What is an Ignition System and How Does it Work?

The ignition system in your vehicle creates a spark strong enough to jump the spark plug gap and route 15,000 to 25,000 volts of energy from the battery to ignite the fuel at exactly the proper moment to allow the expanding gasses to do the largest amount of work with the lowest fuel consumption. The system has ways of self-correcting and being adjusted for better results.

Components of the Ignition System

The ignition system includes the battery, ignition switch, and ignition coil. It also includes the distributor and sparks plugs.


The battery provides the necessary voltage to charge the ignition coil(s).

Ignition Switch

The ignition switch turns the engine on and off and comes between the battery and the ignition coil(s).

Ignition Coil

The ignition coil increases the 12 volts of energy coming from the battery to the 15,000-25,000 volts necessary to create the spark. There are often two coils, a primary coil that has fewer turns and lower output and a secondary coil with more turns and higher output.


A distributor regulates the spark and the order in which the spark plugs are fired.

Spark Plugs

Spark plugs generate the spark necessary to ignite the fuel. They are fired in order, controlled by the distributor in engines with more than one spark plug.

Recognizing Problems

Each part of your ignition system has its own possible failures and problems. For example, if your vehicle won’t start, there are many interconnected reasons why it won’t start. The best thing you can do when you find your vehicle is hesitating to start up is call your mechanic and make an appointment to have them examine and assess your ignition system, from the battery to the spark plugs. And the sooner, the better. They’ll be best equipped to tell you if your vehicle requires an ignition system repair and set you up with an appointment to have the work done.

If you live in the Puyallup, WA area, consider taking your vehicle to Cooper’s Auto Repair Services for an evaluation or to fix any problems you’re having with your ignition system.

Written by Coopers Auto Repair Specialists

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