Installing a New Distributor


The distributor in your vehicle is a relatively simple device created to control the ignition timing.  It turns out the exact time at which the spark plug ignites the air/fuel mixture in your car’s engine is very important.  Too early of a spark and the engine could sustain significant damage. Too late, and your engine could make little to no power.  The distributor is a mechanical and electrical device that controls when the spark happens in each cylinder. You might be installing a new distributor because yours is broken, or because you want to upgrade to a more advanced or powerful unit.

Installing a new distributor can be done in a few simple steps:

  1. Set the engine to top dead center (TDC)
  2. Mark and remove the old distributor
  3. Install the new distributor
  4. Set the base ignition timing
  5. Tighten the distributor hold-down bolt

It’s important to set your engine to top dead center before you do anything to make sure you know where the distributor is in relation to the crankshaft and camshaft.  The distributor in your car is driven either directly or by a gear from your camshaft. That means every time your camshaft spins one revolution, your distributor turns 360 degrees as well.  When you install your new distributor you want it to be in the exact same orientation so it is in sync with the rest of the engine and is sending a spark to the right spark plug at the right time.  Even being a few degrees off can cause your engine to backfire, knock or not run at all.

Once you’re at top dead center, pulling out your old distributor and installing the new one only takes loosening 1 bolt.  Sometimes that bolt can be tricky to get to so you may need to remove some other stuff that is in the way.

If your vehicle needs to have the base timing set, make sure to leave the hold-down bolt or clamp loose enough so you can turn the distributor by hand, but not so loose that it spins freely.

With your new distributor installed and the cap closely orientated to where the old one was you can check the ignition timing.  Check your vehicle’s maintenance manual for this should be done. On fuel injected cars it often involves connecting to a diagnostic port or installing a jumped to tell your engine’s computer that you are setting the base timing  Next, connect a timing light and find the timing marks. It can help to paint the timing mark on the crank pulley white so it is easier to see with the timing light.

Now you’re ready to start the engine and set the timing.  With the engine running, aim the timing light at the timing marks.  You can now spin the distributor cap slowly one way or the other and watch the timing mark advance or retard.  Once the mark is at the base ignition timing your engine calls for you can tighten the distributor hold-down bolt and enjoy your new distributor!

picture provided by:

distributor.jpg – By MWCPhoto – Licensed by Getty Images – Original Link