Catera 2000-2001

Spark Plugs


Inspection & Gapping

Worn or dirty spark plugs may operate well at idle speeds, but frequently fail at higher load. Bad spark plugs are often responsible for the following conditions:

Power loss.
Poor fuel economy.
Loss of speed.
Hard starting.
Poor engine performance.

Normal spark plug operation results in brown to grayish tan deposits on the area of the spark plug that enters the cylinder. A small amount of reddish brown, yellow, and white powdery residue may also be present on the insulator tip around the center electrode. These deposits are normal combustion by-products of fuels and lubricating oils which contain additives.

Misfiring is a general term that applies to a poor running engine. With misfiring, the ignition spark is not igniting the air/fuel mixture at the proper time. While other possible causes must be investigated, the spark plugs should be inspected first. Spark voltage should not reach ground before jumping across the gap at the tip of the spark plug. This leaves the air/fuel mixture unburned, causing misfiring. Pre-ignition misfiring occurs when the spark plug tip overheats, igniting the mixture before the spark jumps.

Carbon fouling of the spark plug is indicated by dry carbon deposits on the portion of the spark plug inside of the cylinder. Excess idling and driving at slower speeds under light engine loads can keep the spark plug temperatures so low that these deposits are not burned off. Rich fuels or poor ignition system output may also cause carbon fouling.

Oil fouling of the spark plug appears as wet oily deposits on the portion of the spark plug inside of the cylinder. This may be caused by the following conditions:

Oil getting past worn piston rings.
Breaking in a new or recently overhauled engine.

Deposit fouling of the spark plug occurs when the normal reddish brown, yellow, or white deposits of combustion by-products become sufficient enough to cause misfiring. In some cases, these deposits melt and form a shiny glaze on the insulator around the center electrode. If the fouling is found only in one or two of the cylinders, valve stem clearances or the intake valve seals may be allowing excess lubricating oil to enter the cylinder, particularly if the deposits are heavier on the intake valve side of the spark plug.

Excess gap means that the air space between the center and side electrodes at the bottom of the spark plug is too wide for consistent firing. This may be due to improper gap adjustment or to excess wear of the electrodes during use. A gap that is too small may cause idling instability. Excess gap wear might indicate vehicle operation at continual high speeds or with high engine loads. This causes the spark plugs to run too hot. Excessively lean fuel may also cause the wear.

Improper torque or seating can cause a spark plug to run hot, eventually leading to excess gap wear. In extreme cases, an over tightened or under-tightened spark plug can cause exhaust blow-by. The cylinder head seats must make good contact for sufficient heat transfer and spark plug cooling. Dirty or damaged threads in the head or on the spark plug can keep the spark plug from seating even though the proper torque is applied. Once the spark plugs are properly seated, tighten the spark plugs properly.

Cracked or broken insulators and insulator tips may be the result of improper installation or heat shock.

Heat shock is a rapid increase in the insulator tip temperature which causes the insulator material to crack. The upper insulators can be broken when a poorly-fitting tool is used during servicing, or when the spark plug is hit from the outside. Cracks in the upper insulator may be inside the shell or invisible. The breakage may not cause problems until oil or water penetrates the crack later. Heat shock breakage in the lower insulator tip generally occurs during severe engine operating conditions such as higher RPM or heavy loading. Over advanced timing or low grade fuels may also cause heat shock breakage. Always replace spark plugs with broken or cracked insulators.

Damage during gapping can occur when the tool is pushed against the center electrode or the surrounding insulator, causing the insulator to crack. When gapping a spark plug, bend only the outside electrode. Keep tools free of any other parts.

Spark plugs with less than the recommended amount of service can sometimes be cleaned and regapped, then returned to service. If there is any doubt about the serviceability of a spark plug, replace the spark plug.

Removal & Installation

  1. Before servicing the vehicle, refer to the Precautions section.
  3. Remove the coil pack.
  5. Clean the spark plug recess area with low pressure air.

    Click image to see an enlarged view

    Fig. Spark plug location

  7. Remove the spark plugs from the cylinder head.

To install:

  1. Gap the spark plugs to 0.035-0.043 in. (0.9-1.1 mm).
  3. Install spark plugs and tighten to 19 ft. lbs (25 Nm).
  5. Install the coil pack.