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When to Change a Spark Plug

Knowing when to change an old or busted spark plug is a good way to prevent major engine problems in the future. Here are some valuable tips.
Suketu Mehta
Spark plugs play a crucial role in the functioning of a car, because your car counts on them to start and run smoothly. It is preliminarily a high-voltage bridge to carry electricity. When electricity travels across the bridge (a gap between two contact points) and reaches the engine, it generates a spark and ignites gas vapors, which start the engine.
There are a lot of factors which determine how long the spark plugs will last without needing a change. Your driving habits, the kind of fuel you use, and the state of the engine are important factors. Replacing them is easy, and new plugs are not very expensive either.
However, you should know when to change the plugs and wires, so that you do not end up causing any major damage to the engine. Car manuals come with instructions on the same. You can follow certain simple checks, as discussed further, to find out the right time for a spark plug change.

The Need to Change a Spark Plug

New spark plugs help in maintaining optimum engine performance and efficiency. An engine does misfire once in a while, but if the misfiring increases, engine power is affected and more waste gases are emitted.
New cars come with a 'Check Engine' light which illuminates whenever there is an ignition problem. To reduce instances of engine misfire, and to maintain its optimum performance, it is important to change this device as and when it wears out.
Starting your car in cold weather conditions can be a menace, more so if you have a poor spark plug. As the spark plugs do not ignite even after several attempts, there are chances of the battery running dead when the engine cranks.
On such occasions, it is important to check the spark plug, and if it is worn out, replace it. A new spark plug will definitely improve the starting and also reduce the amount of voltage required by the ignition system.
It takes only a single engine misfire to deposit enough raw fuel into the exhaust, which will consequently overheat and harm the catalytic converter. The operating temperature of the converter rises when high amount of unburnt fuel enters the exhaust, leading to a partial meltdown of a substance in the converter.
This can cause the engine to choke. In such cases, you will have to replace the converter as well as the spark plug to prevent the new converter from meeting the same fate.

Knowing When to Do It

Check the mileage of the car. The engine performance becomes less efficient when spark plugs are worn out and corroded due to carbon deposits and burns. This results in low mileage. In case you notice that your car is consuming more gas than it usually does, it could be time to change the spark plugs.
At times, you may experience some trouble while starting your car in the morning. Though this could be because of dirt accumulated in the fuel injectors, there are chances a faulty spark plug could also be a contributing factor.
Ideally, spark plugs need replacement every 30,000 to 40,000 miles, depending on your car. You need to find out when was the last time you changed the spark plug in your car. In case you are not sure of the exact date, you can manually check by removing the spark plug and looking for excessive wear and tear or carbon deposits. Replace it if necessary.
A rough running engine, slow response from the engine when you push the accelerator, or the 'Check Engine' light illuminating on your dashboard could be signs that it is time for a change.
When you do the actual replacement, it is a good idea to install a platinum or iridium spark plug. Though these plugs are a little expensive, you will benefit in the long run, as they last longer and need replacement after 100,000 miles.