Secondary - Distributorless system (coil per cylinder) negative-fired

You will require a PicoScope to perform this test. A list of suitable accessories can be found at the bottom of this page.

How to perform the test

  1. Plug a secondary ignition pick-up lead into Channel A on the PicoScope.
  2. Fit the lead's clip onto a suitable earth and the HT clip onto one of the engine's plug leads. If connecting to a coil-per-cylinder system, a HT extension adapter will be required between the spark plug and the coil. The HT pick-up lead is then clipped onto this extension.

Whilst all coil-per-cylinder systems have negative-fired spark plugs, on the Distributorless Ignition System (DIS) you have to identify the positive and negative-fired plugs. If the HT waveform is missing from the live readings, or appears inverted, a positively-fired plug has been incorrectly selected, so either choose a different plug lead to test or load the example secondary positive waveform from the drop-down menu.

Warning: When attaching or removing secondary ignition pickups from damaged HT leads there is a danger of electric shock. To eliminate this possibility, switch the ignition off before attaching or removing the secondary ignition pickup.

Figure 1 shows a HT pick-up lead on a negative-fired plug leaf on a DIS system.

Example waveform

Waveform notes

When the plug kV's are viewed on a DIS or coil-per-cylinder ignition system, the waveform should be in the orientation shown and not inverted, as this would suggest that either the wrong polarity has been selected from the menu or, in the case of DIS, the wrong plug lead chosen. The plug voltage continuously fluctuates while the engine is running, causing the waveform to move up and down. To find the maximum voltage at the spark plug, use the 'Ch A: Maximum (kV)' reading at the bottom of the screen.

Snap the throttle and observe the voltage change when the engine is under load. This is the only time that the plugs are placed under any strain and is a fair assessment of how they will perform on the road.

The part of the waveform immediately following the trigger point, at approximately -1.3 kV, is known as the sparkline voltage. This is the voltage required to keep the plug firing after the spark has initially jumped the gap. This voltage is proportional to the resistance in the secondary circuit. The sparkline in the example lasts for about 1.4 ms. This is the spark duration, the length of time for which the spark is active in the plug gap.

Further information on secondary waveforms can be found in the 'Secondary - distributor system king (or plug) lead' information pages, selected from the main menu.

Technical information

The coil consists of a primary winding that surrounds the secondary winding. The secondary winding is coiled around a multi-laminated iron core and has about 20,000 to 30,000 turns. One end is connected to the primary terminal and the other to the coil tower.

The High Tension (HT) voltage is produced by mutual induction between the primary winding and the secondary winding, the central soft iron core intensifying the magnetic field between them.

The voltage measured at the spark plug is the voltage required to jump the plug gap in varying conditions, and is determined by any or all of the following:

The plug kV's are increased by: The plug kv's are decreased by:
Large plug gaps Small plug gaps
A large rotor air gap Low compression
A break in a plug lead Rich mixture
A break in the king lead Incorrect ignition timing
Worn spark plug Tracking to earth
A lean mixture Fouled plugs
Rotor to reluctor misalignment  

The plug kilovolt (kV) requirements of older engines tend to be lower than those of modern engines, as later designs run higher compression ratios, leaner air/fuel ratios and larger spark plug gaps.

The modern engine with a Distributorless Ignition System (DIS) has all the advantages of a constant energy electronic ignition system, but with the added bonus of eliminating the distributor cap, king lead and rotor arm from the system. Reliability problems from dampness and tracking are now almost eliminated.

Wasted Spark Coil Pack

DIS has its own drawbacks by having half of the plugs firing with an acceptable negative voltage, while the other half are fired by the less acceptable positive polarity. This causes pronounced plug wear on the positive-fired plugs.

This system fires the plugs each revolution instead of every other, and is known as a wasted spark system. This does not mean that the plugs will wear at twice the normal rate, as the wasted spark is on the exhaust stroke and is therefore under no compression. If the spark plugs are removed after several thousand miles and examined, two of the plugs will show almost square electrodes, while the plugs that have been fired positive will have pronounced plug wear.

Figure 2 shows an example wasted-spark coil pack.


This help topic is subject to changes without notification. The information within is carefully checked and considered to be correct. This information is an example of our investigations and findings and is not a definitive procedure. Pico Technology accepts no responsibility for inaccuracies. Each vehicle may be different and require unique test settings.

Suitable accessories

  • Secondary ignition pickup (capacitive with BNC)


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Guided test: Secondary DIS / CPC (Negative-fired)