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Old 11-27-2009, 10:29 AM   #1
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Red face A noob's adventures in old technology

Today I endeavored to do some neglected maintenance/repairs to my 1980 Buick. The plan is to replace:
- distributor cap
- distributor rotor
- spark plug wires
- spark plugs
- half a tailpipe

Known obstacles:
- Raining and kinda cool temperature
- Muddy back yard
- Battery in car is pretty dead
- My ratchet & socket set is in my broken truck, 30 miles away

So, I pick up the parts. They don't have the tailpipe in stock but they'll order it and have it early afternoon. I get home and begin work. I find that the distributor is partially buried under the A/C compressor and figure I'll work around it. As I work I realize that I probably ought to replace the ignition coil too (but it's easy to replace later). Then I realize that I am not confident that the cap is aligned correctly.

Then I find that I can't fasten the 4th clip because the A/C compressor is in the way; I was barely able to unclip the old one. I find a 15mm wrench in my odds-and-ends wrench/socket toolbox and am able to loosen the A/C with a struggle. Then I have to struggle with a hammer to rotate it far enough to get the belt off, struggle with levers and hammers to move it back in the other direction further than it originally was, and so on. I eventually get the 4th distributor cap clip in place.

Now it's time to replace the wires. The markings I painted on the wires using white-out have rubbed off many in the struggle. Luckily Chilton provides me the firing order (Haynes does not; I have both). I run the first wire from the plug to the distributor. I plug it in and the terminal snaps off the distributor cap.

They just called and said that the tailpipe got lost and I can either wait for Sunday or cancel the order.
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Old 11-27-2009, 10:39 AM   #2
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On most cars, you can find the firing order on the top of the intake manifold. That is, if you can find the intake manifold....

Remember...on GM cars odd numbers are on the left, even numbers on the right.

Fords are different...left side is 1-4, right side is 5-8. This led to a now amusing but then pretty frustrating experience when I changed the distributor cap on my first Ford product...I was used to GM/Chrysler engines and didn't realize that the cylinders were numbered differently on Fords...

You could get some of that flexible muffler bandage stuff as a temporary expedient to fix the tail pipe...or try some of that metal tape for heating/cooling ducts...
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Old 11-27-2009, 12:03 PM   #3
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If you still have the original distributor ring, the cylinder that wire goes to is marked on it. If I recall correctly, we've had a previous conversation where I think you mentioned that you don't have it. Its still pretty easy if you do it one wire at a time. I've done it on my 81 Regal many times over the years.

-Jay
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Old 11-27-2009, 01:15 PM   #4
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The tailpipe needs more than a bandage. It's complete rotted in a couple sections.

The ring is definitely gone.

So, I went to exchange the cap and they were out of stock. They got one from another nearby location, which took an hour so my wife wanted to shop for an hour. We shopped then got the new part.

I installed it and the car won't fire. It's normal for that car to crank for a long time (probably over a minute) before it fires and my battery doesn't have that much cranking in it. However, I sprayed ether so it should have fired immediately. I must have screwed it up.
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Old 11-27-2009, 01:18 PM   #5
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Oh, I forgot to ask my questions.

How do I know if I have the cap aligned correctly? It doesn't seem to be keyed or anything.

How do the rotor and cap work? It looks like the rotor spins around inside the cap and points at the contacts that lead to the terminals, but it doesn't look like it actually touches them.

The old cap and rotor look like new, I wonder if I should have skipped it and just replaced the wires and plugs.
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Old 11-27-2009, 01:30 PM   #6
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Ok, I just realized what I did. Thank you, JoeBob.



My Chilton's book has the same diagram. I looked at it backwards, thinking the thing sticking off the end in the diagram was the fan, not the output shaft.

Edit: And I think I also forgot to plug the 3 electric plugs back in.
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Old 11-27-2009, 03:14 PM   #7
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The cap and rotor will only fit on one way. You may not notice it, but there is a small notch in the cap that fits into the distributor. There is only one way for it to fit flush on the distributor. My feeling is this... If you can't remember when the last time the cap & rotor were replaced, then do it. The gap can widen between the cap & rotor, but still have it "look" good.

-Jay
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Old 11-27-2009, 06:09 PM   #8
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The rotor only fit one way, for sure.

The cap doesn't click into any position, when not clipped down I can rotate it a good 30 degrees smoothly. The clips did seem to click into place, though, in such a way that they wouldn't where it's not designed...and that's probably close enough.
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Old 11-27-2009, 06:20 PM   #9
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Are you sure the distributor wasn't loose and you were changing the timing?

-Jay
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Old 11-27-2009, 06:31 PM   #10
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I am not sure. How would I know?

When I was screwing on the rotor, it did twist a bit but seemed to spring back to its original position.
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