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What is the distributor in the ignition system?

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βˆ™ 2011-09-14 09:42:07

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The distributor in the ignition system of an internal combustion engine is a device which routes the high voltage in the correct firing order to the spark plugs.

It consists of a rotating arm or rotor inside the distributor cap, on top of the distributor shaft, but insulated from it and the body of the vehicle ("earth"). The metal part of the rotor contacts the central high voltage cable from the coil via a spring loaded carbon brush. The metal part of the rotor arm passes close to (but does not touch) the output contacts which connect via high tension cables to the spark plug of each cylinder. As the rotor spins within the distributor, electrical current is able to jump the small gaps created between the rotor arm and the contacts due to the high voltage created by the ignition coil.

The distributor shaft has a cam that operates the contact breaker. Opening the points causes a high induction voltage in the system's ignition coil.

The distributor also houses the centrifugal advance unit: a set of hinged weights attached to the distributor shaft, that cause the breaker points mounting plate to slightly rotate and advance the spark timing with higher engine rpm. In addition, the distributor has a vacuum advance unit that advances the timing even further as a function of the vacuum in the inlet manifold. Usually there is also a capacitor attached to the distributor. The capacitor is connected parallel to the breaker points, to suppress sparking and prevent wear of the points.

Around the 1970s the primary breaker points were largely replaced with Hall effect sensors. As this is a non-contacting device and the primary circuit is controlled by solid state electronics, a great amount of maintenance in point adjustment and replacement was eliminated. This also eliminates any problem with breaker follower or cam wear, and by eliminating a side load extends distributor shaft bearing life. The remaining secondary (high voltage) circuit was as described above, using a single coil and a rotary distributor.

Distributor capsThese are used in automobile engine to cover the distributor and its internal rotor. The rotor switches a high sparking voltage to the spark plugs so that these fire in correct sequence.

The distributor cap is a prime example of a component that eventually succumbs to heat and vibration. But even if its bakelite housing has not broken or cracked, carbon deposits and eroded metal terminals can cause distributor-cap failure. However it is a fairly easy and inexpensive part to replace.

The distributor cap has one post for each cylinder and in points ignition systems there is a central post for the coil voltage coming into the distributor. In HEI (High Energy Ignition) systems where there is not a central post, the ignition coil sits on top of the distributor. On the inside of the cap there is a terminal that corresponds to each post and the plug terminals are arranged around the circumference of the cap according to the firing order in order to send the secondary voltage to the proper spark plug at the right time.

The "rotor" head is attached to the top of the distributor shaft which is driven by a gear on the engine's camshaft and thus synchronized to it. This rotor is pressed against a carbon brush on the center terminal of the distributor cap which connects to the ignition coil either through the top and wired directly to the coil in HEI systems; or via the center terminal in points ignition systems and remotely connected to the coil. The rotor is constructed such that the center tab is electrically connected to its outer edge so the voltage coming in to the center post will travel through the carbon point to the outer edge of the rotor. As the camshaft rotates, the rotor spins and its outer edge passes each of the internal plug terminals to fire each spark plug.

Direct ignitionModern engine designs are tending to do away with the distributor and coil, instead performing the distribution function in the primary circuit electronically and applying the primary (low-voltage) pulse to individual coils on top of each spark plug (Direct Ignition or coil-on-plug). This avoids the need to switch very high voltages, which is very often a source of trouble, especially in damp conditions. AnswerThe distributor is the part that takes the voltage from the coil and turn it into a pulsed spark sending it out to the cylinders in sequential order. It is the part on the car that has all the spark plug wires coming out of it. AnswerIt is a rotory switch that connects the high-voltage ouput of the ignition coil to the correct spark plug according to the firing order. It is typically driven by a gear on the camshaft so that it rotates at half engine speed.

Most modern engines do not have distributors, instead they have a separate ignition coil for each spark plug.

2011-09-14 09:42:07
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