Ignition coils are a type of induction coils that are used in internal combustion engines to provide the spark that ignites the air-fuel mixture.
They are typically composed of two cylindrical coils of wire wrapped around a common iron core. The primary coil is wound with a relatively low number of turns of heavy wire, while the secondary coil is wound with many more turns of much thinner wire.
When a current is passed through the primary coil, it generates a magnetic field. This field induces a current in the secondary coil, which is then passed through a spark plug to create the spark that ignites the fuel-air mixture in the engine’s cylinders.
Often times, ignition coils fail. When that happens, does that mean you should replace all the ignition coils at once? No. One coil pack is designed for two engine cylinders, and a replacement should only be done when that specific pack is damaged. One defective coil pack won’t affect other ignition coils, and hence no need to replace them all at once.
How Does a Coil Pack Work?
Let’s take a closer look at how a coil pack works:
A coil pack typically consists of several individual ignition coils housed in a single assembly. The number of coils depends on the engine configuration, such as the number of cylinders. Each coil is a compact unit with two windings—a primary winding and a secondary winding—wrapped around an iron core.
The primary winding is made up of a few hundred turns of relatively thick wire and is connected to the vehicle’s electrical system. It receives low-voltage current (usually 12 volts) from the ignition switch or an ignition control module.
The primary winding is controlled by the engine’s electronic control module (ECM) or an ignition control module. The module supplies a pulsating ground signal to the coil pack, which rapidly switches the primary current on and off.
Induction and energy storage
When the primary current flows through the primary winding, it creates a magnetic field around the iron core. This magnetic field induces a much higher voltage in the secondary winding, which consists of thousands of turns of thinner wire. The secondary winding is not electrically connected to the primary winding but shares the same iron core.
The induction process in the secondary winding amplifies the voltage to a level of several tens of thousands of volts—typically around 40,000 to 50,000 volts. This high-voltage output is necessary to create a spark across the spark plug gap and ignite the air-fuel mixture inside the engine cylinder.
Distributing the spark
In a distributorless ignition system (common in modern engines), each ignition coil in the coil pack is dedicated to a specific cylinder. The coil pack receives firing signals from the ECM or an ignition control module, instructing it to fire the spark plug in the corresponding cylinder at the precise moment.
Spark plug connection
The high-voltage output from each coil in the coil pack is directed through individual high-tension leads to the spark plugs. At the spark plug, the high voltage jumps the spark plug gap and produces an electrical spark that ignites the compressed air-fuel mixture, initiating the combustion process.
How Long Do Ignition Coils Last
The lifespan of ignition coils can vary depending on several factors, including the quality of the coil, driving conditions, and maintenance practices.
Generally, ignition coils will last over 120,000 miles or 5 years, whichever comes first. However, there are a few factors that can affect the lifespan of your ignition coil.
If you drive in stop-and-go traffic or short trips, your ignition coil may not last as long because it doesn’t have a chance to cool down fully between uses.
Regular maintenance, such as replacing spark plugs at recommended intervals and keeping the ignition system clean, can help extend the life of the ignition coils. Additionally, using high-quality coils and following the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance can contribute to their longevity.
It’s worth noting that certain conditions or factors can accelerate the wear and tear on ignition coils, leading to premature failure. These factors can include excessive heat, exposure to moisture or corrosive substances, engine misfires, and electrical issues.
If you notice any symptoms of a failing ignition coil, such as engine misfires, rough idling, or difficulty starting the vehicle, it’s important to have the coils inspected and replaced if necessary.
What Makes Coil Pack to Malfunction
Several factors can contribute to the malfunction of a coil pack:
- Age and wear: Over time, the internal components of a coil pack can degrade and wear out. Exposure to heat, vibrations, and electrical stress can cause the insulation and wiring inside the coil pack to deteriorate, leading to malfunctions.
- Heat and thermal stress: Coil packs are located in the engine compartment, where they are exposed to high temperatures generated by the engine. Excessive heat can cause the insulation around the coils to break down, leading to short circuits or open circuits.
- Electrical overloading: Coil packs are designed to handle a specific range of electrical current. If there is a fault in the electrical system, such as a faulty spark plug wire or a malfunctioning control module, it can cause excessive current to flow through the coil pack, leading to its failure.
- Moisture and corrosion: Moisture can seep into the engine compartment, especially in rainy or humid conditions. When moisture enters the coil pack, it can cause corrosion on the electrical connectors or even create short circuits, affecting the performance of the coils.
- Vibration and physical damage: Engine vibrations and rough handling of the vehicle can cause physical damage to the coil pack. This can result in cracked insulation, loose connections, or even internal component damage, leading to a malfunction.
- Poor maintenance: Neglecting regular maintenance, such as not replacing worn-out spark plugs or failing to clean the air filter, can lead to an imbalance in the air-fuel mixture, which can put additional stress on the coil pack and cause it to malfunction.
Ignition Coil Replacement Cost
The average replacement cost for an ignition is between $65 and $350. This depends on the model and the make of your car. Labor costs are approximately between $50 and $150, and again this range depends on the auto garage and your city of residence.
This range does not include taxes and fees, and does not factor in your specific vehicle or unique location.
The cost of replacing an ignition coil can vary depending on several factors, such as the make and model of your vehicle, the location of the repair shop, and whether you choose to have the replacement performed by a dealership or an independent mechanic.
If you choose to have the ignition coil replaced at a dealership, the cost may be higher compared to an independent mechanic. Dealerships often charge higher labor rates and may use original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts, which tend to be more expensive.
It’s always a good idea to contact local repair shops or dealerships and provide them with the details of your vehicle to get a more accurate estimate for the ignition coil replacement. They can provide you with specific pricing based on your situation.
How to Replace a Bad Coil Pack
Step 1: Identify the Bad Coil Pack
Before proceeding with the replacement, it is important to identify which coil pack is causing the problem. Modern vehicles typically have individual coil packs for each cylinder, while older models may have a single coil pack for all cylinders. Use an OBD-II scanner or diagnostic tool to retrieve the error codes stored in the vehicle’s computer system. The error codes will indicate which cylinder or cylinders are affected, helping you pinpoint the faulty coil pack.
Step 2: Gather the Necessary Tools and Parts
To replace a bad coil pack, you will need the following tools and parts:
- New coil pack (make sure it matches the specifications of your vehicle)
- Socket and ratchet set
- Spark plug socket
- Dielectric grease
- Anti-seize compound (optional)
- Safety goggles and gloves
- Shop towels or a clean rag
Step 3: Disconnect the Battery
Start by disconnecting the negative terminal of the vehicle’s battery. This step is essential to ensure your safety and prevent any electrical mishaps during the replacement process.
Step 4: Locate the Faulty Coil Pack
Refer to your vehicle’s service manual to locate the position of the bad coil pack. In most cases, the coil packs are located on top of the engine, near the spark plugs. You may need to remove the engine cover or any other components obstructing access to the coil packs.
Step 5: Remove the Old Coil Pack
Carefully disconnect the electrical connector attached to the coil pack by pressing the release tab and gently pulling it off. Next, remove the bolts or screws securing the coil pack to the engine using a socket and ratchet. Take note of the arrangement of the ignition wires if applicable. Lift the old coil pack out of the engine.
Step 6: Install the New Coil Pack
Apply a small amount of dielectric grease to the inside of the spark plug boot to ensure a good connection and prevent moisture from entering. If your vehicle has ignition wires, transfer them from the old coil pack to the new one in the same order. Place the new coil pack into position and secure it using the bolts or screws removed earlier. Be careful not to overtighten.
Step 7: Reconnect the Electrical Connector
Connect the electrical connector to the new coil pack until it clicks into place. Ensure a snug fit, but avoid using excessive force that may damage the connector.
Step 8: Repeat the Process (if necessary)
If you have multiple bad coil packs, repeat steps 4 to 7 for each affected coil pack, following the same procedure.
Step 9: Reconnect the Battery and Test
With all the new coil packs installed, reconnect the negative terminal of the vehicle’s battery. Start the engine and listen for any abnormal noises or misfires. If everything sounds and feels normal, you have successfully replaced the bad coil pack.
Step 10: Clean Up
Dispose of the old coil packs responsibly. Wipe off any dirt or debris from the engine area and ensure that all connections are secure. It’s a good idea to periodically check the condition of your coil packs and replace them as needed to maintain optimal engine performance.
Signs and Symptoms of Failing Coil Pack
Check Engine Light
Another symptom of a failing coil pack is a check engine light that comes on. This can be caused by a number of things, but the check engine light is accompanied by other symptoms of a failing coil pack, the coil pack is likely the root of the problem.
One of the first signs of a failing coil pack is engine misfires. If one or more of the coils in the coil pack are not functioning properly, it can cause the engine to misfire.
The engine may run rough, feel like it is shaking, and produce less power than usual. Pinging or knocking sounds may also be heard coming from the engine.
Engine Performance Issues
If a coil pack fails, it can cause several engine performance issues. The engine may have less power than normal, it may hesitate or stall, and it may produce strange sounds.
Increased Fuel Consumption
Increased fuel consumption is a common symptom of engine problems. If you notice an uptick in your car’s fuel usage, it could be a sign that something is wrong with the engine.
It could be a sign of a failing coil pack. This is because the misfiring engine is not running as efficiently as it should be, and therefore is using more fuel than normal.
Hi I’m Marshall based in 1478 Doctors Drive Santa Monica, CA. I’m your DIY Car Repairman with more than 5 years experience in automobile repair, a skill I learned from my old man.
I started this blog to share my experience on both simple and technical aspects of your car.