Magneto Timing – Maintenance and Inspection of Ignition Leads

in Engine Ignition and Electrical Systems

Inspection of ignition leads should include both a visual and an electrical test. During the visual test, the lead cover should be inspected for cracks or other damage, abrasions, mutilated braid, or other physical damage. Inspect leads for overheating if routed close to exhaust stacks. Disconnect the harness coupling nuts from the top of the spark plugs and remove the leads from the spark plug lead well. Inspect the contact springs and compression springs for any damage or distortion and the sleeves for cracks or carbon tracking. The coupling nut that connects to the spark plug should be inspected for damaged threads or other defects.

Each lead should be checked for continuity using a high tension lead tester by connecting the black lead to the contact spring and the red lead to the eyelet of the same lead in the cover. The continuity lamp on the tester should illuminate when tested. The insulation resistance test of each lead is accomplished using the high-tension lead tester by attaching the red, or high-voltage, lead to the spring of the harness lead. Then, attach the black lead to the ferrule of the same lead. Depress the press-to-test push button switch on the lead tester. Observe that the indictor lamp flashes and gap fires simultaneously as long as the press-to-test switch is held in the depressed position.

If the indicator lamp flashes and the gap fails to fire, the lead under test is defective and must be replaced. The indicator lamp flashes to show that a high-voltage impulse was sent out. If it fails to pass through the tester, then the electrical pulse leaked through the wire showing it to be defective.

When defective leads are revealed by an ignition harness test, continue the test to determine whether the leads or distributor block are defective. If the difficulty is in an individual ignition lead, determine whether the electrical leak is at the spark plug elbow or elsewhere. Remove the elbow, pull the ignition lead out of the manifold a slight amount, and repeat the harness test on the defective lead. If this stops the leakage, cut away the defective portion of the lead and reinstall the elbow assembly, integral seal, and terminal (sometimes referred to as cigarette). [Figure 4-47]

Figure 4-47. Replacement procedure for ignition lead terminals.

Figure 4-47. Replacement procedure for ignition lead terminals. [Click to Enlarge]

If the lead is too short to repair in the manner described, or the electrical leak is inside the harness, replace the defective lead. Single ignition lead replacement procedures are as follows:

  1. Disassemble the magneto or distributor so that the distributor block is accessible.
  2. Loosen the piercing screw in the distributor block for the lead to be replaced, and remove the lead from the distributor block.
  3. Remove approximately 1 inch of insulation from the distributor block end of the defective lead and approximately 1 inch of insulation from the end of the replacement cable. Splice this end to the end of the lead to be replaced and solder the splice.
  4. Remove the elbow adapter from the spark plug end of the defective lead, then pull the old lead out and put the new lead into the harness. While pulling the leads through the harness, have someone push the replacement lead into the ignition manifold at the distributor end to reduce the force required to pull the lead through the ignition manifold.
  5. When the replacement lead has been pulled completely through the manifold, force the ignition lead up into the manifold from the distributor block end to provide extra length for future repairs, which may be necessary because of chafing at the spark plug elbow.
  6. Remove approximately 3⁄8 inch of insulation from the distributor block end. Bend the ends of the wire back and prepare the ends of the cable for installation into the distributor block well. Insert the lead in the distributor and tighten the piercing screw.
  7. Remove approximately ¼ inch of insulation from the spark plug end of the lead and install the elbow, integral seal, and cigarette. [Figure 4-47]
  8. Install a marker on the distributor end of the cable to identify its cylinder number. If a new marker is not available, use the marker removed from the defective cable.