The purpose of this test is to examine the primary current characteristics on an external coil type ignition system.
The orientation of the clamp relative to the wire will determine whether it has a positive or negative output. If a live waveform does not appear on your screen, or appears to be inverted, try reversing the orientation of the clamp.
This known good waveform has the following characteristics:
All (inductive) spark ignition systems use one or more ignition coils. The coils act as both an accumulator, to store energy, and a step-up transformer, to generate the high voltages necessary to produce an electrical spark within a combustion chamber.
An ignition coil consists of a primary coil and a secondary coil, wound around each other in close proximity. The secondary coil has a high ratio of windings to the primary coil. This arrangement creates conditions of high mutual inductance, meaning changes in the magnetic field in the primary coil will produce changes in voltage in the secondary coil.
The primary coil is connected within the primary circuit. When current flows in the primary circuit, energy builds within the coil’s magnetic field. If the current is quickly removed, the magnetic field rapidly collapses and induces a high voltage in the secondary coil. The high voltage is delivered to a spark plug via a secondary circuit.
The time the coil takes to reach its maximum magnetic field strength (its saturation time) depends on the peak primary circuit current, which, in turn, depends on the total primary circuit resistance and the primary coil's tendency to resist the build-up of current (its inductance).
The period during which the current flows within the primary circuit is known as the dwell period (or the dwell angle, if referenced to the angle of crankshaft rotation). The dwell period must be sufficiently long (at all engine speeds) to allow the primary coil to reach maximum magnetic field strength (i.e. to saturate).
The peak current and dwell period are Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for primary circuit control. Please refer to manufacturer’s technical information to find the specifications for your vehicle.
Distributor based ignition systems use a single ignition coil.
The switching of the primary circuit can be controlled using one of two mechanisms:
Most mechanically triggered primary circuits require a ballast resistor to regulate the current flow, whereas a transistorised system is able to vary the current more freely.
A component rotating internally within the distributor, the rotor, directs the secondary voltages to each of the engine’s spark plugs, in their firing order, as it passes peripheral electrodes connected to the spark plug leads.
Typical coil faults
A coil is susceptible to typical circuit related issues in both its primary and secondary windings, such as open or short circuits or high resistances. These may be caused by the breakdown of its windings (due to excessive thermal or vibration stress) or corroded connections.
Symptoms of a faulty coil can be:
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