A typical spark plug consists of a metal shell surrounding a ceramic insulator. A metal electrode extends downward through the center of the insulator and protrudes a small distance. Located at the end of the plug and attached to the side of the outer metal shell is the side electrode. The side electrode bends in at a 90( angle so that its tip is just past and parallel to the tip of the center electrode. The distance between these two electrodes (measured in thousandths of an inch or hundredths of a millimeter) is called the spark plug gap.
The spark plug does not produce a spark, but instead provides a gap across which the current can arc. The coil produces anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 volts (depending on the type and application) which travels through the wires to the spark plugs. The current passes along the center electrode and jumps the gap to the side electrode, and in doing so, ignites the air/fuel mixture in the combustion chamber.
Inspection & Gapping
Cold Fouling/Carbon Fouling: Cold fouling is sometimes referred to as carbon fouling. The deposits that cause cold fouling are basically carbon. A dry, black deposit on one or two plugs in a set may be caused by sticking valves or defective spark plug cables. Cold (carbon) fouling of the entire set of spark plugs may be caused by a clogged air cleaner element or repeated short operating times (short trips).
Wet Fouling or Gas Fouling: A spark plug coated with excessive wet fuel or oil is wet fouled. In older engines, worn piston rings, leaking valve guide seals or excessive cylinder wear can cause wet fouling. In new or recently overhauled engines, wet fouling may occur before break-in (normal oil control) is achieved. This condition can usually be resolved by cleaning and reinstalling the fouled plugs.
Oil or Ash Encrusted: If one or more spark plugs are oil or oil ash encrusted, evaluate engine condition for the cause of oil entry into that particular combustion chamber.
Electrode Gap Bridging: Electrode gap bridging may be traced to loose deposits in the combustion chamber. These deposits accumulate on the spark plugs during continuous stop-and-go driving. When the engine is suddenly subjected to a high torque load, deposits partially liquefy and bridge the gap between electrodes. This short circuits the electrodes. Spark plugs with electrode gap bridging can be cleaned using standard procedures.
Scavenger Deposits: Fuel scavenger deposits may be either white or yellow. They may appear to be harmful, but this is a normal condition caused by chemical additives in certain fuels. These additives are designed to change the chemical nature of deposits and decrease spark plug misfire tendencies. Notice that accumulation on the ground electrode and shell area may be heavy, but the deposits are easily removed. Spark plugs with scavenger deposits can be considered normal in condition and can be cleaned using standard procedures.
Chipped Electrode Insulator: A chipped electrode insulator usually results from bending the center electrode while adjusting the spark plug electrode gap. Under certain conditions, severe detonation can also separate the insulator from the center electrode. Spark plugs with this condition must be replaced.
Pre-Ignition Damage: Pre-ignition damage is usually caused by excessive combustion chamber temperature. The center electrode dissolves first and the ground electrode dissolves somewhat latter. Insulators appear relatively deposit free. Determine if the spark plug has the correct heat range rating for the engine. Determine if ignition timing is over advanced or if other operating conditions are causing engine overheating. (The heat range rating refers to the operating temperature of a particular type spark plug. Spark plugs are designed to operate within specific temperature ranges. This depends upon the thickness and length of the center electrodes porcelain insulator.)
Spark Plug Overheating: Overheating is indicated by a white or gray center electrode insulator that also appears blistered. The increase in electrode gap will be considerably in excess of 0.001 inch per 2000 miles of operation. This suggests that a plug with a cooler heat range rating should be used. Over advanced ignition timing, detonation and cooling system malfunctions can also cause spark plug overheating.
Check the plugs for deposits and wear. If they are not going to be replaced, clean the plugs thoroughly. Remember that any kind of deposit will decrease the efficiency of the plug. Plugs can be cleaned on a spark plug cleaning machine, which can sometimes be found in service stations, or you can do an acceptable job of cleaning with a stiff brush, however, platinum-tipped plugs should never be cleaned with a wire brush. If the plugs are cleaned, the electrodes must be filed flat. Use an ignition points file, not an emery board or the like, which will leave deposits. The electrodes must be filed perfectly flat with sharp edges; rounded edges reduce the spark plug voltage by as much as 50%.
Check spark plug gap before installation. The ground electrode (the L-shaped one connected to the body of the plug) must be parallel to the center electrode and the specified size wire gauge (please refer to the Tune-Up Specifications chart for details) must pass between the electrodes with a slight drag.
Always check the gap on new plugs as they are not always set correctly at the factory. Do not use a flat feeler gauge when measuring the gap on a used plug, because the reading may be inaccurate. A round-wire type gapping tool is the best way to check the gap. The correct gauge should pass through the electrode gap with a slight drag. If you're in doubt, try one size smaller and one larger. The smaller gauge should go through easily, while the larger one shouldn't go through at all. Wire gapping tools usually have a bending tool attached. Use that to adjust the side electrode until the proper distance is obtained. Absolutely never attempt to bend the center electrode. Also, be careful not to bend the side electrode too far or too often as it may weaken and break off within the engine, requiring removal of the cylinder head to retrieve it.
Removal & Installation
Grasping the spark plug boot firmly and with a twisting pulling motion, disconnect the spark plug wires from the spark plugs.
NOTEIf an original spark plug is reused, install it in the same cylinder from which it was removed. New spark plugs can be used in any cylinder.
NOTEUse compressed air to remove any debris from the spark plug well before removing the spark plugs.
- Remove the spark plugs.
- Inspect the spark plugs. If necessary, clean the spark plugs with a wire brush or a professional spark plug cleaner (follow the manufacturer's instructions).
- Adjust the spark plug gap as required.
- Set gap to 0.052-0.056 inches (1.3-1.4mm).
Install the spark plugs.
NOTEWhenever an ignition wire is reinstalled, or a new one is installed, apply dielectric compound to the interior surface of the spark plug wire boot.
- Connect the ignition wires to the spark plugs.
A set of spark plugs usually requires replacement after about 20,000-30,000 miles (32,000-48,000 km), depending on your style of driving. On 1993-98 3.0L engines, the factory recommends plug replacement every 30,000 miles (48,000 km). The factory recommended replacement interval for platinum-tipped spark plugs used in 1999-00 3.3L engines is every 105,000 miles (168,000 km).
In normal operation plug gap increases about 0.001 in. (0.025mm) for every 2500 miles (4000 km). As the gap increases, the plug's voltage requirement also increases. It requires a greater voltage to jump the wider gap and about two to three times as much voltage to fire the plug at high speeds than at idle. The improved air/fuel ratio control of modern fuel injection combined with the higher voltage output of modern ignition systems will often allow an engine to run significantly longer on a set of standard spark plugs, but keep in mind that efficiency will drop as the gap widens (along with fuel economy and power).
When you're removing spark plugs, work on one at a time. Don't start by removing the plug wires all at once, because, unless you number them, they may become mixed up. Take a minute before you begin and number the wires with tape.
- Disconnect the negative battery cable, and if the vehicle has been run recently, allow the engine to thoroughly cool.
- Carefully twist the spark plug wire boot to loosen it, then pull upward and remove the boot from the plug. Be sure to pull on the boot and not on the wire, otherwise the connector located inside the boot may become separated.
Using compressed air, blow any water or debris from the spark plug well to assure that no harmful contaminants are allowed to enter the combustion chamber when the spark plug is removed. If compressed air is not available, use a rag or a brush to clean the area.
NOTERemove the spark plugs when the engine is cold, if possible, to prevent damage to the threads. If removal of the plugs is difficult, apply a few drops of penetrating oil or silicone spray to the area around the base of the plug, and allow it a few minutes to work.
Using a spark plug socket that is equipped with a rubber insert to properly hold the plug, turn the spark plug counterclockwise to loosen and remove the spark plug from the bore.
WARNINGBe sure not to use a flexible extension on the socket. Use of a flexible extension may allow a shear force to be applied to the plug. A shear force could break the plug off in the cylinder head, leading to costly and frustrating repairs.
- Inspect the spark plug boot for tears or damage. If a damaged boot is found, the spark plug wire must be replaced.
- Using a wire feeler gauge, check and adjust the spark plug gap. When using a gauge, the proper size should pass between the electrodes with a slight drag. The next larger size should not be able to pass while the next smaller size should pass freely.
Carefully thread the plug into the bore by hand. If resistance is felt before the plug is almost completely threaded, back the plug out and begin threading again. In small, hard to reach areas, an old spark plug wire and boot could be used as a threading tool. The boot will hold the plug while you twist the end of the wire and the wire is supple enough to twist before it would allow the plug to crossthread.
WARNINGDo not use the spark plug socket to thread the plugs. Always carefully thread the plug by hand or using an old plug wire to prevent the possibility of crossthreading and damaging the cylinder head bore.
- Carefully tighten the spark plug to 25 Nm (18 ft. lbs.) for both 3.0L and 3.3L engines.
Apply a small amount of silicone dielectric compound to the end of the spark plug lead or inside the spark plug boot to prevent sticking, then install the boot to the spark plug and push until it clicks into place. The click may be felt or heard, then gently pull back on the boot to assure proper contact.
Spark Plug Heat Range
Spark plug heat range is the ability of the plug to dissipate heat. The longer the insulator (or the farther it extends into the engine), the hotter the plug will operate; the shorter the insulator (the closer the electrode is to the block's cooling passages) the cooler it will operate. A plug that absorbs little heat and remains too cool will quickly accumulate deposits of oil and carbon since it is not hot enough to burn them off. This leads to plug fouling and consequently to misfiring. A plug that absorbs too much heat will have no deposits but, due to the excessive heat, the electrodes will burn away quickly and might possibly lead to preignition or other ignition problems. Preignition takes place when plug tips get so hot that they glow sufficiently to ignite the air/fuel mixture before the actual spark occurs. This early ignition will usually cause a pinging during low speeds and heavy loads.
The general rule of thumb for choosing the correct heat range when picking a spark plug is: if most of your driving is long distance, high speed travel, use a colder plug; if most of your driving is stop and go, use a hotter plug. Original equipment plugs are generally a good compromise between the two styles and most people never have the need to change their plugs from the factory-recommended heat range.