Secondary - Distributorless system (positive-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 pickup lead into Channel A on the PicoScope.
  2. Clip the lead's clip onto a suitable earth.
  3. Fit the HT clip onto one of the engine's positively-fired plug leads.

If the live waveform is missing or upside-down, you have selected a negatively fired plug. Either choose a different plug lead or load the secondary negative waveform from the drop-down menu.

Warning: When attaching or removing secondary ignition pickups from damaged HT leads there is a risk of electric shock. To eliminate this danger, attach and remove the secondary ignition pickup with the ignition turned off.

Figure 1 shows a HT pick-up lead fitted to a positive-fired plug lead on a DIS system.

Example waveform

Waveform notes

When the positive fired plug kV's are recorded on Distributorless Ignition Systems (DIS), the voltage should be as shown and not inverted, as this would suggest that the wrong lead has been chosen.

While the engine is running, the plug voltage continuously fluctuates and the display moves up and down. To record 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 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 after the trigger point is known as the sparkline voltage, and is at about 0.75 kV. This is the voltage required to keep the spark alive after it has jumped the gap. This voltage is proportional to the resistance in the secondary circuit. The length of the line is about approximately 1.4 ms. This is the spark duration, the length of time the spark exists in the plug gap.

It is worth remembering that a positive fired spark plug will require a greater voltage to fire it than a negative fired plug. This is because, when the plug gets hot, negative electrons 'boil away' from the metal surface in a process called thermionic emission. This can be seen as greater wear on the plug's electrode than for a negative-fired plug.

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

Technical information

Inside the coil's primary winding is the secondary winding. This is coiled around a multi-laminated iron core and has approximately 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, with the central soft iron core intensifying the magnetic field between them.

The secondary HT voltage produced by the coil is allocated to the appropriate spark plug by the ignition system.

The voltage measured at the spark plug is the voltage required to jump the plug gap in varying conditions. This voltage is determined by the following:

The plug kV's will be increased by: The plug kV's will be 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 plugs Tracked to earth
A lean mixture Fould plugs
Rotor to reluctor misalignment  

The plug kilovolt (kV) requirement of older engines tends to be lower than that of the modern engine, as the later designs run higher compression ratios, leaner air/fuel ratios and larger spark plug gaps.

The modern engine with Distributorless Ignition System (DIS) has all the advantages of a constant energy electronic ignition system, but with the added bonus of the distributor cap, king lead and rotor arm being removed 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 has the effect of increased 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 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, they will be found to have relatively square electrodes, while the plugs that have been fired positive will have pronounced plug wear.

Figure 2 shows an example wasted spark coil.


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)


Share your experience

If you have any suggestions to improve this guided test please do so using the 'add comment' button.

Add comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Guided test: Secondary DIS (Positive-fired)