running “rich” refers to the engine getting too much fuel and “lean” refers to too little fuel. Running rich can cause carbon buildup and poor gas mileage, while running lean can improve gas mileage but potentially burn up the piston heads.

Ignition Coils & Distributors

An ignition coil helps to provide the initial spark that ignites the engine. Older cars may have a “canister”-style ignition coil, whereas most newer vehicles have “coil packs” or “coil on plugs” to provide the spark. In either case, a properly functioning ignition coil and ignition coil wire are essential to having a vehicle run properly.

A distributor cap and rotor can also have a very strong impact on your engine either positively or negatively depending on their condition. A distributor cap needs to remain dry to ensure a proper spark can be achieved.

A rotor spins inside the cap delivering the spark to each of the spark plug wires in the correct firing order. A cap, rotor, and ignition coil replacement can be done by a slightly knowledgeable car owner if so desired, however without the proper tools it may be too difficult to tackle on your own.

The old style ignition systems featured points and condensers whereas more recent distributors have electronic contact breakers. Many new cars have no distributor whatsoever. It’s a handy feature that eliminates the need to set the distributor’s ignition timing.


There have been tremendous strides with advancing modern day ignition systems. The main downside to this is that it makes it usually necessary to hire a professional mechanic to do the more complex work.

There’s no reason to make problems worse by taking things apart with no real knowledge of how to put it back together. An ASE certified mechanic is more than capable of handling your ignition problems and getting your vehicle up and running.