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The need for higher mileage, reduced emissions and greater reliability has led to the development of the electronic ignition systems. These systems generate a much stronger spark which is needed to ignite leaner fuel mixtures. Breaker point systems needed a resister to reduce the operating voltage of the primary circuit in order to prolong the life of the points. The primary circuit of the electronic ignition systems operate on full battery voltage which helps to develop a stronger spark. Spark plug gaps have widened due to the ability of the increased voltage to jump the larger gap. Cleaner combustion and less deposits have led to longer spark plug life.

On some systems, the ignition coil has been moved inside the distributor cap. This system is said to have an internal coil as opposed to the conventional external one.

Electronic Ignition systems are not as complicated as they may first appear. In fact, they differ only slightly from conventional point ignition systems. Like conventional ignition systems, electronic systems have two circuits: a primary circuit and a secondary circuit. The entire secondary circuit is the same as in a conventional ignition system. In addition, the section of the primary circuit from the battery to the battery terminal at the coil is the same as in a conventional ignition system.

Electronic ignition systems differ from conventional ignition systems in the distributor component area. Instead of a distributor cam, breaker plate, points, and condenser, an electronic ignition system has an armature (called by various names such as a trigger wheel, reluctor, etc.), a pickup coil (stator, sensor, etc.), and an electronic control module.

Essentially, all electronic ignition systems operate in the following manner: With the ignition switch turned on, primary (battery) current flows from the battery through the ignition switch to the coil primary windings. Primary current is turned on and off by the action of the armature as it revolves past the pickup coil or sensor. As each tooth of the armature nears the pickup coil, it creates a voltage that signals the electronic module to turn off the coil primary current. A timing circuit in the module will turn the current on again after the coil field has collapsed. When the current is off, however, the magnetic field built up in the coil is allowed to collapse, which causes a high voltage in the secondary windings of the coil. It is now operating on the secondary ignition circuit, which is the same as in a conventional ignition system.

Troubleshooting electronic ignition systems ordinarily requires the use of a voltmeter and/or an ohmmeter. Sometimes the use of an ammeter is also required. Because of differences in design and construction, troubleshooting is specific to each system. A complete troubleshooting guide for you particular application can be found in the Chilton's Total Car Care manual.

Fig. 1: Typical electronic ignition system. Note its basic similarity to a conventional system

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