Spark plugs are essential to making your car run properly, especially since without working spark plugs, your car might not start at all.
It all starts with the alternator which creates the electrical charge that runs to the spark plugs and then through wires going to the ignition system. The electrical arcs cause the ignition of fuel that ultimately results in the combustion that makes your pistons go up and down. The pistons cause the engine to turn.
Without the spark that is created by the spark plugs, your car quite literally will not start.
Understanding How Spark Plugs Wear Down
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Over time, spark plugs are going to wear down. Most manufacturers rate spark plugs to 30,000 miles except for extended-life spark plugs that are rated to 100,000 miles, but realistically, they should be checked at 80,000 miles at most with regular checks every 30,000 miles.
Think about that for a second. At 80,000 miles, your spark plugs are 80% worn, which leaves a small but crucial 20% window to get them checked and replaced.
For a 30,000-mile spark plug, you would be looking at getting your spark plugs checked at around the 24,000-mile mark, maintaining that 20% replacement window.
If your spark plugs have remained in place without ever having been checked, you could be in for a rough time if they happen to seize. Seizing can cost you a lot of money to get the issue repaired because it will likely affect the cylinders, too.
The part of the spark plug that you’ll notice wearing down is the electrode. It is the small rod that comes out of the center with a metal hook off to the side. The electrical charge makes an arc between the rod and the hook.
As the rod wears down, the electrical arc strength decreases until eventually there is no arc left. Without an electrical charge, you’ll feel it in your engine.
How Often to Change Spark Plugs
How often you change your spark plugs depends on two things. First, it depends on the spark plugs you’re using, and second, it depends on what your owner’s manual suggests. If you’re not sure about what spark plugs you have in your vehicle, then it’s in your best interest to follow what the owner manual says.
Extended life spark plugs don’t need to be replaced as often, as mentioned earlier. When you’re looking for extended life spark plugs, they are usually made of platinum or iridium as those metals are stronger and last longer.
Sports cars tend to need more frequent spark plug replacements as these are most often high-performance spark plugs. The electrode tends to wear down faster in high-performance spark plugs due to the higher demands that are placed upon the overall system.
If you are leaking oil, you may need to replace your spark plugs sooner than you thought. Oil will get to the base of the spark plug which can lead to contamination. Prevent contamination by replacing the spark plugs as soon as possible once the leak has been fixed.
Do you like to rev your engine? If you do, you’re adding to the wear on your spark plugs every time you push the gas pedal down. Heavy-footed drivers will go through more spark plugs while drivers that tend to drive with less pressure will have spark plugs last longer.
Three Signs You Need to Change Your Spark Plugs
You’ll know you need to change your spark plugs when certain things happen. While it’s always better to be preventative with your vehicle maintenance, you can’t always tell when your spark plugs are going to go. With that in mind, here are some signs that you should recognize as clues to needing to change your spark plugs.
1. Rough Idle
Do you feel like your car is running roughly as it sits idling? If so, you are likely in need of spark plugs. When your spark plugs are working appropriately, your car will feel smooth as it sits. If your spark plugs need to be changed, you’ll feel and hear a jittery sound coming from your engine.
2. Engine Surges
Have you ever felt your car jerk forward or into gear when you push your gas pedal down? That’s a sign that you might need new spark plugs. Acceleration may also slow down. It happens because your engine isn’t working at its optimal capacity and therefore needs to be checked.
3. Fuel Consumption
Do you think you’re using more gas than average? It’s possible because as your spark plugs deteriorate, your fuel consumption increases. The consumption increases because it’s not burning and igniting the way its supposed to. This issue is easy to fix with new spark plugs.
Learning How Often to Change Spark Plugs
First and foremost, check your owners’ manual for explicit instructions on what you need to do. Once you’ve done that, do your homework and read up on your car model’s manufacturer to see if you can change them yourself. Of course, if you’d rather, you can always take it to a professional to get it done, too.