Making Sparks Fly

A Crash Course in Spark Plugs

Most people know that their vehicles have spark plugs, but not everyone knows what they do and why they occasionally need replacing. As the name suggests, these plugs emit the spark that ignites the fuel-air mixture in your engine’s cylinders, producing power to move your car. Spark plugs are required to start and operate the engine. The ASE certified technicians at Jeff’s Auto Repair in Seattle, Washington’s Windermere area understand the importance of spark plugs and can help you monitor their condition, replacing them when it becomes necessary.

Spark Plugs Explained

The spark plug sends a small bolt of electricity across a gap (open air) between small metal components (center electrode and side electrode). This electrical pulse provides the spark needed for the combustion and burn of the air-fuel mixture in the cylinder. Because they are made of durable materials, spark plugs last a long time even in the extreme conditions of a combustion engine. Eventually, however, they should be replaced. Your vehicle’s manufacturer will make a recommendation in your owner’s manual of how often to change the spark plugs. Typically, this is around 30,000 miles. However, this may vary according to the kind of plug installed. “Regular” plugs use copper, but those made with a more durable metal such as platinum or iridium last longer. Thus, the need to change spark plugs is more about the condition than mileage or time. At some point, two things begin to happen to spark plugs, necessitating a change. Deposits begin to form on the plug, allowing for the possibility of pre-igniting the fuel. Also, the gap begins to expand. This makes it harder for combustion to occur. Replacing your worn spark plugs improves your vehicle’s performance, improves gas mileage, and reduces emissions.

Replacing Worn Spark Plugs

Spark plugs aren’t very big, so it seems like they would be simple to replace. And they may be–if you’re comfortable with that. And they may not be–even if you’re an experienced mechanic. Here’s why. You should be able to remove the old plugs without a great deal of difficulty using a socket and ratchet. However, if the spark plug is seized (stuck in place), you risk breaking it off which creates a much more complex, time-consuming, and costly repair. Further, some cars have a more complicated placement of the spark plugs which entails removing part of the intake manifold to reach them. Finally, although new spark plugs can be installed and tightened with more common tools, it is best to tighten them using a torque wrench. Not everyone has that. All things considered, the easiest way to check the condition of your spark plugs and replace them when they’re worn is to take your car to the service experts at the Windermere area location of Jeff’s Auto Repair in Seattle, Washington.

Written by Jeff's Auto Repair

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