Hey there I’m Mike, and today we’re chatting about an important mechanical component called the Distributor Cap and Rotor… Not to be confused with the Ignition Coil….
What is it and why it matters
Your car is filled with thousands of small pieces that ensure you’re able to get to where you need to be. Two of the most important are the distributor cap and rotor. The cap protects the distributor’s delicate pieces, which help ignite the engine so you can drive. The rotor assists with making sure you’re able to brake safely.
This part allows high voltage electricity to transfer through ignition wires directly to the spark plug and causing the combustion of the fuel and air in your engine. It’s a crucial part of your ignition system.
However, it can be tough to know if you have a faulty distributor rotor. If you notice your engine loses power or Check Engine Light is on, those can be your first clues. But let’s not jump ahead too quickly into the troubleshooting portion yet.
Below is more information on what to expect to pay for a distributor cap and rotor replacement cost.
How Much Does this ignition system part cost?
A distributor cap and rotor replacement will cost anywhere from $30-$300. This price includes both the parts and labor. Most of the time, larger and more technologically-advanced cars will be pricier.
That’s a heck of a price difference so make sure you get quotes from multiple mechanic repair shops before choosing one.
Let’s go over a few vehicles and break that cost down in detail.
Sample Prices with Vehicles
Distributor cap and rotor replacement costs will vary depending on the size and model of your car. If you suspect a faulty distributor cap, here’s what you should expect to pay.
For most Honda CRV’s, a distributor replacement cost for the part alone ranges from $16-$60 bucks. Labor costs will of course vary between locations, but it shouldn’t take longer than 1 hour to replace this part. Shops on average charge $100 an hour, so your average cost should be about $150 bucks.
Read more about the Honda CRV maintenance costs.
Jeep Wrangler owners will be looking at an average cost of about $150 dollars as well. The price of this part is anywhere from $26 to $45 if you don’t mind going aftermarket. Another 1 hour of labor brings your price up to the $125-$150 mark.
It’s not too hard to replace distributor caps; check out this video from ghostlyrich:
An MSD distributor/rotor for a 2004 Honda Civic is about $38 bucks at your local parts store. Another hour gives on average cost of $140. Not too bad. If you want to try and save some cash, try doing it yourself with some basic hand tools.
How Long Does it Take to Replace a Distributor Cap and Rotor?
However, if your mechanic has to adjust the ignition timing, this will add hours to the repair.
The first thing you’ll need to do is open the car hood and find a small crown-like piece that’s near the engine. If you have trouble locating it, reference your car’s owner manual.
Once you find the cap, you’ll need to unscrew it. Depending on the type you have, you’ll either need to push the surrounding clips aside or press down and rotate it counterclockwise.
You’ll now want to carefully put the cap down and slide the rotor beneath it out. The rotor isn’t usually connected to anything, but some models might be secured with a screw. Make sure to check the rotor before pulling it out to ensure this isn’t the case. After you move the rotor out, install the new one. Now gently try spinning distributor rotor to make sure it’s rotating correctly.
Remove the old one
The last step is to remove the old distributor cap. Carefully detach the spark plugs and connect them in the same areas on the new one. When you’ve made sure it’s connected, secure the new cap in place.
Fire up your ride!
To do a final check, start your car. If it backfires or makes squeaking noises, the distributor cap and rotor probably wasn’t installed accurately. You’ll need to repeat the process and check the installation to ensure everything is in place.
If your Check Engine Light remains on, but the vehicle runs well, you may have to clear the OBD2 Diagnostic Trouble Code with a scanner. We’ve got you covered –
Bad Distributor Cap Symptoms
There are a few things that indicate you might have a bad distributor cap. Some of these include:
- Trouble starting or engine stalling
- Engine misfires
- There are squealing noises when you turn the car on.
- The gears slightly shake when you change them.
- Spark plug wires not delivering a spark
You may be tempted to ignore some unusual engine noises, but it can be lead to larger problems down the road. If you see a CEL on your dash, or your car want start, it’s best to get this checked out right away. It might not be dangerous, but you don’t want to be stranded on the side of the road!
How Long Should a Distributor Last?
On average, a distributor will last about 50,000 miles or three years. However, it’s crucial to replace the distributor regardless if it’s broken or not at this mileage. This isn’t a hard rule though. It’s not uncommon to see these things last up to 200,000 miles or the life of the car.
By replacing it, this piece will keep functioning so you can drive safely. It will also extend your car’s lifespan because the distributor won’t be putting extra pressure on the gears and engine.
If you do a lot of your own maintenance, your only cost is time and the part. And for a $30 part, it’s great preventative maintenance to keep your car’s ignition system happy.
How to Test for a Bad Distributor Cap
If you’re concerned that you might have a bad distributor cap or want to prevent driving with one, there are a few things you can do to check how well it’s working.
1. Examine It
One of the best ways to test for a bad distributor cap is to examine it. Is the surface clean? Do you see cracks? Are the spark plugs connected? If you notice any issues or disconnections, you probably have a bad distributor cap. Look for rust and crud built up.
2. Test the Contact Points
Another thing to do is test both the contact points and arc. The contact points work as a switch, which helps with the ignition. If the spark plugs aren’t connected or if you notice an open condenser, you need to replace the distributor cap.
To see if the contact points are working well, you can do a quick test. The first step is to pull the plug wire off of the distributor cap. You’ll then want to grab a metal piece, like a knife or screwdriver, and place it on the edge of the wire. Then, carefully bring both toward the distributor’s rotor and gently lay them near it. However, make sure the metal isn’t touching the rotor, or it could cause sparks.
After you do this, start the ignition. If you notice an arc, it indicates resistance against the distributor cap. This means there isn’t a good connection, or there’s a crack in the piece. Because of this, you’ll need to replace the distributor cap.
A Multimeter also works great for testing the voltage from the ignition.
Can I Drive with a Bad Ignition Cap and Rotor?
You can drive with a bad ignition cap and rotor, but it’s not recommended. While you might overlook issues at first, you risk there being significant problems along the way. One of the most dangerous concerns this will cause are misfires in the engine. This will make it harder for your vehicle to start and stop. You should replace any malfunctioning ignition cap and rotor as soon as possible.
A distributor cap and rotor are some of the essential components of a car. However, it can be difficult to tell when they have a defect. Furthermore, this could put you in danger if you don’t replace them. Thankfully, a distributor cap replacement cost is affordable and the fix can be done quickly.