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Is Your Ignition Coil Pack Bad or Is it the Spark Plugs?

Is Your Ignition Coil Pack Bad or Is it the Spark Plugs?

At some point, even the strongest engines eventually lose power. After all, every engine whether it’s big or small requires spark, fuel, and even air to produce horsepower. When this happens it’s often attributed to bad fuel injectors or head gaskets which tends to cause overheating and stalling. However, the spark plugs and ignition coil pack are an essential part of your vehicle’s ignition system that can cause the engine to lose its power. If your engine has stalled or it isn’t receiving any power it’s time to take a look at these two important automotive components. 

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


Ignition Coil Pack – What Are They and How They Work With the Spark Plugs

In newer vehicles, the ignition coil pack has replaced the distributor. The ignition coil pack is a collection of coils that are located in the car’s ignition system. Did you know that the ignition coil pack is directly controlled by the car’s main computer? The primary role of the ignition coil pack is to increase and build the energy needed to power the engine. Because the ignition coil pack plays a vital role in your vehicle’s starting process, the ignition system should be regularly maintained.  


The spark plugs are the devices that supply the spark that ignites the fuel and air mixture needed for the engine to produce power. There is one spark plug in each of the cylinders in the engine. Although the spark plugs are small and simple devices without them the engine will not be able to run. 


How do the ignition coil pack and the spark plugs work together? While the ignition coil pack and the spark plugs aren’t the same they both play an essential role in your vehicle’s ignition system. The ignition coil pack transforms power from the battery and generates enough power to ignite the spark plugs to fire each cylinder in the engine. The coil packs can produce as much as 50,000 to 75,000 volts. 


Therefore, when the engine begins misfiring or losing some of its power it can be a sign of a faulty spark plug or ignition coil pack. 


Major Symptoms of A Bad Ignition Coil Pack vs. Faulty Spark Plugs

When one of the coils fails in the ignition coil pack it often starts a domino effect. The engine may start stalling, misfiring, or backfiring and it will eventually lose power. A Worn ignition coil pack is associated with the combustion process. However, the engine needs both the ignition coil pack and the spark plugs to start. Here are some of the top signs that the ignition coil pack and the spark plugs have gone bad:


  1. Check engine light comes on

Modern vehicles are equipped with an electronic computer that closely monitors all of the components within the vehicle’s intricate system. When the ignition coil pack becomes worn or damaged the car’s computer system will engage the “Check Engine” warning light.  


When the ignition coil pack fails it doesn’t send the necessary volts to spark plugs which in turn ignites fuel and air mixture in the combustion chamber. As a result, the engine starts to misfire and triggers the vehicle’s emission process. This causes the Check Engine light to flash on. 


  1. Low Gas Mileage

In some cases, it can take a little time before the ignition coil pack become completely defective. Before they eventually fail you’ll notice signs of decreased engine performance. One major sign of poor engine performance is a significant drop in gas mileage. 

A defective ignition coil pack isn’t able to complete the combustion process which leads to a portion of the fuel unburnt. Faulty ignition coil packs aren’t capable of generating enough current for the spark plugs to spark. Therefore, the chemical energy of the fuel fails to convert to a usable form. This leads to greater fuel being consumed. 


  1. Cylinders Backfire

Oftentimes when air and fuel mixture leaves the combustion chambers unburnt it can combust when it flows to the exhaust due to the heat. When this happens it causes one or more of the cylinders in the engine to backfire. Backfiring can severely damage your vehicle’s exhaust system. 


  1. Poor acceleration

If your car hesitates when you press on the gas, or fails to go at its full speed this can be attributed to a bad ignition coil pack. Work ignition coil pack provides limited fuel which can lead to rough idling and poor acceleration. 


  1. Engine stalling

           When the engine fails to turn over, this is usually a sign that the spark plugs aren’t generating any spark to start the combustion process. In some cases, the ignition coil pack isn’t able to provide enough voltage to create the spark that the spark plugs require. 


Ignition Coil Pack Or The Spark Plugs – Diagnosing the Problem

Because the ignition coil pack and the spark plugs work for hand in hand it can be challenging to determine which component is defective. Years ago most vehicles were equipped with one ignition coil that fed all of the spark plugs through a distributor. When a car wouldn’t start it would be because of a bad starter of a defective coil. 


When a coil in the ignition coil pack stops working, the spark plug it’s connected to almost always stops working properly as well. That’s why when the ignition coil pack is replaced new spark plugs are installed as well. 


One way you test whether the ignition coil or the spark plugs is the culprit is to swap out each of the parts with the new one. First, try attaching a new ignition coil to the old spark plugs to see how the engine performs with the new spark plugs. Oftentimes, you can determine the condition of the ignition coil pack just by inspecting them. Burn marks, cracks, and carbon tracking are all signs that the ignition coil pack has become worn. 


An oscilloscope can help you obtain the most accurate diagnosis of the ignition coil pack. This tool measures the signals of the ignition coil pack against time. The results are displayed in wave patterns. 


 You can use a specialized spark tester which can be purchased at your local auto parts store. The spark tester can be used to determine whether your spark plugs are working. Weak sparks may produce an orange or red color which can sometimes be difficult to see during the daytime. If there is a weak spark or no spark at all the problem lies in the ignition coil pack. 


Perhaps the easiest way to determine whether your vehicle has faulty spark plugs or ignition coil packs is to use a scan tool or a code reader when the check engine light comes on. This scanning tool works with your vehicle’s computer system to determine the mechanical problems that the car is having. Most popular automotive stores will scan your car for free but you’ll need to have the code deciphered by a mechanic. 


Ignition Coil Pack and Spark Plugs – How Long Do They Last

For the most part, the ignition coils should last for a very long before they need to be replaced. The ignition coil pack should last for at least 100,000 miles. The majority of the newer vehicles on the road are designed with a plastic covering over the ignition coil pack which protects the ignition coil pack. When the ignition coil pack fails prematurely it can be due to a number of factors such as:


Heat – The copper wire located inside the ignition coil pack can easily become damaged from heat. The ignition coils experience high voltage especially when they are forced to work harder such as when a spark plug fails. When the ignition coil pack becomes overheated cracks and burn marks start to develop which eventually compromises the engine’s performance. 


Worn electrical connections – The ignition coil pack can fail when the electrical connectors become corroded, start to melt, or become broken. 


Age – Over time, the ignition coil pack will eventually become worn due to age. ignition coil pack are constantly subjected to high voltages which eventually takes a toll on the internal components of the ignition system. Engine oil leaks can also damage the ignition coil pack. 


What about the spark plugs? Chances are whether you’re purchasing a late or new model car you’ll end up changing vehicles before you have to replace the spark plugs. Like the ignition coil pack, the spark plugs can normally last a long time. 


Most modern cars use spark plugs that have platinum tips on the electrodes which allows them to last much longer than traditional copper spark plugs. These spark plugs start to wear after at least 75,000 miles. Each manufacturer has different recommendations for when the spark plugs should be replaced. For instance, Toyota encourages consumers to swap out the spark plugs after every 120,000 miles while Ford suggests that the spark plugs should be changed after 100,000 miles on the Explorer. 


When the spark plugs become contaminated with oil from the engine they will need to be replaced as soon as possible. Although spark plugs made with electrodes are meant to last longer, some of the cheaper brands don’t have a long life. Electrodes can sometimes wear down faster. 


Also, your driving style can very well determine the life of your spark plugs. If you have heavy feet and you tend to drive at faster paces you can expect the spark plugs to wear down faster since higher speeds require increased engine performance. 

Ignition Coil Pack and Spark Plugs Replacement – How Much Does it Cost?

When you're driving with a defective ignition coil pack and spark plugs it will ultimately cause more damage to your car’s ignition system and the engine. Even if your vehicle is operable, the engine’s performance will eventually decrease making it incredibly difficult to travel. Misfires are a common symptom of failing ignition coil packs and spark plugs. Intermittent misfiring can be dangerous because it can cause vibrations that make the vehicle difficult to handle and even cause the car to shut off while driving which can lead to an accident. When left unchecked faulty ignition coil pack and spark plugs will cause your engine to stall and lose power. Therefore, you’ll want to have the spark plugs and ignition coil pack replaced as soon as possible by a skilled mechanic. 


How much can you expect to pay for new spark plugs and ignition coil pack replacement? Depending on the make and model of your vehicle, ignition coil packs are usually about $60 to $200. The average cost of labor for replacing the ignition coil pack is $100-$150. Spark plugs are relatively inexpensive and will cost you about $16-$100 and $40-$150 in labor. 


On a standard vehicle, you can expect to pay less than $300 to replace the ignition coil pack and spark plugs. However, if you own a luxury vehicle you’ll more than likely have to pay more for such simple repair work. 


The cost of replacing the ignition coil pack and the spark plugs can vary depending on where you take your car. Repair work performed at the dealership will always cost you double the amount you would pay at an independent mechanic shop. Since coil and spark plug replacement isn’t a complex job your best bet is to have your vehicle serviced at an independent mechanic shop. 


Obtaining referrals from friends and finding reputable places with great reviews online are surefire ways to find a decent shop. To ensure you get the best quality of work done you can also refer to the Better Business Bureau website to learn more about the reputation of a mechanic shop.


The final option is to do the work yourself. Replacing the ignition coil pack and spark plugs is pretty straightforward. If you know your way around a car and have some basic mechanical knowledge you’ll be able to replace the spark plugs and ignition coil pack yourself.


Ignition coil pack or the Spark Plugs – Monitor Your Vehicle’s Performance

Yes, both the ignition coil pack and the spark plugs are an essential part of your vehicle. Without these two components, your car won’t run. Failed ignition coil pack and spark plugs shouldn’t be ignored as they will only wear out other important parts and you’ll end up paying the price for your negligence at the repair shop. Monitoring your vehicle’s performance can help you quickly spot a bad ignition coil pack and spark plugs. Replacing both components can help keep your car in tip-top shape.