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How To Replace Spark Plugs

author By Anna Finger
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The Spark Plug: Part Of Your Tune-Up

Replacing Spark Plugs

So, what exactly is a tune up? It used to be that when someone said they were going to "get a tune up" they meant opening up the hood of your car with a bunch of tools and do a series of things such as replace your condensers, adjust your ignition points, set engine timing and change the spark plugs. All but one of these things is still considered a part of your do it yourself tune-up. You guessed it - replacing your spark plugs It's an easy do it yourself job and will helps to make your vehicle run more smoothly. The other plus is that it will also improve your gas mileage.

A Spark plug. So... what is that exactly? Basically, a spark plug is a high voltage bridge used to transfer electricity. The spark plug contains a bridge. The bridge can be described as a short gap between two contact points inside your engine. When the electric current crosses that "bridge", sparks and ignites the gas vapors. This is what makes your engine turn over or run.

How long do spark plugs conduct a spark before they need to be replaced? Well, that depends on a few things. For one, the condition of your engine is a factor. The second factor is the fuel you use and its purity. Driving habits also factor into the life of your spark plugs. The one good thing about replacing spark plugs is that they are relatively inexpensive and well worth the money to change when necessary.

When changing spark plugs you might want to check the plug wires as well. For most cars, changing spark plugs can be done quickly. Follow the instructions step by step. If any part of the step is out of order, it will create more problems to fix.


Locate Your Tools

The first thing you will need to do is get your tools together.
  • ratchet wrench
  • 12-inch socket extension
  • spark plug socket for your car
That's it. Remember: Follow the order precisely and it's a piece of cake.
Ratchet Fitting

Locate The Spark Plugs

Gather your spark plugs. Follow the thick, rubber wires under the hood and you will find the spark plugs. You will find one spark plug at the end of each wire. What kind of engine do you have? If you engine is a 4-cylinder type, the four spark plugs should be located at the top of the engine in a row clearly displayed. If you have a V8 engine, you'll have to reach down carefully on both sides of your engine to remove them. For the V* type engine there will be four on the left side and four on the right side. Some of us have a 6-cylinder engine. Just let your hands follow the wires and you'll find the plugs.

Removing Your Spark Plug Wire


Why? You see, your spark plugs fire up in a specific order. If you pull them all out at once, you might forget the order. This is bad news and you'll be stuck trying to get them back in the right order. It's better to REPLACE THEM ONE AT A TIME.

Start at the end of the row. Grasping the plug wire from the end of the plug and as closely to the engine as possible, pull the wire out. The plug can be a bit stubborn sometimes; you may need wiggle it a little to get it off. For those of you with 4-cylinder engine with spark plug wires running into the top, your plugs may be located at the bottom of a hole. If you have one of these, just pull the plug straight up and a long rubber boot will come out of the hole.

BE CAREFUL. Don't just yank the wire out from any spot. If the wire is pulled out of the rubber boot, you may wind up having to buy new plug wires. This could run you more than $100 for just one set so be careful!

Spark Plugs

Removing The Spark Plug

After removing just that one plug wire, put the spark plug socket and the 12-inch socket extension on your ratchet. If you look inside the spark plug socket, you will see black foam or rubber on the inside of the socket. That rubber (foam) on the inside is what grips the spark plug while you pull it out and replace it into your vehicle's engine.

If for some reason your socket doesn't have the rubber on the inside, you can do the following.
  1. Clean the socket
  2. Cut off a half-inch or less of electrical tape.
  3. Stick the tape onto the inside of the clean socket.

The tape will make the plug socket grip more securely so that you can hold it. You can also try using masking tape in place of electrical tape.

Spark Plug Removed Removing Spark Plug
With your ratchet wrench set, slide your wrench over the end of the plug and push it on as far as it will go. Loosen the plug by turning counter-clockwise remove the old plug.

How Does The Spark Plug Look?

Take a good look at your old spark plug. You might notice it to be a little dirty on one end. That's normal. If your spark plug is white or oily, this may indicate other issues so take specific note of their appearance. You should take this time to check the porcelain insulator to see if it is cracked.
Take a look at the end you pulled the plug wire out of is set up. Some ends are threaded like a screw. Others may have a large metal cap on the end. So check, and make that your new spark plugs are set up like the way the old ones you are replacing were.

Insert The New Plug

Once the wire end of your spark plug is set up, you can put it into your automobile.

Your spark plugs already have that small gap set so you do not need any special tools to set the gap correctly. You normally order spark plugs that are made specifically for your car so, again, the gap will already be set.
Clean Spark Plugs
Insert the plug-wire end of the spark plug in the socket and, holding only the extension, push it until it is all the way in. Now with great care, guide the spark plug inside the hole. DO NOT ram it in or handle it roughly as this night damage the gap or the spark plug itself. While the plug is still in the hole, begin screwing the new plug in by hand first. If you use your hands firs, before finishing with the wrench, it will keep you from accidentally cross-threading one of the spark plugs. Continue to screw the plug in by hand until it stops, then use the wrench to tighten it. If you happen to have a torque wrench, you can torque it to specification. Otherwise, just use your ratchet wrench and tighten with out over-tightening. If you over-tighten, the plug the metal inside could be damaged since it is soft and fragile.

Now, you can put the plug wire back on.
Installing New Spark Plug

Complete Plug Replacement And Test

Once you can successfully replace one spark plug. Just repeat the procedure for all the rest going on spark plug at a time until all are done.
When you finished, start up your vehicle and listen to your engine for that sweet sound! If your engine doesn't start, ask your self if you followed all the instruction and took the plugs out one at time. If your engine is running really rough or if hear a loud back fir then you may have crossed the plug wires. Any of these symptoms will need to be addressed immediately.

Go back and look at your engine's plug firing order. Match that to the points on the distributor cap after you set the engine to top dead center. Now, put them all back on.
Spark Plugs Installed
If you replace them one at a time, you will not have to go through the above. Once you start the engine and it runs smooth, you're finished.