Car Maintenance 101: Checking your Rotor and Distributor Cap

When it comes to vehicle repair, the distributor cap is hardly mentioned as one of the main sources of vehicle problems. But despite being a relatively low-key part of your ignition system, the distributor cap is actually one of the most important parts of your ride.

If you have a damaged distributor cap, expect to have problems starting your car. While if your distributor cap is damaged beyond repair or if it’s missing from your ride completely, your engine simply won’t turn over. In short, your vehicle won’t start at all.

Your car’s distributor cap is usually easy to locate. You can find it at the other end of your ignition wires and spark plugs. It is designed to act as the main covering of your ignition system’s distributor. And while replacing your distributor cap and its rotor isn’t necessarily a part of your tune-up process, you still need to inspect this auto component and clean it if it shows signs of clogging or dirt buildup.

Because your vehicle’s distributor cap is a crucial part of your ignition system, not to mention the fact that it carries voltage, this part automatically becomes prone to damage. The following are some signs of damage that may indicate that you need to replace your distributor cap as soon as possible:

  • excessive carbon buildup or dirt which you can’t clean (usually on, under or around the actual cap itself)
  • signs of fire damage or a burnt appearance
  • a broken terminal (usually where the ignition wires reaches the topmost part of the cap)
  • cracks or breakage on the cap

Even if you can’t spot signs of damage outside or around the cap, you still need to remove the cap and inspect what’s inside it. In most cases, you’ll also have to clean the distributor cap, so you may need to have a small, round brush near you.

When removing your distributor cap, keep the ignition wires that lead to your spark plugs attached. This would help you reconnect the wires later on, in case you have to replace your distributor cap.

While it may be tempting to do so (because it does seem easier), please DO NOT try to remove your distributor cap by yanking your ignition wires hard. Doing so could damage your ignition wires and distributor cap (or even both).

Because there is a slight variation on the different types of distributor caps used on various vehicle makes and models, removing the distributor cap may differ depending on the type of cap you have.

If you have a distributor cap that is spring-loaded with a clip, remove the cap by disengaging the clips.

If, however, you have a distributor cap that’s secured using a couple of screws, remove the screws and set them aside before firmly but gently disengaging the distributor cap.

Once the cap is off, look for signs of damage inside the cap. There should be at least one vent on the cap. Make sure the vent is not clogged with debris and carbon buildup. If there are traces of dirt buildup on the cap’s vent, try to dislodge the dirt using a small brush, but be careful not to damage the actual cap or the distributor cap’s surrounding structures.

After cleaning your distributor cap, replace it on your distributor and make sure that the cap is securely in place.

NOTE: When cleaning your distributor cap, don’t use compressed air or solvent to clear out its vent. This can only lead to more damage on the cap. Instead, use a small brush to rid your cap of dirt.

If you have a damaged distributor cap in your hands, or if the dirt buildup has hardened and can no longer be cleaned, you’ll need to replace it.

NOTE: Most distributor kits and tune-up kits contain a distributor cap and a rotor.

The following are some steps on how to replace your distributor cap.


Remember the part where I told you that you should keep your ignition wires attached—the reason behind this request is so that you’ll know which wire goes where. This should give you a good idea on how to transfer each wire into its corresponding terminals found on your replacement distributor cap.

  1. Secure the cap onto the distributor.
  2. Remove your ignition wires one by one and attach them into their right place on your new cap. Make sure all the wires and the cap itself is firmly and correctly in place.
  3. Recheck for signs of slack.
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One Response to Car Maintenance 101: Checking your Rotor and Distributor Cap

  1. [...] Source: Auto Mechanic | Auto Mechanic Repair and Maintenance Tips [...]

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