Nissan Z - ZX 1970-1988 Repair Guide

Spark Plugs

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See Figure 1

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 travel 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.



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Fig. Fig. 1: Cross-section of a spark plug

The average life of a spark plug is 12,000 miles (19,000 km) for 1970-80 models, or 30,000 miles (48,00 km) for 1981-88 models. This is, however, dependent on a number of factors: the mechanical condition of the engine, the type of fuel, the drive conditions and the driver.

The tips of many late model spark plugs are platinum coated, which extends the life of the plugs.

When you remove the spark plugs, check their condition. They are a good indicator of the condition of the engine. It is a good idea to remove the spark plugs every 6,000 miles (9,600 km) to keep an eye on the mechanical state of the engine.

The gap between the center electrode and the side or ground electrode can be expected to increase not more than 0.011 in. (0.03mm) every 1,000 miles (1,600 km) under normal conditions.

When a spark plug is functioning normally or (more accurately) when the plug is installed in an engine that is functioning properly, the plugs can be taken out, cleaned, regapped and reinstalled in the engine without doing the engine any harm.

NEVER adjust the gap on a used platinum type spark plug. Since this metal is brittle, the electrode will likely snap. If the gap is out of specification, replace the plug(s).

SPARK PLUG HEAT RANGE

See Figure 2

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.



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Fig. Fig. 2: Spark plug heat range

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 2 styles and most people never have the need to change their plugs from the factory-recommended heat range.

REMOVAL & INSTALLATION



See Figures 3 and 4

Remove the spark plugs and wires one at a time to avoid confusion and miswiring during installation.

  1. Disconnect the negative battery cable and, if the vehicle has been run recently, allow the engine to thoroughly cool.
  2.  
  3. 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.
  4.  



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Fig. Fig. 3: Loosen the spark plug ...



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Fig. Fig. 4: ... and remove it from the cylinder head

  1. 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.
  2.  

Remove 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.

  1. Using a spark plug socket 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.
  2.  


WARNING
Be 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.

To install:
  1. Inspect the spark plug boot for tears or damage. If a damaged boot is found, the spark plug wire must be replaced.
  2.  
  3. 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.
  4.  
  5. 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 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.
  6.  


WARNING
Do 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 cross-threading and damaging the cylinder head bore.

  1. Carefully tighten the spark plug. If the plug you are installing is equipped with a crush washer, seat the plug, then tighten about 1 / 4 turn to crush the washer. If you are installing a tapered seat plug, tighten the plug to specifications provided by the vehicle or plug manufacturer.
  2.  
  3. 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.
  4.  

INSPECTION & GAPPING



See Figures 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14

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. 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.

NEVER adjust the gap on a used platinum type spark plug. Since this metal is brittle, the electrode will likely snap. If the gap is out of specification, replace the plug(s).

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 wire type gapping tool is the best way to check the gap. 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.



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Fig. Fig. 5: Inspect the spark plug to determine engine running conditions



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Fig. Fig. 6: A normally worn spark plug should have light tan or gray deposits on the firing tip



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Fig. Fig. 7: A carbon fouled plug, identified by soft, sooty, black deposits, may indicate an improperly tuned vehicle. Check the air cleaner, ignition components and engine control system



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Fig. Fig. 8: A variety of tools and gauges are needed for spark plug service



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Fig. Fig. 9: Checking the spark plug gap with a feeler gauge



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Fig. Fig. 10: A physically damaged spark plug may be evidence of severe detonation in that cylinder. Watch the cylinder carefully between service intervals, as continued detonation will not only damage the plug, but could also damage the engine



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Fig. Fig. 11: An oil fouled spark plug indicates an engine with worn piston rings and/or bad valve seals allowing excessive oil to enter the chamber



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Fig. Fig. 12: Adjusting the spark plug gap



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Fig. Fig. 13: This spark plug has been left in the engine too long, as evidenced by the extreme gap. Plugs with such an extreme gap can cause misfiring and stumbling, accompanied by a noticeable lack of power



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Fig. Fig. 14: A bridged or almost bridged spark plug, identified by a build-up between the electrodes caused by excessive carbon or oil on the plug

 
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