Your car’s distributor is the part that transfers the electric voltage to the spark plugs from the ignition coil. The distributor’s main parts include the rotor and the cap. An essential component to any car, this system is responsible for ignition. Without it, your car will have a tough time starting up.
If your vehicle has been displaying bad distributor symptoms, it can be a major hassle and headache. In this article we will explore how a distributor works, why it is so important, some common signs of a faulty distributor, and how to troubleshoot the problem.
How Does a Distributor Work?
Your car’s distributor includes a rotor that spins inside of the distributor cap. The metal part of the rotor is attached to a high-voltage cable from the ignition coil by a spring-loaded carbon brush. As it spins, the rotor passes near the output contacts attached to the spark plugs by high-tension cables. This enables the voltage from the ignition coil to be delivered to the correct spark plug. The spark plugs then use the voltages from the distributor to ignite the fuel, which keeps your vehicle’s engine running.
If your distributor is bad, it will typically present a variety of different symptoms and signs. Here is exactly what to keep an eye (or ear) out for if you think you have a faulty distributor.
Some Common Bad Distributor Symptoms
If your distributor is suffering some problems, here are the most common bad distributor signs:
- Squealing Noises: One of the very first signs that you will notice if your car has a bad distributor cap is a yelling or squealing noise. If nothing else seems to be wrong with your vehicle, be sure to check the distributor cap. It may be full of dirt and debris. If this is the case, the cause of the squealing noise is due to the air circulation through your vehicle’s engine. After you clean the distributor cap, listen for the squealing noises again. If they continue, take your vehicle to a reputable mechanic so that they can diagnose the issue.
- Difficulty Starting: Another major sign of a faulty distributor cap is that your car has problems turning over. This issue can become worse in cold weather because the freezing temperatures can cool down the cap. When you start the engine, the sudden heat can then cause the distributor cap to crack. To prevent this from happening, check your distributor cap routinely for signs of cracking. If you live in an area that suffers from harsh winters, try keeping your car stored in a garage.
- Shaking: If your car has a bad distributor cap, you may experience violent unexplained shaking when you start your vehicle or shift its gears. This can range from a trembling sensation to a violent vibration that can be felt throughout the entire vehicle. This shaking can be due to the vehicle’s distributor not spinning correctly and affecting the firing process and timing. If your distributor cap is bad, you’ll notice the shaking when your car is sitting in idle, or when it has come to a complete stop while still running, such as while sitting at a red light.
- Stalling or Backfiring: If your car easily starts but then backfires or stalls while you’re driving, it could be because of a bad distributor cap. Since the cap contains the rotor that distributes the voltages, it needs to be working properly. If a crack or clog is preventing the rotor from spinning, your vehicle may stall or backfire.
- Check Engine Light Turns On: Since a faulty distributor cap or rotor will greatly affect the internal combustion process of your car’s engine, your Check Engine light will pop on if there is something wrong with either component. The car’s engine control unit will detect if there is an improper combustion happening within the cylinders. As soon as a problem is detected, the Check Engine warning will illuminate on your dashboard.
How to Check if You Have a Bad Distributor
If you think your vehicle is suffering from bad distributor symptoms, there are some steps you can take in order to diagnose the problem. If you don’t have a lot of mechanical experience, take your car to a repair shop instead.
- Check the Distributor Cap: Carefully check the distributor cap to see if it needs to be cleaned. You should also be inspecting the rotor as well. Look for any signs of build-up or corrosion.
- Inspect the Contact Points: Take a look at the contact points inside of the distributor. If the contact points are bad, your car’s engine could be suffering from a myriad of problems, including timing issues, starting issues, misfiring, and failure to start. Look closely at all of the contact points. If they look eroded or worn out, it’s time to replace them.
- Check the Arc: Pull a plug wire off of the distributor and test each one. You can use a screwdriver to check the arc when your car’s ignition is turned. Place the metal part of the screwdriver against the metal part of the plug wire. Then, place the metal screwdriver near the distributor electrode. The two should not touch. Step away from the vehicle’s hood and have a friend watch the arc while the ignition is turned on. If there is an arc, the distributor is firing. Replace the wire on the electrode after checking it. Be sure to check all of the wires to ensure they are each working properly.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace My Distributor?
If either your distributor cap or rotor have gone bad, you will need to get a new one. You can expect to pay between $80 and $120 for these parts, including labor.
Can I Fix a Distributor Myself?
Some mechanical problems with your vehicle can be easy to fix yourself. However, replacing your distributor is a complex task and best left up to a trained professional. You shouldn’t attempt to fix your distributor yourself because you could end up ruining additional parts of your engine, which would be expensive to fix.
How to Avoid Distributor Problems
It’s very important to take good care of your car in order to avoid unnecessary problems. You should routinely be getting your vehicle’s oil changed to ensure the engine is being properly lubricated.
It’s also critical to keep a close eye on your car’s distributor cap. Typically, this is a primary culprit behind a total engine failure. Erosion and excess build-up can cause distributor damage. This is why you should regularly clean the cap.
How to Properly Clean a Distributor Cap
Your vehicle’s distributor cap protects its internal components. Moreover, it holds the posts and contacts between the spark plug wires and the internal rotor. Due to the importance of this part, it is important to periodically clean the distributor cap. Here’s how to clean this part properly:
- Plug-Out the Cables: The very first thing that you will need to do is to locate your vehicle’s distributor. Be sure to label the spark plug cables to help you plug them back in the same order. After that, gently pull the cables out from the distributor cap.
- Get the Cap Out: After the cables are unplugged, unscrew the two screws on the side of the cap to release it.
- Clean Out the Terminals: Use a soft, abrasive cloth to clean and remove any carbon build-ups or oxidation on the metal terminals. Oxidation could cause the contact to stop or fail completely.
- Use a Contact Cleaner: Gently spray some contact cleaner onto the internal contacts of the distributor cap.
- Dry It Out: If you own a compressed air source, apply the compressed air through the distributor cap. This will help to dry it faster. You can also carefully rub the distributor cap with a rag to completely dry it out.
- Put It Back Together: After you have allowed the cap to thoroughly dry out, you can reassemble the distributor. Put the distributor cap back into place and reconnect the spark plugs in the correct order.
You should clean your car’s distributor periodically to ensure that it stays in tip-top shape.
What Causes the Corrosion on a Distributor Cap?
One of the main reasons for distributor cap problems is corrosion on the cap. When you go to clean your distributor, you may find an odd build-up on the cap. This could either be grime on the end of each spark plug wire terminal or corrosion on the the distributor cap. Here are some reasons for the corrosion on your distributor cap.
The first reason that you may have some corrosion on your distributor cap is from moisture and humidity. Moisture and water vapor inside of the crankcase can rise into the distributor shaft and then collect inside of the cap. After you’ve driven your car and its engine cools down, the water vapor condenses and can react with the metal contacts, causing the corrosion.
The second reason for corrosion on the distributor cap is that the vehicle’s alternator is overcharging the battery system. This then may produce battery acid that can build up inside of the distributor cap, causing corrosion.
Thirdly, the wires could be porous and drawing water up into the distributor cap. This could also lead to corrosion. If you notice a loose distributor cap in your car, you will need to replace the distributor cap gasket in order to prevent corrosion.
How Can I Prevent Moisture in a Distributor Cap?
If you notice that your distributor cap is collecting moisture after you check it, there is definitely something wrong. If you fail to fix the problem, it could cause bigger issues with your vehicle.
When you disassemble the distributor cap to clean it out, it’s critical that you mark the spark plug cables. This will ensure that you’re correctly assembling the distributor when you’re finished cleaning it.
Always use a clean, dry rag to remove dirt and debris from the distributor cap. Afterward, place it in a warm, dry area to fully dry out. Use compressed air to speed up the drying time.
You should also be routinely changing the distributor cap seal with a new one. For an added layer of protection, apply a silicon seal around the base of the distributor cap to keep water droplets and moisture out.
Can I Drive My Car with a Bad Distributor?
No. Generally, if you have a bad distributor in your car, the engine will fail to start.
Selling a Car with a Bad Distributor or Engine Problems
If your car is suffering from bad distributor signs, such as a squealing noise, stalling, misfiring, or vibrations, you may want to consider selling it instead of fixing it. What if there are more significant problems with your engine that you cannot afford to fix?
Don’t try selling your car to a dealership or to a private buyer. They won’t want to buy your broken car for top dollar. Even if you call a junkyard, they will have you pay to have your car towed to their location. That can be a lot of money and a huge hassle.
Thankfully, Cash Cars Buyer may be the answer to your dilemma! We will buy your car right on the spot and give you instant cash. Whether your car isn’t running, is stalling, or misfiring, we will offer you up to $500 for your non-working vehicle.
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If your old car is suffering from distributor or engine problems and you would like instant cash to use as a down payment on a new vehicle, call Cash Cars Buyer today! We look forward to working with you and buying your car today!