Skip the auto shop - Our mechanics make house calls
  1. Home
  2. Articles
  3. How Does a Distributor Work?

How Does a Distributor Work?

Distributor

In older cars, a distributor is one of the central parts of the ignition system. Since the early 1990's, many automakers have moved to using ignition systems without distributors. Though the number of cars with distributors has declined over the years, there are still quite a few on the road.

What is a distributor?

The distributor is responsible for getting the electrical charges needed for combustion within the engine out to each of the cylinders. The coil (outside the distributor) creates the very strong electrical charge needed for this process. Inside the distributor, a rotor spins in time with the car’s camshaft, transferring that charge to designated contacts (one per cylinder). As the rotor spins, it passes very close to each contact and the charge jumps from the rotor to the contacts, and then into the wires and plugs.

If you have an older vehicle, your distributor also has breaker points built into it. The purpose of these points is to ground the incoming current and facilitate the pulses of electricity getting to the proper cylinders. A cam from the distributor connects with each point in turn, breaking the ground on the coil, which opens the path for the electric charge to come through.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
Icon-warranty_badge-02

Skip the repair shop, our top-rated mechanics come to you.

At your home or office

Choose from 600+ repair, maintenance & diagnostic services. Our top-rated mechanics bring all parts & tools to your location.

Fair & transparent pricing

See labor & parts costs upfront, so you can book with confidence.

12-month, 12,000-mile warranty

Our services are backed by a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty for your peace of mind.

Get A Quote

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE

More related articles

P0052 OBD-II Trouble Code: HO2S Heater Control Circuit High (Bank 2 Sensor 1)
P0052 code definition HO2S Heater Control Circuit High (Bank 2 Sensor 1) What the...
How to Avoid Back Pain in a Car
If you have back problems, sitting in a car for an extended period of time can be excruciating. Even without back problems, you could experience discomfort and soreness from...
P2159 OBD-II Trouble Code: Vehicle Speed Sensor B Range/Performance
Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC): P2159 P2159 code definition Vehicle Speed Sensor B Range/Performance...

Related questions

Q: Trying to test a sensor in the distributor that is allowing it to not spark.

The Hall effect pick-up assembly in the distributor can be tested via the Factory Service Manual but that procedure has more than 15 steps. A more efficient test method is to use a self powered “indicator light” that is made...

Q: Q: Car not cranking

Hi there. This vehicle not starting is an indication that the fuel filter and fuel pump are going bad. Over time, the fuel pump will fail and not put out enough fuel pressure to start the car. I would have...

Q: Spark knocking in car

Your neighbor is correct, your particular model does not have an EGR valve. I suggest that you have a technician check the condition of the spark plugs and test the spark plug wires. Either of those of those components are...