Most of the newer cars that are on the market today have electronically-controlled ignition systems in them. As a result, they don’t have always car distributors in them anymore. But if you have an older car, there is a decent chance that you have a car distributor in it. This part plays a key role in your ability to get your car started when you stick your key in the ignition.
If your car distributor ever stops working the way it’s supposed to, you might have a tough time getting your vehicle to start up. It’s why you need to keep your eyes peeled for any of the symptoms of a bad car distributor. You should have your car distributor replaced at the very first sign of trouble!
Keep reading to discover more about what a car distributor is and how it works before learning about some of the common signs that show a car distributor has gone bad on you.
What Is a Car Distributor and How Does It Work?
If you’re not sure whether or not your vehicle has a car distributor in it, you should sneak a peek at your owner’s manual to see if it does. A car distributor is found in any car that has a spark-ignition internal combustion engine that relies on a mechanically timed ignition.
A car distributor is a device that’s designed to turn along with the camshaft in your engine when you go to start your car up. In doing so, it’s able to send an electrical current from your car’s ignition coil to the spark plugs in your car at the right moment. This allows you to get your car started without a problem.
To break it down a little further, the car distributor in your vehicle receives power from your car’s ignition coil and distributes that power through the electrodes that are strategically positioned on your distributor cap. These electrodes are each connected to the spark plugs in your car through your spark plug wires. The spark plugs take the power from your car distributor and use it to create the spark that is necessary to fire up your engine and start your car.
How Often Does a Car Distributor Need to Be Replaced?
There are some vehicles that are known to have issues when it comes to their car distributors. If you happen to own one of these cars, you might be forced to replace a car distributor well before you reach the 100,000-mile mark in your car.
But generally speaking, you should be able to get well over 100,000 miles out of a car distributor prior to having to replace it. In fact, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for you to get over 150,000 miles out of a car distributor before you’ll need to replace it. It all depends on how hard you work to maintain your car as a whole.
There may be times when different aspects of your car distributor will have to be maintained to keep your car distributor up and running. You may need to have parts inside of your car distributor repaired or even replaced individually to ensure that distributor is able to do its job. But in the end, you shouldn’t have to worry about replacing your entire car distributor until your car hits the six-figure mark in terms of mileage. You might even be able to get away with not ever replacing your car distributor depending on how long you hang onto your car.
What Are the Symptoms of a Bad Car Distributor?
If your vehicle’s car distributor ever goes bad on you, it won’t take you too long to figure it out. There are some clear-cut signs that are going to show that you need to put a new car distributor into place. You should, as we alluded to earlier, look out for these signs at all times and spring into action if you ever notice them. Check out several of the telltale symptoms of a bad car distributor below.
1. Your Engine Begins Misfiring All the Time
Have you noticed that your car seems to be misfiring on a regular basis these days? This is one of the signs of a bad car distributor that’s going to be impossible for you to ignore!
There are, of course, lots of different things that can cause your car’s engine to misfire. Your car may misfire if:
- Your spark plugs are worn out
- You have a weakened fuel injector
- Your valve seals are wearing down
- You don’t have any voltage at your ignition could
But your car may also misfire early and often if the car distributor is bad. And the misfiring is usually only going to get worse and worse if you allow a bad car distributor to linger for too long. You’re going to want to have a mechanic inspect your car to see why it’s misfiring and if you need to get a new car distributor right away.
2. Your Car Refuses to Start
If your car is misfiring because of a bad car distributor, the good news will be that it’s at least running. There are also many instances in which a bad car distributor will cause a car to shut down completely and not start up.
When your car distributor has gone bad, it’s going to stop your engine from sending a spark through your system. This is going to prevent you from being able to start your car when you stick your car key into your ignition and turn it.
You might mistakenly blame your car’s starter, battery, or spark plugs for it not starting. But the whole time, it could really be a bad car distributor that is to blame. The only way to remedy this situation is going to be to get your car distributor tested and to replace it accordingly so that you can resume starting your car up like normal.
3. Your Engine Starts Making Unusual Sounds
When you attempt to start up your car with a bad car distributor, it might make any number of sounds. You might hear your car’s engine:
- Or making another sound that it doesn’t usually make!
These sounds will come about because the cylinders in your engine will try to fire. But without a fully-functioning car distributor, these cylinders are ultimately going to fail to get your engine to start up.
Outside of the fact that these sounds are going to worry you, they might also be the only sounds that you hear if your engine won’t start up because of a bad car distributor. It’s yet another instance in which you’re going to need to call on a mechanic to pop the hood on your car and see what’s going on with it.
4. Your Check Engine Lights Turns On
If the check engine light ever turns on in your car when you’re trying to start it up, you could be dealing with any number of problems. The check engine light might mean:
- Your gas cap isn’t on tight enough
- Your mass airflow sensor has failed
- Your oxygen sensor is faulty
- Your catalytic converter is on its last legs
But it might also mean that your car distributor is bad and needs to be replaced. The only way that you’re going to know what your check engine light means is by having a mechanic look at it and pull the codes from your car’s computer. They’ll indicate an issue with your car distributor or with another aspect of your car.
If it turns out that your car distributor is causing your check engine light to turn on, your only option might be to replace it ASAP to turn the light back off.
Can You Drive a Car Safely With a Bad Car Distributor?
As long as you can get your car to start up with a bad car distributor, you might not be too concerned about getting it fixed right away. But we’re here to tell you that you should not drive around in a vehicle with a bad for too long!
For starters, there is no telling when you’re suddenly not going to be able to start your car anymore due to your bad car distributor. You could end up getting stranded somewhere if you push your car beyond its limits with a bad car distributor.
Your car might also continue to misfire when you have a bad car distributor, which could eventually cause damage to some of the other parts inside of your car, including your engine. It’s why you should shy away from pushing a car with a bad car distributor and continuing to drive it around despite its condition.
What Might Be Wrong With a Bad Car Distributor?
When you bring your vehicle to a mechanic because you suspect that there might be an issue with your car distributor, they’ll inspect it to see what might be wrong. Car distributors can have both mechanical and electrical issues that cause them to go bad.
If your car distributor has a mechanical issue, there will be some kind of damage that was done to it. There will be a failure of the vacuum canister in it or something along those lines. If, on the other hand, your car distributor has an electrical issue, there will often be some kind of disconnect between your car distributor and your ignition coil. Either way, the problem must be fixed.
A mechanic might be able to replace one of the individual components in or around your car distributor to get it working like normal again. But most of the time, they’re going to go ahead and recommend that you replace your whole car distributor at once rather than tinkering with any of the smaller parts in it.
How Do You Replace a Bad Car Distributor?
If it turns out that you need to replace a bad car distributor, it’s not going to be a job that you should tackle yourself. You’re going to want to rely on your mechanic to perform car distributor replacement for you since it can be a complicated job.
These are the steps that a mechanic will take to remove your old car distributor and put a new one in its place:
- They’ll test your car distributor to make sure that it definitely needs to be replaced
- If it does, they’ll turn your engine by hand to the top dead center position
- They’ll remove the retaining bolts for your car distributor and remove it
- They’ll install your new car distributor in place of your old one
- They’ll replace all of the electrical connections for your car distributor, including the wires for your spark plugs
As you can see, this is not a job that should be taken lightly. You could do some serious damage to your car’s engine if you attempt to take the DIY approach to car distributor replacement.
How Much Does Car Distributor Replacement Cost?
Because of the complications that come along with replacing a car distributor, it’s not necessarily cheap to do it. You’re going to be looking at paying a pretty penny for the parts and labor associated with car distributor replacement. It should shake out like this:
- A new car distributor will run you somewhere between $425 and $615 for parts
- The labor that’ll need to be done to replace a car distributor will run you somewhere between $80 and $100
- All told, car distributor replacement will cost you anywhere from $500 to $720
You might also be subjected to other fees depending on what kind of car you drive and what other parts might need to be replaced. Your mechanic should be able to set you up with a more accurate estimate for car distributor replacement.
Can You Sell a Car That Has a Bad Car Distributor in It?
If you drive a vehicle with a car distributor in it, it’s likely on the older side. This may mean that it won’t make sense for you to pay to have car distributor replacement done when the time comes. If this is the case, you may wonder what else you can do with your car.
Cash Cars Buyer has the solution you’re looking for. You can sell your old car to us for cash! Here’s how it works:
- You send us some basic information about your car, like the make and model of it, the car it was made, and the mileage on it
- We put together an offer for you based on the info we receive from you
- You tell us whether or not you want to accept our offer
- We come and pick up your car from you if you accept our offer and leave you with cash for it
If selling your car sounds like a better idea than fixing your car distributor, we would love to hear from you about it. Contact us for additional info on selling your car to Cash Cars Buyer.