An ignition pickup coil is a component of the ignition system on many older vehicles that feature a distributor.
In order to ignite the compressed air and fuel mixture inside of the combustion chambers (cylinders) in your gasoline powered engine, the spark plugs must “spark” in each cylinder at a specific time during the rotation of the crankshaft. If the spark (really, an electrical arc) is off by even a thousandth of a second, too late or too early, it could affect engine performance and fuel economy - or even cause engine damage in certain conditions.
To get this timing right, modern engines rely on computer-controlled ignitions, where the engine computer, the engine control module (or ECM), receives data as to the position of the crankshaft in its rotation from a device known as a crankshaft position sensor. That data is used to calculate when each spark plug should fire, and the ECM signals the coils to do the job of firing.
Older engines, however, used a different method. They relied on a distributor, an electric and mechanical device driven by the camshaft. The distributor would “distribute” electricity to each spark plug in turn. Electronic distributors used a pickup coil to monitor the rotation of the distributor (and, indirectly, the crankshaft) and trigger the ignition system at the proper time through the ignition control module. Newer “distributorless” ignitions do not have an ignition pickup coil.
Because the ignition pickup coil functions as the main trigger for the ignition system, if it is malfunctioning, the ignition control module will not receive the correct signal - or may receive no signal at all. The result is improper timing of the spark plugs and combustion in each cylinder. Engine performance will be directly affected. Your engine could stall or fail to start. You might suspect the ignition pickup coil if you notice any of the following signs:
If your vehicle features an electronic distributor ignition, a technician will take the following general steps to replace the ignition pickup coil:
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