Spark Plug And How It Works
What Is Spark Plug
A spark plug is an electrical device that is used in internal combustion engines to ignite compressed aerosol gasoline using an electric spark. The electrical component is highly used to perform mechanical jobs. In simple terms, spark plugs turn an energy source (gasoline) into movement. For instance, we have petrol which is highly flammable, and also air, which could cause an explosion when mixed.
The plug is like lighting fire to the compressed gas. Spark plugs are either regular (replacement) or performance. The performance spark plugs are tougher, having the ability to withstand a greater change in temperatures and mechanical stresses. However, regular types can’t. well, we’ll further look into them below this article.
How Do Spark Plugs Work?
Think of spark plugs as the tiniest bolt of lighting. Small but mighty, they spark electricity that ignites an air-fuel mixture deep within your car’s engine. In turn, combustion creates the energy required to power your car’s pistons and ultimately, get you to your destination. These components also play an important role in helping to dissipate heat from the combustion chamber to the engine’s cooling system. Here’s the step-by-step:
1: You turn the key in the ignition. When you start your car by pushing the “ignition button” or inserting and turning your key, the starter motor engages, which cranks your engine.
2: Energy from the battery ignites the plugs. Electricity from the battery travels to an induction coil on your car’s combustion engine, which transforms the battery’s 12 volts to as much as 45,000 volts before supplying it to the spark plugs.
3: Sparks fly. As the induction coil’s voltage increases and is transferred to the spark plugs, the plugs ignite the air-fuel mixture inside the combustion chamber generating a small and controlled explosion in the gap between the plug’s electrodes.
4: Combustion moves your car. Once the air-fuel mixture ignites, a chemical reaction occurs, turning the mixture into an expanded gas or exhaust. The pressure generated by this sudden expansion within the combustion chamber moves your car’s pistons, ultimately turning chemical energy into the kinetic energy required to power the engine.
5: The cycle continues. As you continue on your journey, the spark plugs power through this cycle over and over again, helping your car run smoothly till you reach your destination.
Major Parts of a Spark Plug
Below are the various parts of a spark plug and their functions:
1. Insulator: This part insulates the terminal, center shaft, and center electrode from the housing. it helps to prevent the escape of high voltage from the electrodes. Because the bottom part of the insulation is inserted into the combustion chamber, high-purity alumina with great heat-proof characteristics, mechanical strength, excellent insulation and thermal conductivity at high temperatures must be used.
2. Terminal: A terminal is attached to a high-tension cord which allows high-voltage current to flow through the ignition system. It contained a terminal nut that supports almost any high-tension cord available. For some vehicles that do not require a terminal nut, the terminal can be removed.
3. Ring, Parking Washer: This spark plug component helps the insulator and the housing tightly fit each other and maintain airtightness
4. Gasket: The gasket makes the housing and the engine perfectly fit each other and also maintains the airtightness of the combustion chamber. However, there is a procedure for tightening, and the suitable locking margin must be secured.
5. Center Shaft (stem): The center shaft connects the terminal and the center electrode. The part is made of steel and contains a role that allows high-voltage current to flow from the terminal to the center electrode without loss.
6. Glass Seal: The glass seal is located between the center shaft and the insulator to maintain air tightness. It is made from a special mixture of glass powder and copper powder. They are charged in the installation section of the shaft and center shaft and center electrode and then melted at high temperatures. This bonds the center shaft and the center electrode and fuses the insulator and the metal. Their sealing is good and the thermal ratio of expansion is perfect. Because of this, even under harsh conditions gaps do not occur and good airtightness can be protected.
7. Electrode with Copper: A special nickel alloy is employed at the center electrode to reduce electrode wear and copper is sealed into the center section to enhance its thermal conductivity.
8. Housing: The housing creates an outer shell that surrounds and supports the insulator. It also allows the spark plug to be installed in the engine. at the bottom part, there is a ground electrode that makes current flow through the engine itself to the center electrode over the gap.
9. Center Electrode: The center electrode is laser welded to an iridium alloy tip usually with a diameter of 0.4mm to produce the center electrode, iridium is a precious metal with extraordinarily superior properties for a spark plug electrode. These properties include high-temperature resistance, high strength, low resistance, etc. The purpose of a center electrode is to lower the spark voltage, secure a reliable spark improve ignition performance, and reduce the quenching effect.
10. U-groove Ground Electrode: This component serves a very important purpose as it allows large ignition energy to be obtained, and widens the flame core (flame size) easily. The surface contacted by the air-fuel mixture is large and there is much edge section, and sparks easily occur. Finally,
11. Tapered Cut Ground Electrode: In this part, the electrode tip is cut to a finely tapered shape. The purpose is to reduce the quenching effect, which enriches the ignition performance.
Types of Spark Plugs
Below are the various types of spark plugs available out there:
1. Copper Spark Plugs: In these types of spark plugs, the center electrode is a copper core coated with a nickel alloy. There is a need for more voltage to produce sparks because the center electrode has the largest diameter compared to others. Because nickel alloys are a soft material and not very durable, copper spark plugs need to be replaced more frequently than other types. Some cars are designed to use the plug despite their shorter lifespan. However, some manufacturers see installing expensive spark plugs may be a waste of money.
2. Iridium Spark Plugs: The iridium types of spark plugs last longer since iridium is a harder and more durable material than platinum. The center electrode is designed to be small which makes it require less voltage to generate a spark. This is why it’s of the high cost compared to the first type. Nowadays, most vehicle features the iridium spark plug because it minimizes the amount of car breakdown.
3. Single Platinum Spark Plugs: These types of spark plug are similar to the copper/nickel version, only that, its center electrode contains a platinum disc. this disc is welded to the tip rather than nickel alloy. Single platinum plugs are expensive but last longer than nickel alloy before it has worn away. It generates more heat, which reduces carbon buildup. The plug is recommended for new cars with a coil-on-plug ignition system.
4. Double Platinum Spark Plugs: In these types, there is a platinum coating both at the center and ground electrodes, which makes them more efficient and last longer. It is a great choice for a wasted spark ignition system that exerts more wear on both electrodes.
In a wasted spark ignition system, each ignition coil ignites two spark plugs at a time. One in the compressor stroke’s cylinder and the other in the exhaust stroke’s cylinder. At last, the spark gets wasted because the air/fuel mixture is already burnt in the previous stroke. this ignition system is not much affected by rain or debris.
5. Silver Spark Plugs: Because the material of a silver spark plug is less durable, it does not last as long as an iridium or platinum spark plug. But it has beat thermal conductivity, it’s often used in older European performance cars and motorcycles.
What Causes Spark Plugs To Go Bad Fast?
There are a few things that can make a spark plug to go bad fast, some of which include:
1. Build of oil and carbon The most common cause of a spark plugs to go bad is due to the buildup of oil, carbon and combustion byproducts.
Spark plugs are designed with an anti-corrosion coating that helps protect against elements in the engine from damaging them over time. This also includes some types of contaminants like lead or copper particles from worn valve seats.
However, these coatings are not impervious and they will eventually wear down and crack from the buildup of oil, carbon and combustion byproducts.
2. Use of leaded gasoline The use of leaded gasoline is another common cause of a spark plug to go bad as it can introduce lead into the engine which then deposits on components like valves or piston rings. This lead buildup will then work its way into the spark plug.
3. Poor fuel quality Poor fuel quality can cause spark plugs to go bad quickly. This is because the material inside of a poor-quality fuel filter does not last as long, and it has more contaminants in it which will then enter into your engine through both the intake manifold from when you are idling and the exhaust system when you are running.
When this bad fuel quality gets into your engine, it will cause more wear on the inside of a spark plug and can even start to erode off some of the insulators as well.
This in turn creates electrical shorts that start throwing sparks everywhere instead of just where they need to be for ignition.
This will not only cause a misfire, but it can also throw off the timing of your engine which is bad for performance and gas mileage.
4 Bad fuel filters Bad fuel filters can also be the main culprit behind spark plug going bad fast. The fuel filter acts as a protective barrier for the engine and cleans it of dirt, rust particles, and other contaminants.
When your vehicle’s air intake system is exposed to too much dirt or foreign materials in the gas, this can affect your spark plugs performance.
When you have enough exposure to bad quality fuel filters, there might be instances that even the spark plug will go bad fast.
5. Loose wire connection The causes of spark plug failure are often due to a loose wire connection, low-quality plugs or even improper engine tuning.
It is important that you keep your car tuned up and check the soundness of all wires before replacing any parts related to spark plugs. In addition, make sure you only use high-quality spark plugs to avoid any issues with premature wear.
6. Overheating Basically, overheating of the spark plug’s tip can cause it to wear out prematurely. There are several things that can cause this.
For example, if the engine timing is off and pre-ignition happens, this can result in excess heat buildup in the combustion chamber, which will consequently affect the spark plug.
7. Inappropriate spark plugs gap The metals on the tip have a small gap, which must be measured accurately for your engine when the spark plug is installed.
Now, if the gap is not correct, extra stress can occur on the tip, leading to wear out faster. This is arguably one of the reasons the spark plugs might go bad fast.
8. Leaky head gasket Coolant leaking into the combustion chamber can also lead to spark plug fouling. This is basically a big problem because it can be insanely expensive to fix a leaky head gasket.
A fouled spark plug may be an indication that a head gasket is beginning to leak and should be fixed immediately.
9. Type of engine oil The type and condition of the engine oil. A good quality synthetic engine oil can increase the lifespan of a spark plug by 10%.
10. Paying no attention to your spark plugs Spark plugs also need to be replaced if they are too old. The lifespan of a sparkplug can vary depending on driving conditions and engine make, but it’s generally safe to change them after every 30,000 miles or three years (whichever comes first).
It is important to remember that spark plugs are not meant to be replaced for the sake of it, but if you notice any signs of wear or degradation, then it is time to change them.
How to Prevent Spark Plug Failure
Below are the precautional measures you should take to prevent your spark plugs from going bad fast:
1. Keep engine tuned properly. This can help avoid the need to replace plugs and wires prematurely.
2. Change spark plugs every 30,000 miles or less as needed for your type of vehicle. A loose wire connection usually causes a misfire which could lead to plugged up spark plug holes in the head that will cause hot spots on the platinum.
3. Use a set of spark plugs that are designed for your engine. Using low quality plugs will wear out more quickly, so make sure you buy high grade ones.
4. Disconnect the negative battery cable and wait at least 30 minutes before doing any work on the vehicle to eliminate power shocks from damaging computer components like ECUs or other wiring.
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