Troubleshooting ignition coil problems
Last Updated on Friday May 18, 2018
When the combustion process starts, the coil pack or ignition coil produces very high energy that reaches 75,000 Volts. Then, the ignition control receives a signal from the car's computer which releases the voltage from the coil pack that goes through the spark plug. When the current travels to the spark plug, the spark plug fires an explosion inside the cylinder chamber due to the fuel-air mixture.
What is a coil pack?
A coil pack is a collection of ignition coils that eliminates the expensive and troublesome distributor, cap, and spark plug wires.Coil packs provide better engine performance than distributors used in older vehicles. Some early coil packs were prone to frequent failure. But the modern ones can potentially deliver a better spark with less produced electrical noise. It is also worth mentioning that coil packs have a much longer lifetime than distributors.
Common Symptoms of a Faulty Coil Pack
- Engine Misfiring
- Engine Stalling
- Lower MPG
- Starting difficulty
- A bad coil pack will have symptoms that could make a mechanic think you have bad spark plugs. That?s because a defective coil pack will also trigger misfire fault code such as P0300.
- When coil packs have issues, the engine will suffer very poor ignition performance due to the loss of spark in one or more cylinders.
Experiencing repeated misfiring and backfiring:
- A faulty ignition coil, unburned gasoline smell might be emitted through your exhaust, which can also cause costly and unnecessary repairs.
- Black exhaust smoke could be emitted due to different reasons, but a bad ignition coil is always a probability.
- Engine runs poorly or has excessive vibrations.
Problem starting up the engine:
- The vehicle takes a long time to start or doesn?t start at all, especially in cold weather because the ignition will not be able to transmit the needed amount of charge to each spark plug.
Check engine light:
- The ECU has a log for faults, in which it records the sensors readings and reports them to the driver through the check engine light in the dashboard.
- If your ignition coil is failing, your coil will emit irregular sparks to the plugs to keep it running. When you stop your car, it may splutter or shut off completely.
A noticeable lack of power:
- Engine RPMs drop suddenly and repeatedly when trying to accelerate, vibrations at idle speed, and an unstable overall driving experience.
Lower fuel economy:
- If the spark plugs are not receiving the required amount of electric spark, this would cause the engine to struggle for power, which would dramatically affect the car?s overall fuel consumption.
- When spark plugs start wearing out or become faulty, resistance builds up which causes more heat, and that is the worst thing you could do to your ignition coil.
- Driving under any of these conditions can damage the catalytic converter over time, which will increase the cost of the repair.
Ways to troubleshoot an ignition coil failure
Retrive trouble codes
The first you should do if you expect problems with your ignition coil is read the trouble codes.
To do this you will need an OBD2 code reader which you can purchase from Amazon for under $20 by visiting Best Selling Code Readers and Scanners.
- Plug the code reader under the 16 pin port located under the dashboard on driver's side.
- Turn the key to ON position.
- Hit read on the scanner.
- Wait a couple of minutes.
- You will have a diagnostic trouble code (DTC) displayed on the screen.
Codes that are related to bad ignition coil are:
P0354 Ignition Coil D Primary/Secondary Circuit
P0351 OBD-II Trouble Code: Ignition Coil "A" Primary/Secondary
P0352 OBD-II Trouble Code: Ignition Coil B Primary/Secondary Circuit
P2311 OBD-II Trouble Code: Ignition Coil D Secondary Circuit
You may also notice P0300, P0301, P0302, P0303, P0304, P0305, P0306 cylinder misfire codes. Don't worry about these codes. Replace the defective ignition coil, erase all codes with the OBD2 code reader and see if these codes come back.
How to Test an Ignition Coil Pack
- It shouldn?t be a hard task to test your ignition coil, all you need is an ohmmeter to test the coil?s primary and secondary resistance and compare its current readings with the standard readings in your vehicle?s manual or by searching for the optimal readings on the internet.
You can buy an adapter that can be attached to the coil observe and scan secondary ignition data for each coil. It costs less than $50 each.
What is the cause of ignition coil failures?
- The main reason for ignition coils failure is worn spark plugs, excessive spark plug gap, or plugs wires. Heat can also affect the windings and insulation of the coil. The ignition coil increases the primary voltage from 12 Volts up to 40 thousands of Volts to fire the spark plugs. If there?s an open plug wire or excessive resistance, the output voltage can burn the internal insulation of the coil.
- Another reason for ignition coil failure is oil or coolant leaks which might damage the ignition coils.
- New replacement coils must be the same type as the original/old ones and must have the same primary resistance because using the wrong coil might cause the coil to fail or damage further ignition components. It is also advised to replace the old spark plugs and the spark plug wires to assure a better spark.
- Cleaning the connectors from corrosion should prevent future coil problems. Using dielectric grease on these connectors can assure a better connection and prevent corrosion.
Ignition Coil Frequently Asked Questions
How many ignition coils are in a car?
Most modern cars have one ignition coil per cylinder.
Types of Coil Ignition Systems:
- Coil-On-Plug (COP) is the most preferred system setup for various performance, maintenance, emission, and packaging reasons. This system reduces resistance between the coil and the plug, and also reduces interference of radio frequency, which consequently eliminates potential misfire problems. It also eliminates the need for complex, expensive and long high-voltage spark plug cables.
- Coil-Per-Cylinder (CPC) systems improve the engine?s ability to reduce oxides of nitrogen emissions, which is essential for today?s cars emission standards. It gives each coil more time to recharge between cylinder firings, which mean a hotter spark that result in fewer misfires, backfires, better fuel consumption and cleaner combustion.
- Coil-Near-Plug (CNP) systems were fitted in late V8 models, this setup is used because the plugs stick from the cylinder head side and there is no much room to fit a coil on the end of the plugs.