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Ignition Distributors

Over the past years the common automotive vehicle ignition system has evolved from a points ignition distributor to the current distributor less Coil-over-plug system. Even though the Coil-over-plug system has been fitted to vehicles for a while now, a large percentage of vehicles still on the road are fitted with distributors utilising electronic ignition principals and still requiring diagnosis, testing, repair or replacement.

What the Technician Needs to know about the Electronic Ignition distributors:

  • A distributor generally integrates one or more inductive pick up coils to switch the ignition module ON and OFF or digital sensors to signal the ECU to switch the module ON and OFF. These are Generally known as the crank angle sensor, pick up coil or cylinder position sensor, depending on the type of system that it controls. This is required by the Technician for correct testing and diagnosis procedures.

  • An “ignition module” or “power transistor” may also be integrated in the distributor. Note: The “module” receives a signal from a pick-up-coil and directly switches the ignition coil ON and OFF to create the HT spark.
  • The “power transistor” receives a signal from the ECU and switches the Ignition coil ON and OFF to create the HT spark.
  • An Ignition coil may be located internal or external of the distributor.
  • These can become problematic and create a week or failing HT spark that dramatically affect the drivability of the vehicle.
  • Ageing distributors can create many unusual operating conditions such as excess noise, misfiring and oil leaks that requires the Technician to determine if it is financially viable to repair or preferably renew the distributor.

Common faults and testing procedures.

Testing procedures and test equipment vary depending on the type of distributor fitted to the vehicle and the type of fault that has occurred.

Typical test equipment used

  • Multimeter for voltage and Ohms reading tests if applicable
  • Suitable Oscilloscope for sensor and output tests.
  • Spark gap tool to monitor spark condition.

Areas to investigate when a low or no spark condition is evident;

  • Low or no voltage at the primary terminal of the ignition coil.
  • Negative terminal at the Ignition Coil not being pulsed by the ignition module or power transistor.
  • Faulty pick-up-coils or crank angle sensor.
  • Distributor cap and rotor faults or HT leads excessively open circuit.
  • Fault in ECU circuit if applicable system.
  • Ignition coil weak.

Typical Example of Testing. (Honda)

Honda distributor with three internal inductive pick-up-coils and an internal ignition module and ignition coil.

Method: Using a suitable Oscilloscope and back probing the 3 sensors. A Multimeter may be used for testing static voltage supply for ignition module and ignition coil.

Checking signal strength for:    

  • Cylinder sensor – 1 pulse every 2 crankshaft revolutions
  • TDC sensor – 4 pulses per 2 crankshaft revolutions.
  • Crank Angle Sensor – 24 pulses per 2 crankshaft revolutions.

All these signals are monitored by the ECU for Spark and injection timing and control. If all signals are acceptable, the ECU should trigger the distributor ignition module which intern switches the ignition coil ON and OFF to create the HT spark which is distributed to the relevant cylinders as required.

Typical Example of testing a distributor with integrated dual HALL sensor and power transistor. (Mazda V6)

Method: Using a suitable Oscilloscope and back probing the HALL sensor signals and ECU trigger for the power transistor / igniter. A Multimeter may be used for testing static voltage supply for all power supplies for Ignition coil and HALL sensors.

Note: A common “no spark condition” may be caused by a power transistor/ Igniter (integrated in the HALL sensor assembly) failure. Checking the signal from the ECU to “Terminal A“ whilst cranking, will quickly allow the Technician to rule out a variety of possibilities.

A suitable pulse at this point indicates that the CAS signals are functioning, and the ECU is switching the igniter as required.
Testing for a signal at the “TACHO“ terminal 2 will now determine if the Ignition coil or Igniter are faulty.

A suitable signal at the TACHO terminal indicates that the igniter is switching ON and OFF and further attention is required to the Ignition coil. No signal at the TACHO terminal indicates that there generally is a failure in the power transistor/Igniter.       

Again, depending on the condition and age of the distributor, it may be more economically viable to replace rather than to repair the complete unit. There are of course many other distributor configurations, but these typical test procedures should allow the Technician to quickly determine the next plan for attack.                                                                       

The Premier Auto Trade Ignition Distributors (DIS) program now includes almost 150 part numbers covering 1 million vehicle applications in Australia and NZ.

 



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