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What do spark plugs do?

What do spark plugs do?

Automotive spark plugs are removable electrical components located in the combustion chamber of the engine. They play a very important role in the operation of an automobile. The job of the spark plug is to create the spark needed to ignite the air-fuel mixture and thus start the vehicle. When the mixture ignites, the resulting gases push hard against the piston, allowing the engine to start. This is the very principle of the internal combustion engine, and without spark plugs, there would be no explosion. To accomplish this, the spark plug must be able to generate thousands of arcs per minute while withstanding the heat and pressure generated by the explosions inside the cylinder.

We all have the image of a mechanic checking the condition of a car's spark plugs with the hood open and a greasy rag in his hand. Spark plugs are fragile components that wear out quickly and need to be replaced regularly. Throughout their life, automotive spark plugs must withstand high temperatures and sudden temperature changes, especially in winter. Spark plugs are also tested by electrical voltages that can exceed 30,000 volts. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you choose quality spark plugs to ensure that your engine's ignition works properly in all weather conditions.

What is a spark plug?

A spark plug consists of two electrodes that allow electricity to flow through the plug. They are only used in petrol and LPG vehicles, as diesel engines have a different spark ignition system. The two electrodes are separated by an insulator. The spark is produced when current flows between the two electrodes. The spark plugs are mounted in the cylinder head so that the electrodes reach the combustion chamber.

For your car to start properly, the spark produced by the spark plugs must be optimal. This spark is the origin of the air-fuel combustion and therefore of the starting.  Today, spark plugs play an important catalytic role in automobiles. Each one is positioned in one of the engine cylinders to generate the spark needed to start combustion.

Composition of a spark plug

  1. Electrical connector
  2. Contact pin
  3. Ceramic insulator (insulates center electrode from ground up to 40,000 volts)
  4. Spark plug base
  5. Gasket ring
  6. Conductive cement based on vitrified ceramic powder (provides resistance to reduce interference emission)
  7. Sealing ring
  8. Central electrode (copper core surrounded by nickel. It can be made of platinum or iridium for longer life)
  9. Insulator base (has a significant effect on the thermal rating of the spark plug)
  10. Insertion shoulder (makes it easier to screw the spark plug into the cylinder head)
  11. Breathing space (influences the self-cleaning behavior of the spark plug)
  12. Ground electrode (nickel-based alloys or platinum/titanium shielding increase the electrode's resistance to erosion)

How many spark plugs are there in an automobile?

There are as many spark plugs in a car as there are cylinders: one spark plug per cylinder. So you can have four spark plugs in your car, or three, six, eight, or even twelve!

How spark plugs work?

For best performance, each spark plug has two electrodes:

  • A "ground" electrode, part of which is attached to the body of the spark plug and is also connected by contact to the cylinder head.
  • A "positive" electrode, which is insulated from the plug body in a central position. However, it is connected to the coil via the spark plug end and has an internal resistance to protect the vehicle's electronic environment from any interference.

The lower part of the spark plug generally has a thread and a seal.

Each spark plug is mounted in the cylinder head so that the electrodes open into the combustion chamber of the cylinder. The ceramic part provides an electrical seal between the body and the center electrode. Finally, spark plugs are resistant to thermal shock, which ensures that heat is dissipated throughout the engine block.

What types of spark plugs are there?

There are four main types, each with variations from different manufacturers.

  • Iridium spark plugs: These generally offer the longest life. Iridium is one of the most durable metals used in spark plug manufacture, and the center electrodes are so small that they require minimal voltage to produce a spark.
  • Copper spark plugs: The large diameter of copper spark plugs makes them more suitable for older vehicles - often classic cars - that use historical electrical standards.
  • Platinum spark plugs: Instead of soft nickel alloys, platinum spark plugs use platinum discs for extra long life.
  • Standard Nickel Plugs: A durable and widely used category, these plugs are often the best choice for pre-1970 engines. Sometimes nickel spark plugs can be adapted to more modern engines because of their ability to withstand high pressures, such as from a turbocharger.

Which spark plugs to choose?

The easiest way to choose your spark plugs is to look at the part number of the plugs already installed in your car. You'll find this number on the base of the spark plug. If you are replacing your spark plugs yourself, remember to measure your plugs before you replace them. Always check the diameter, length, and heat rating of your spark plugs to avoid any nasty surprises when you install the new spark plugs.

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