Your car’s engine is an incredibly complex set of systems designed to work together. The core of the system is where combustion happens. Combustion (the ignition and explosion of gasoline vapors) is what’s responsible for moving the pistons inside your engine, and creating motive power that’s then transferred to the transmission and then to the wheels. Without an ongoing series of constant explosions, your car is dead in the water. Interestingly, one of the most important components in that process is the humble spark plug. Over time, your spark plugs wear out, causing serious problems. Replacing those plugs can be very simple, and you can actually do it at home while saving a lot of cash.
What Do Spark Plugs Do?
The role of your spark plugs is pretty simple and the name really does say it all. They’re responsible for creating the initial spark that ignites fuel vapor in the combustion chamber. They run off electricity generated by the alternator and sent through the distributor. The electrode at the base of the plug reacts with the ground and a spark leaps out.
However, over time, the electrode begins to erode. The sparking process removes minute amounts of material from the electrode, and the spark plug itself can begin to corrode. As this process happens, the amount of spark provided decreases, making your engine run badly, causing higher fuel consumption and other problems.
Changing out your spark plugs offers quite a few benefits. For instance, you’ll see a significant savings on fuel consumption, but your engine will also run more smoothly, and “knocking” or “pinging” can also be eliminated with new plugs.
How Do You Change Them?
Changing your spark plugs is actually a very simple process, though it can be lengthy and does require the right tools. However, you do need to follow the right steps.
First, make sure you have the right tools for the job. You’ll need:
- A spark plug socket
- A ratchet
- An extension long enough to reach the plugs (some engines have them seated very deep)
- Replacement plugs (it’s best to use an OEM plug if possible)
Now that you have all your tools, it’s time to start the actual changing process.
1. Locate your spark plugs. This shouldn’t be too hard, and you can usually trace the spark plug wires.
2. Remove the spark plug wires. Do this carefully, as it’s easy to damage them if they’re older (you might consider replacing these now as well). As you disconnect them from the spark plug, set them aside in order so you don’t get the firing order confused when you put them back on.
3. Insert the socket (attached to the extension and ratchet) into the first spark plug socket. Loosen the spark plug and then remove it from the tube.
4. When you get the plug out of the tube, take a good look at it. You should see a little dirt (soot-like) and that’s about it. If there’s oil on the spark plug, you have larger problems.
5. With a gap tool, check the gap on the new plug. If it’s not correct, set it according to the OEM specs.
6. Insert the spark plug into the socket and then into the spark plug tube. Replace the correct spark plug wire. Repeat this process for all plugs (most engines have 4, 6 or 8 plugs).
7. Once all the plugs are back in place and the appropriate spark plug wires replaced, you should be finished. Crank the engine and listen to it – it should run more smoothly, though chances are good that if your plugs weren’t too badly worn the improvement won’t be audible.
(If you’re visual, here’s a video to show you how the process is done)
Do you change your own spark plugs? Do also perform other maintenance on your vehicle(s)?
Don Elfrink is the owner and operator of AutoMatStore, an auto flooring company based out Columbia, Missouri. Before AutoMatStore, Elfrink was the operator of an automotive production site. AutoMatStore floor mats consist of customized logo, carpet, molded and all weather mats.