The distributor is part of the ignition system in your vehicle and its purpose is to route high voltage from the ignition coil to the spark plug. The spark plug then ignites the fuel and air mixture in the combustion chamber to allow your engine to run smoothly. There are two seals on the distributor, one where the distributor shaft enters the distributor housing and the other one seals the shaft to the intake manifold. The latter one is called the distributor O ring.

If the distributor O ring starts leaking, oil and grime build up on the outside of the intake and on the exterior of the distributor. This prevents the correct flow of the ignition spark so the engine may misfire and have a lack of power.

Over time, the O ring may go bad due to the large amount of electricity and harsh environment it functions in. One way to catch these problems is to have your engine tuned up on a regular basis. While this is happening, the mechanic will inspect the distributor and check for oil around the O ring. If the seal needs to be replaced, a professional mechanic can do it during the tune up or when the distributor O ring shows symptoms of failing.

The biggest factors that contribute to the O ring failing include temperature and aging. The O ring becomes brittle over time and can become deformed due to the high heat it is subjected to on a regular basis. Other causes include manufacturing defects, abrasions, and other imperfections on the distributor O ring.

Since this part can fail or leak over time, it is important to be able to recognize the symptoms the distributor O ring gives off before it needs to be replaced.

Signs the distributor O ring needs to be replaced include:

  • The engine runs rough
  • There is a loss of power in your engine
  • An oil leak at the base of the distributor

The distributor O ring is a vital part to keeping the distributor working well, so this repair should not be put off once you start to notice symptoms.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How Long Does a Distributor O Ring Last? and was authored by Valerie Johnston.


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