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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So my car one morning did not turn on. Its cranking and everything but it sounds like it’s not catching the spark. I took it to a mechanic (not my regular) that diagnosed the problem as my distributor. I took the car to my regular mechanic, he changed it and it worked fine for a week then it didn’t turn on again but this time in the night. I didn’t drive it all day and when I went to go to drive that night, it did not start. It cranks and everything but same issue, no spark. Car is currently at my mechanic who is puzzled as to what can be the problem and he’s calling in another mechanic for a second opinion. New distributor, alternator, and fairly new battery. Please help
 

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Is the distributor's connector unplugged? I have made the mistake of not plugging it in after installing the new distributor. It was puzzling to me until I saw it was unplugged.

How do you know it is not getting spark? Did you test for spark, or are you assuming?
Are your spark plugs wet after you crank the engine? If so, then there is no spark. If you aren't getting spark, you will notice an odor of raw gasoline and the plug tips will be wet with fuel.

Did your mechanic replace the distributor cap too? Make sure the pick-ups under the distributor cap aren't damaged or burnt out. Also, make sure the core's plug wire is connected properly to both core and distributor cap.
If the plugs are dry after you crank the engine, you aren't getting fuel.
Was the fuse for the fuel pump ever removed?
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
The distributor is brand new from auto zone so I don’t think I have to check the cap or rotor. Mechanic says it’s the ecu because the car won’t start... I’m really at a loss for words at this point
 

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The distributor is keyed but keyed 180* so it may be right or 180* off. When performing a remove and replace job. I cannot help but think the timing is off from the job performed if you cannot start the engine. The engines have a relatively well engineered Distrubutor for its time and requires the engine be placed in perfect sync for the job to come out successful. If you can verify all components required for spark function. Then the next step is fuel. If both are present and you have no ignition, something else goofy is borked (assuming your air intake is not clogged).
 

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Hi Rahpaso,
I suspect the rubber on your crank pulley was old and dry-rotted. It may have torn and allowed the pulley to spin on itself, independent of the crank shafts rotation. In case you need it, here is a thread Removing Crank Pulley.
If your car hadn't run at all after the distributor was changed, I would definitely suspect the distributor had been installed when the motor was not at TDC as it should behave been. But your car actually ran for a week, which means the distributor was good, at least for a week, and more importantly, the timing had been set correctly at the shop. I suspect that crank pulley was probably (is probably) dry-rotted, spun on itself when you tried to start the engine, threw off the timing, causing the no-start condition.
FYI: If your timing chain wasn't previously slapping the upper guide or the valve cover, making a loud clattering noise, your timing chain tensioner hasn't failed, so it isn't likely that the timing would be off due to the chain having skipped a couple teeth on the timing gears.

To rule out the crank pulley being off, I would set the timing mark on the crank pulley to 0* and then look at the position of the distributor rotor under the distributor cap. If the timing is accurate, the rotor will be pointing to the pick-up for cylinder 1's spark plug wire, (at about 4 - 5 o'clock). If the rotor isn't pointing to the cyl.1 pick-up, the ignition timing is OFF and is probably off due to the crank pulley having spun on itself.
Again, the fact that the engine started and ran fine for a week after you had the distributor replaced tells you the timing was set correctly when the new distributor was installed.

If the distributor rotor lines up with the cyl. 1 pick-up when the engine is at 0* TDC and there is still no spark, it could be a bad distributor or a bad core. (These are probably less expensive than an ECU.) Look at the field service manual for how to test these two parts. Search FIELD SERVICE MANUALS here for an on-line copy.

As far as the possibility of the distributor being bad, I have read in several threads that a bad distributor often manifests itself when the engine is hot and the oil has penetrated into the area where the electronic "eye" of the cam position sensor, inside the distributor, this if you have an earlier p10. If the car with the bad distributor sits over night, the oil can settle out of the distributor enough to let it function properly again until the oil gets hot enough to work its way back into the distributor's interior, blind the "eye" and cause the distributor to fail again. Eventually, too much oil penetrates, and the distributor doesn't work, at all.
 

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The following "How-To" is how I went about replacing my distributor after it failed while I was on the interstate.

I removed the spark plug for #1 cylinder and inserted a long screwdriver or long socket extension into that hole. Rotated the engine until the screwdriver or extension no longer rises. This is roughly TDC. It isn't exactly TDC, but it allows you to know that the motor is definitely not at BDC.
------> FYI: If the distributor is installed when the motor was at Bottom Dead Center, the exhaust cam is 180* out of correct position from where it needs to be. Consequently, the distributor rotor is out of position inside the distributor cap. When you go to crank the engine, the distributor rotor spins but does not contact the pick-ups at the right moments. As a result, the spark is not delivered to the plugs at the right time, which causes the timing to be off, and the engine will not fire.

To bring the motor to TDC, I first removed the Fuel Pump fuse to keep fuel from being pumped into the engine while you rotate it. While cranking the engine, I removed the fuse to the fuel pump (panel is in front of where your left knee would be if you were driving). Then, released the pressure from the gas tank by removing the gas cap.
Disconnected the battery.
Jacked up (used a jack stand) the front, passenger side of my car. You need to have enough room to be able to rotate the crank shaft by hand. I removed the wheel and plastic wheel well panel.
Removed the spark plug from the # 1 cylinder (if not all of them) in order to make it a lot easier to rotate the motor by hand.
Put the socket (27mm) on the crank bolt, (Nissan part number: 12309-29S00), and rotated the crank until the mark on the crank pulley that represents 0* lines up perfectly with the indicator pin that sticks out from the engine, just above the crank pulley. (This is what tells you the engine is very close if not exactly at Top Dead Center. Do a search on here or reference your service manual to tell you which mark is the Zero-degree mark.) I used a "piston-stop tool" to locate the exact point at which the motor was at TDC because the after-market crank pulley I put on had only three timing marks on it. If your crank pulley is sound, you should be able to trust the marks on the crank pulley for telling you when the motor is at Top Dead Center.

Once the motor has been brought to TDC (with the 0* mark on the crank pulley lining up with the tip of the timing indicator), Install the distributor into the head (into the end of the exhaust cam). Because the engine is at TDC, the exhaust cam is now in the correct position to cause the distributor rotor to make proper contact with the pick-ups inside the distributor cap at the right time.

If you go about doing this yourself, Remember to use a little oil or petroleum jelly to lubricate the o-ring that is around the body of the distributor before installing it. I made sure the shape of the distributor key matched the "key hole" in the end of the exhaust cam. You might need to take a little flashlight and look in. To me, the shape of that hole looks like a soaring bird with outstretched wings. Be sure the "key" on the end of the distributor matches the shape. The key will only go in if their shapes and position match. If it is out of position , the key could break, so I didn't try to force it in. If you have lubricated the o-ring and the shapes/ positions match, it will go in with a little push. Be sure to reconnect the distributor to its power cable.


Once the distributor was installed, I needed to set the ignition timing, for the same reason (you want the spark plugs to fire at the correct moment.). The timing out of the factory for the SR20DE is about 15*.
You can do a search on here or on the internet and find the how-to for setting ignition timing. You have to get the computer into "timing mode", first. The FSM also shows how to do this. Look up SERVICE MANUALS on here if you don't have a manual on hand. You will need a timing light/ gun in order to set the timing. Once you have installed the distributor and clamped the timing light cables onto the battery terminals and the pick-up clamp around the #1 spark plug wire, you are ready to start your engine, put the ECU into timing mode and set the timing.

Once you've put the the ECU into timing mode, shine the timing light onto the indicator on the timing cover to see where the timing marks on the crank pulley are lining up. You'll be adjusting the distributor by hand, which will cause a change in where the marks and timing indicator line up. (15* is stock timing.) The two bolts that secure the distributor to the head need to be loose enough that you can rotate the distributor by hand. (Not too loose, but just loose enough that you can rotate the distributor by palming the distributor cap)
Rotate the distributor either towards the firewall (to advance timing) or towards the front bumper (to retard), going back and forth, looking at the crank pulley with the timing light and rotating the distributor until the timing is where it needs to be. Fellows on here have warned not to set timing higher than 19* in order to avoid engine knock (pinging), which will damage your engine. 15 - 17* is a safe zone. 18* and higher and you'll likely need to use higher octane gasoline to avoid the pinging that might occur as a result of having advanced the timing too far.
Once the timing was where I wanted it, I tightened those two bolts that secure the distributor to the head. Be careful not to accidentally rotate the distributor while tightening these bolts. It is easy to do, so I had to tighten them gradually and evenly.

A few "Remember To's":
  • Remove the spark plug(s) before rotating the motor by hand
  • Lubricate the distributor O-ring before inserting the distributor into the head
  • Replace the gas cap once done rotating the motor
  • Put the Fuel Pump fuse back in place once you have installed the distributor and are ready to start your engine to adjust the timing
  • Evenly tighten the two bolts that secure the distributor to the head (in order to avoid accidentally rotating the distributor)
  • Plug in the distributor connector to the power cable.
 
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