Distributor Rotor

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Distributor Rotor

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What is a Distributor Rotor and where is it Located?

Before auto manufacturers moved to using an individual coil for each cylinder, the distributor was an important part of the ignition system. The distributor would tell the ignition coil at what moment to fire and transfer the energy from the coil to a specific engine cylinder in order for engine ignition to occur. Older classic vehicles used breaker points and a condenser for this process (mechanical ignition system), whereas later models used electronic systems that relied on an ignition module and the engine’s computer for more precise timing (electronic ignition system). In modern automobiles, the distributor is no longer necessary as they are equipped with a distributorless ignition system, also referred to as a direct ignition system (DIS). In vehicles that do use a distributor assembly, it is located on top of the engine, either in front or in back of it depending upon the specific model.

So how does an automobile distributor work exactly? Basically, electricity from the battery is transferred to the ignition coil, and the distributor takes the high voltage output from the ignition coil and feeds it through the ignition wires to the spark plugs that are inserted into each engine cylinder in the order of the firing sequence. The distributor uses the rotation of the engine’s camshaft, which it connects to via the distributor shaft, to spin the distributor rotor, also referred to as an ignition rotor, which connects directly to the ignition coil, close to (but not touching) the individual cylinder points (or posts) underneath the distributor cap. Each of the points are connected via a spark plug wire – which connect to the top of the distributor cap via plug terminals - to the spark plug(s) screwed into each engine cylinder, and are arranged along with the wires according to the engine cylinders' correct firing order sequence.

As the rotor spins within the distributor, electrical current is able to jump the gaps or arc between the rotor arm and the individual contact points due to the high voltage created by the ignition coil. The electrical current is then transferred from the rotor to the spark plug wire, and then to each spark plug attached to each engine cylinder according to the firing order, allowing for proper ignition spark at just the right time for the engine to run.

How do I Know if my Distributor Rotor Needs to be Replaced?

Replacing the distributor rotor and cap is traditionally considered part of routine maintenance. You’ll want to check your distributor rotor (as well as the cap) whenever you are replacing your spark plugs. You may see visible dirt or carbon build up on the rotor or inside the cap. This is a good indicator that it’s time to replace the rotor (and the cap as well).  

Although the distributor rotor is made to last a long time, it is in constant motion whenever your engine is running and is bound to wear out over time. Since the rotor is what conveys current to each spark plug wire, in turn, a worn rotor can throw off your ignition timing. This can cause your engine to stall and to shake while idling. If the problem gets much worse, you may not be able to get the engine started at all. These are all sure signs that you’ve neglected your distributor rotor for too long.

Can I Replace an Ignition Rotor Myself?

Since you are supposed to replace the distributor rotor regularly, it is quite easily done. You’ll have to remove the distributor cap. Since you already have the cap off and it faces the same kind of wear that the rotor does, you’ll want to replace the cap at the same time as the rotor. In some cases, the cap will be attached with spring-loaded clips that must be undone. In other cases, it will be attached by screws. In some models, the ignition coil is mounted on top of the distributor cap and must be removed first. Once the distributor cap is removed, you can remove the rotor. In some cases, the rotor can simply be pulled straight off. In others, you must remove a screw from the rotor. You can simply reverse this procedure to install the new distributor rotor.

Note that when replacing a distributor/cap/rotor, that it’s a good idea to label each spark plug wire and take note where each one attaches to the cap. This will eliminate accidentally swapping spots and causing new ignition problems.

Need a Distributor Rotor Replacement?

For vehicles that use a distributor assembly, the distributor rotor is a crucial part of your ignition system as the success of the ignition process heavily depends on it. It’s not a part you can neglect for the many reasons we discussed above. So, if you are in need of a replacement distributor rotor for your car, truck, SUV or van, then you have certainly come to the right place. We carry a large selection of distributor rotors here at 1A Auto, for many makes and models, and at great prices.

Shopping for a distributor rotor replacement is also incredibly easy at 1A Auto - we're here to help you select the right part for your vehicle! Call our customer service toll free at 888-844-3393 if you have any questions about our ignition rotors, warranty, compatibility or to purchase, or you can buy online right here at 1aauto.com.

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