How to Replace the Distributor in Cars

by Contributing Writer

Many Ford car use a distributor to send high voltage currents through the spark plug wires to make the spark plugs spark at the right time. The distributor gets these currents from the ignition coil. Replacing these items at the time of distributor replacement could improve the performance of ignition system if the vehicle's operation is close to the recommended interval.

Under The Hood:

 How to Replace the Distributor in a Dodge Ram

Replacing Distributors: 1994 to 1997 models

Find the distributor at the back of the engine block. It's cramped back there, but you can find the distributor by the spark plug wires running to it.

Use a wrench to unbolt the air cleaner assembly and disconnect any connecting tubes necessary for access. Also remove the throttle body--a round piece on the top of the block with one or two holes in it--and the plenum chamber next to it on V-8 engines. For all engines, unscrew the distributor low-tension wires from their connector, and unscrew the high-tension lead from the coil.

Label each spark plug wire before removing it from the distributor cap, if you have to remove the wires for cap removal. Unscrew the screws or unfasten the clips to remove the cap. Check the distributor rotor to be sure it points to the CYL NO. 1 mark on the camshaft position sensor mounting plate, if your Ram has one. This is necessary for proper installation later.

Make a mark on the distributor housing position lining it up with the engine block, as well as the distributor shaft or rotor relative to the distributor housing. Use this to align pieces for installation later.

Unbolt the distributor hold-down bolt with a wrench, remove the clamp, and lift out the distributor. The rotor will turn when the driven gear unmeshes with the drive gear. After the piece is clear, mark the rotor position relative to the drive gear.

Carefully lift the distributor assembly out of the engine. Note that the rotor will turn as the driven gear unmeshes with the drive gear. When clear of the drive gear, matchmark the position of the rotor. This will be the starting position when reinstalling the distributor.

Install the rotor so it lines up with the last mark made as the distributor came out. For six-cylinder engines, part number 21207E from Parts Train will fit, though the number differs by manufacturer. Lower the distributor slowly and carefully into the hole. The gears will mesh and the rotor will start to turn. The distributor shaft tongue must go into the slot in the oil pump shaft.

Check all alignments after the distributor is firmly in place--the engine block and distributor housing marks, as well as the rotor and distributor housing marks. Tighten the hold-down bolt on the distributor to 200 inch pounds. (22.5 Nm). Reassemble everything in reverse order from Step 3, then Step 2.

Replacing Distributors: 1998 to 2005 models

Trace the spark plug wires to the distributor; it will be at the back of the engine block, in a cramped space.

Disconnect the negative battery cable to the distributor and unhook the air cleaner tube. Unscrew or unhook the clamps holding the distributor cap in place, and unscrew the Camshaft Position (CMP) sensor connector with a screwdriver.

Matchmark the distributor housing and the rotor for later realignment, as well as the distributor housing and the intake manifold. Unbolt the holding clamp and remove the distributor.

Set the engine at Top Dead Center (TDC) mark of the No. 1 cylinder compression stroke with a socket with breaker bar (long-handled ratchet).

Install the Ram distributor, replace the clamp and lightly tighten the bolt. The distributor part number is A1303801 from Parts Train, but numbers differ from different manufacturers. Order using the model, year and engine size.

Turn the distributor in its seating so the rotor lines up with the No. 1 cylinder mark on the Camshaft Position (CMP) sensor. Bolt the clamp bolt to 200 foot pounds (22.5 Nm).

Reattach the CMP sensor connector and use the screws or clamps to replace the distributor cap. Connect the air cleaner tube and the negative battery cable.

Items you will need

  • Screwdriver

  • Wrench

  • Socket with breaker bar (long ratchet)

  • Distributor

 How to Replace the Distributor in a Toyota Camry

Trace the spark plug wires to the distributor, which is on the right side of the engine block as you face it. Unhook the cable from the negative battery terminal.

Pull off the air cleaner hose as well as all spark plug wires from the spark plugs; leave the spark plug wires connected to the distributor cap. Label them so you don't mix them up.

Mark the distributor flange's position in relation to the cylinder head. Remove the distributor hold-down bolt(s) with a wrench. Lift out the distributor assembly. Get rid of the old O-ring from the distributor housing.

Set the No. 1 piston at the Top Dead Center (TDC) mark by turning the crankshaft bolt clockwise; you'll find it in the pulley near the bottom of the engine. Use a long-handled ratchet (breaker bar) to turn the engine. The timing mark on the crankshaft pulley must line up with the 0 mark on the No. 1 indicator on the timing belt cover.

Oil lightly the new O-ring with clean engine oil and install; the O-ring will be a separate purchase from the distributor. Align the distributor with the line of the housing.

Place the distributor into the cylinder head; line up the center of the flange with the bolt hole in the cylinder head. Order part number 84170N for 2.2L or 3.0L engines from 1993 to 95 from Parts Train (see Resources); part numbers differ by manufacturers. Now align the flange with the mark you made on the cylinder head. Use a wrench and tighten the hold-down bolts lightly.

Reconnect the spark plug wires to the correct spark plugs. Also, reconnect the distributor connectors, the air cleaner hose and the negative battery cable. Connect the negative battery cable. Reset digital equipment such as radio memory and the clock. Tighten down the hold-down bolts.

Items you will need

  • Wrench

  • Breaker bar

  • O-ring

  • Distributor

 How to Replace the Distributor in a Nissan Altima

Removing the Distributor

Look for the distributor on the engine block of the Nissan Altima; access should be easy. Identify the distributor by the cables running to it from the spark plugs in the engine block.

Check to see that your engine is on Top Dead Center (TDC) and that the No. 1 piston is on compression stroke. This has to be lined up properly both when you remove and replace the distributor.

Disconnect the negative cable on the battery and pull the spark plug wires from the distributor cap. The battery will be at the front, near the grille on the driver's side.

Mark the engine block to indicate the distributor and rotor positions and then unscrew the screws to remove the distributor cap.

Unscrew the wiring connections from the distributor with a screwdriver.

Use a wrench to remove the bolt or bolts that hold the distributor in the engine. Depending on the year of the vehicle, the number of bolts varies.

Lift the distributor up and out of the cylinder block.

Installing a New Distributor

Put in a new distributor housing O-ring before installing the new distributor. You have to buy the O-ring separately. Grease it lightly before putting it in.

Install the distributor for your Nissan Altima, lining up the rotor with the mark on the housing. The original part number from Nissan will be 22100-9E001RE or 22100-1E420RE, depending on the year of the vehicle. When ordering from Nissan or an auto parts store, know the year and engine size.

Make sure the distributor is seated in the housing and the distributor gear is fully engaged. Tighten the hold-down bolt.

Reattach the distributor pick-up lead wires, put the distributor cap back in place with screws, reattach the spark plug wires and connect the negative cable to the battery.

Tighten the hold-down bolt or bolts on your model engine.

Items you will need

  • Screwdriver

  • Wrench or ratchet

  • Nissan Altima O-ring

  • Nissan Altima distributor

 How to Replace the Distributor in a Nissan Pathfinder

Replacing the Distributor From 1996 Onward

Look for the distributor on the engine block; access should be easy. Identify the distributor by the cables running to it from the spark plugs in the engine block.

Disconnect the negative cable on the battery; the battery is on the driver's side near the front of the engine compartment. Pop the spark plug wires off the distributor cap.

Unscrew the screws on the distributor cap with a screwdriver and unscrew the screw holding the distributor wiring harness connector.

Use a marker to mark the rotor and the distributor housing, as well as the distributor housing and the cylinder head, so you can line them up on re-installation.

Lift the distributor up and out of the cylinder block.

Install your new Nissan Pathfinder distributor, lining up marks on the housing, the rotor and the cylinder head.

Reattach the distributor wiring harness connector and replace the distributor cap. Hook up the negative cable to the battery.

Replacing the Distributor in Models 1995 and Earlier

Unhook the negative cable from the battery.

Loosen the retaining clips and the distributor cap will lift off. Leave the spark plug wiring connected to the cap.

Take off the dust cover and mark the rotor's position as it relates to the distributor body; then the distributor body to the engine block. You want them all to line up when you install the new distributor.

Detach the harness assembly connector, using a screwdriver to unscrew it. Take out the pinch-bolt and lift the distributor up and out.

Replace the new Nissan Pathfinder distributor in the block and line up all the marks made during removal.

Engage the distributor-driven gear.

Items you will need

  • Wrench

  • Screwdriver

 How to Replace the Distributor in a Honda Accord

Replacing Distributors on 2.2L and 2.3L Engines 2001 to 2002, 2.7L and 3.0L Engines: 1996 to 2000 models

Find the distributor on the engine block; the spark plug cables lead to it. Unhook the negative cable from the battery; it will be in the front and driver's side of the engine area. Use a screwdriver to detach the connector from the distributor's side.

Mark the location of each wire, then take both ignition wires off the distributor cap. Unbolt the distributor mounting bolt or bolts with a wrench, and pull the distributor out of the cylinder head. The number of bolts varies according to the year.

Get the piston in the No. 1 cylinder to the Top Dead Center (TDC) spot. If it is not at TDC, the engine won't work properly after you replace the distributor.

Install a lightly greased new O-ring on the end of the distributor shaft and put your new Honda Accord distributor into position. Be sure to buy a new O-ring for a snug fit. The distributor number is 83603N from Parts Train, but numbers and prices vary for different stores and manufacturers.

Replace and hand-tighten the mounting bolt or bolts. Reattach the connector to the distributor and connect the ignition wire to the distributor cap.

Tighten the mounting bolts with a wrench and hook up the negative battery cable.

Replacing Distributors on 2.2L and 2.3L Engines: 1996 to 2000 models

Look for the distributor on the engine block; it will have cables from the spark plugs leading to it. Note the radio code for theft protection before disconnecting the negative cable to the battery.

Get to the crankshaft pulley bolt from the inner fender liner on the left. Use a socket, long extension piece and a ratchet to rotate your engine counterclockwise. The white Top Dead Center (TDC) mark on the pulley must line up with the pointer mark on the engine cover. Put a label on each ignition wire; don't remove them.

Take off the distributor cap and look at the ignition rotor. Be sure it is pointing toward the distributor cap terminal for cylinder No. 1. If not, use the socket and long extension handle (breaker bar) to rotate the crankshaft one turn counterclockwise to line up the TDC mark with the pointer on the engine cover.

Make a mark to line up the distributor housing and the cylinder head, as well as a mark for the rotor on the distributor housing. These must be in line when you put in the distributor.

Disconnect electrical connectors on the distributor's side with a screwdriver. Take out the three distributor mounting bolts with a wrench or ratchet and lift out the distributor.

Install a new, greased O-ring on the distributor shaft and put the new Honda Accord distributor in the cylinder head, making sure the marks you made line up. The O-ring and distributor are separate purchases. The distributor part number differs according to manufacturer and store, but ask for 83677N at Parts Train.

Hand-tighten the mounting bolts and replace the screws in the electrical connectors on the distributor's side. Reattach the negative cable to the battery.

Reset the Powertrain Control Module idle memory by starting the engine. Keep it at 3,000 rpm until the fan comes on, then idle 5 minutes. Keep accessories off and the vehicle in neutral or park. Put in the radio security code.

Removing and Installing Distributors 1995 and Earlier

Follow the cables from the spark plugs leading to the distributor on the engine block. Remove spark plug wires from distributor cap and number them for re-installation in proper order later.

Put labels on and disconnect the vacuum hoses, the primary wire and the high tension wire. Label and disconnect any external wiring connectors at the distributor, using a screwdriver.

Unbolt the mounting bolt or bolts with a wrench and pull the distributor out of the cylinder head. The number of bolts varies according to the model year.

Install a lightly greased new O-ring on the distributor shaft. You need to buy a new one when installing a new distributor. Fit the Honda Accord distributor in place. The part number is 83674N from Parts Train, but other stores and manufacturers use different part numbers.

Bolt the mounting bolts with a wrench, hand-tightening them lightly. Reattach the external wiring, hoses and spark plug wires. Tighten the distributor bolts securely.

Items you will need

  • Wrench

  • Screwdriver

  • O-ring

  • Distributor

  • Ratchet with extension

 How to Replace the Distributor in a Chrysler Sebring

Find the distributor is on the right side of the engine block--as you face it--near the passenger compartment. The quarters are a little cramped, but just follow the spark plug wires to the distributor. Unhook the negative cable from the battery.

Get the following parts out of the way for access, if necessary. Unbolt with a wrench the intake manifold bolt from the air inlet resonator. Unclamp the air cleaner cover from the housing that covers it. Remove the Positive Crankcase Ventilation make-up air hose from the air inlet tube. Next, remove the air cleaner cover, the throttle body hose clamp, resonator and inlet tube as well as the Exhaust Gas Recirculation tube.

Pull the spark plug wires loose carefully from the distributor cap, then unclamp and remove the distributor cap.

Make marks on the rotor-to-distributor and the distributor-to-engine positioning to make installation go smoothly later.

Lift out the rotor, and unscrew the screws in the distributor's two electrical harness connectors. Unbolt and remove the distributor's hold-down nuts and their washers. Also, remove the spark plug cable mounting bracket to provide more space for work, if needed, as well as the transaxle dipstick tube. Lift out the distributor, check its O-ring for problems and replace if necessary.

Match all the marks you made previously before installing your new Sebring distributor. You'll need to line up the marks for the engine to work properly. You can order a distributor for a 1995 Sebring, part number 83892N, from Parts Train. Part numbers will differ by manufacturer; know your engine year and size.

Replace all the parts in the previous steps in reverse order.

Items you will need

  • Wrench

  • Screwdriver

  • Distributor

 How to Replace the Distributor on a 1997 GMC 5.7

Remove the air intake hose and air cleaner, using the common screwdriver. Disconnect the electrical connector on the bottom of the distributor. Mark all the spark plug wires, numbering them in a clockwise progression, starting with the number 1 cylinder wire by following the first spark plug wire closest to the radiator, on the driver's side of the vehicle back to the distributor. Work clockwise in progression for all eight wires. Another way to do this, rather than mark the wires, is to know that all the odd numbered cylinders are on the driver's side and that the even numbered ones are on the passenger's side of the vehicle. The firing order for this engine is 1-8-4-3-6-5-7-2, starting with the number 1 cylinder and working clockwise. Pull all the plug wires out of the distributor.

Remove the distributor cap by removing the screws with a Phillips screwdriver. Mark the exact location of the pointer end of the rotor relative to a point on the engine or firewall. It is vitally important to install the distributor with the rotor pointing in the exact same direction, otherwise the timing will be off. If the timing is off, a long process is necessary to locate the top dead center on the number 1 cylinder. When the distributor is installed, the pointer on the rotor should be aligned with the mark perfectly.

Remove the bolt from the distributor hold-down clamp, using a wrench. Remove the clamp. Twist the distributor back and forth as it is lifted to aid in removal.

Install a new circular gasket on the new distributor. Install the distributor by first holding it over the hole in the manifold and aligning the rotor to the approximate position necessary. Back the rotor up counterclockwise a few degrees and slide the distributor into the hole. The gear on the bottom of the distributor will cause the rotor to turn clockwise a few degrees when it engages the camshaft gear. If the rotor does not line up perfectly, lift the distributor up until the rotor is free to turn, then rotate it a few more degrees. Keep doing this process until the rotor lines up.

Install the distributor hold-down clamp and bolt and tighten it. Connect the electrical connector on the bottom of the distributor. Install the distributor cap and tighten it with the Phillips screwdriver. Install the spark plug wires as previously instructed. Install the air cleaner and air duct. Tighten them with the screwdriver.

Items you will need

  • Common screwdriver

  • Phillips screwdriver

  • Set of wrenches

  • Bottle of typing white-out or another suitable marker

 How to Replace the Distributor in a Dodge Caravan

Facing the engine, look for the distributor on the left side of the engine block. Find the distributor by the spark plug wires leading to it and detach the negative battery cable.

Detach the electrical connector from the distributor with a screwdriver. Remove the two hold-down screws that keep the distributor cap in place and remove it.

Mark the rotor's position to line it up with the distributor housing on the intake manifold, and also mark the distributor housing position in relation to the engine.

Turn the crankshaft to Top Dead Center (TDC) with a socket with a long handle (breaker bar). The crankshaft bolt is in the center of the pulley near the bottom of the engine. This will line up the distributor rotor with the No. 1 spark plug tower in the distributor cap. Use this as a good reference for installation later.

Use a wrench to remove the distributor hold-down bolt and lift the distributor from the engine. The shaft will rotate slightly when the drive gear disengages as the distributor is removed.

Place the new Caravan distributor into the engine, aligning the marks made during removal. Get a remanufactured distributor, part number 83867E, from Parts Train; parts numbers differ, so give the model, year and engine size wherever you order.

Seat the O-ring properly on the distributor. Replace the O-ring with a new one if it is cracked or nicked, lightly oiling it first.

Install the distributor cap, screwing in the two screws. Use a wrench to tighten the hold-down bolt on the distributor. Screw the electrical connector onto the distributor and reattach the negative cable to the battery.

Items you will need

  • Screwdriver

  • Socket with long-handled ratchet

  • Wrench

  • Distributor

 How to Replace the Distributor in a Jeep Grand Cherokee

Replacing Distributors in 2.5L and 4.0L Engines

Trace the spark plug wires to the distributor on the left side of the engine block, as you face it. On some models it will be clearly evident while on others, you will find it nearly hidden by other engine parts.

Disconnect the negative battery cable; the battery is at the left front of the engine. Unscrew the screws in the distributor cap and remove it. Make marks to indicate the distributor housing position relative to the rotor; line up the marks in the director the rotor's metal tip points. These marks will help during re-installation.

Unbolt the distributor wiring harness from the engine with a wrench. Unbolt the distributor hold-down bolt and take out the distributor.

Clean the cylinder block mounting area and put in a new distributor mounting gasket. Lightly oil a new O-ring and install it. Put the rotor slightly counterclockwise of the mark you made during removal; you'll need to do this because the rotor will rotate clockwise as the gears begin to engage.

Put in your new Grand Cherokee distributor, while being sure the rotor tip lines up with the mark you made earlier. You can order part number 20216E for a 4.0L 1997 engine from Parts Train. Part numbers vary by manufacturer, so give your engine size and year when ordering.

Line up the fork with the distributor hold-down bolt hole, if your model has a fork. You have the distributor correctly installed when the rotor is in position and the slot lines up with the hold-down bolt hole.

Replace the distributor hold-down bolt and tighten lightly and reconnect the wiring harness. Install the screws in the distributor cap and replace the spark plug wires. Tighten the hold-down bolt lightly and reconnect the negative battery cable.

Replacing distributors in 5.2L and 5.9L Engines

Face the engine block and trace the spark plug wires to the distributor on the left side. On some models it will be clearly evident while on others, you will find it nearly hidden by other engine parts. Unhook the negative battery cable from the battery on the left front of the engine compartment.

Label and unplug the spark plug wires from the distributor cap and coil. Remove the distributor cap retaining hooks or screws and take off the distributor cap. Mark the rotor's position in relation to the base, marking the base of the distributor and on the engine for easier installation later.

Use a long-handled ratchet (breaker bar) on the crankshaft damper retaining bolt, in the pulley near the bottom of the engine, and slowly rotate the engine clockwise until the mark on the crankshaft damper lines up with the 0 degree mark on the timing chain cover. This will bring the distributor rotor in alignment with the CYL. NO 1 mark on the camshaft position sensor.

Detach the camshaft position sensor connector from the shaft on the distributor and remove the rotor. Unbolt the distributor hold-down bolt with a wrench and remove the distributor and hold-down clamp.

Clean the mounting area of the cylinder block and install a new distributor mounting gasket. Also put in a new O-ring, lightly oiled, on the distributor housing and replace the rotor.

Put the distributor shaft down into the engine block, moving the rotor and shaft slightly to engage the distributor shaft in the oil pump slot as you install the new distributor. Be sure the rotor lines up with the CYL. NO. 1 mark on the camshaft position sensor. You can order part number 21207E for a 5.2L 1997 engine from Parts Train. Part numbers vary by manufacturer, so give your engine size and year when ordering.

Replace the distributor shaft hold-down bolt and tighten. Install the distributor cap and reconnect all electrical wires and connections, ensuring that the spark plug wires are in their proper order.

Items you will need

  • Screwdriver

  • Wrench

  • Distributor mounting gasket

  • O-ring

  • Distributor

  • Breaker bar

 How to Change the Distributor in a Ford Truck

Disconnect the negative battery cable to prevent the possibility of electrical shock.

Disconnect spark plug wires and the coil wire from the distributor cap individually. As disconnecting, label the wires and cap posts for wire locations.

Remove the distributor cap mounting screws and remove the cap from the distributor.

Disconnect the module electrical connector.

Disconnect any vacuum hoses while taking notice of where they go.

Make an alignment mark on the side of the distributor housing for the position of the tip of the rotor before removal.

Make an alignment mark on the distributor housing and the engine block for orientation of the distributor before removal.

Remove the distributor bolt and clamp by socket and carefully pull the distributor straight up out of the engine.

Transfer the alignment marks as close as possible from the old distributor to the new one.

Install the replacement distributor into the engine so that the orientation mark on distributor housing lines up with the mark on the engine block.

Reinstall the distributor's mounting bolt and clamp.

Reconnect any vacuum hoses.

Connect the module electrical connector.

Reinstall the rotor with the tip pointing at the rotor alignment mark on the side of the distributor housing.

Reinstall the rotor cap and mounting screws.

Apply dielectric grease to all of the distributor cap contacts.

Reinstall plug wires and coil wire according to their corresponding markings. If replacing the distributor cap, transfer markings from the old cap to the new.

Connect the negative battery cable.

Items you will need

  • Socket set

  • Set of screwdrivers

  • Masking tape

  • Fine tip marker

  • Dielectric silicone

  • Distributor

 How to Replace the Distributor in a Hyundai Sonata

Remove the distributor cap with a screwdriver. You can locate it at the back of the engine block from the spark plug wires running to it. If you have to disconnect the wires, label them for reassembly.

Take off the distributor electrical connectors with a screwdriver.

Make marks to match the rotor to the distributor housing for later reassembly. Do the same with the distributor housing, making a mark to line it up with the engine. These marks will help you line up components later so the engine will function properly when you install the distributor.

Unbolt the distributor with a wrench and lift it out carefully so you don't damage the O-ring.

Put in the new Sonata distributor with the rotor-to-housing and the housing-to-engine match marks lined up and bolt it down. The part number for a new 1995 distributor is 83872E from Parts Train, but you should give the company the engine size and year because parts numbers vary among manufacturers.

Reattach the electrical connectors to the distributor and replace the distributor cap.

Items you will need

  • Wrench

  • Screwdriver

  • Distributor