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The distributor is an electro-mechanical component installed in a car’s ignition system to provide, time, and “distribute” the spark that occurs at each spark plug in an engine’s combustion cylinders. The distributor contains a rotating shaft with a gear at the bottom that engages a gear on the engine’s camshaft. Atop the shaft is a plastic rotor that has electrical contacts molded in. As the plastic rotor turns, it completes a high voltage circuit to each electrical contact, one per engine cylinder, that is molded into a plastic distributor cap. That high voltage then flows along the spark plug wire to the spark plug, creating the spark that ignites the air-fuel mixture in an engine cylinder.
Distributors vary in design: some may have the ignition coil built in, some have vacuum advance mechanisms attached for engine timing, and really old distributors may even have mechanical points. Vintage cars, that is cars older than 25 years, will more commonly be equipped with a distributor. Most modern car designs have replaced the distributor with fully electronic systems controlled by engine sensors for more precise, and more powerful, ignition system operation.
Distributors are bolted to the engine block or the cylinder head. The replacement procedure is as follows:
Yes. A faulty distributor will cause increased fuel consumption, increased emissions and poor engine operation but does not generally create a safety hazard.