A distributor cap is used on an engine,in order to cover the distributor and its internal rotor. The distributor cap has one post for each cylinder, and in "point" ignition systems,there is a central post for the current from the ignition coil, coming in to the distributor. Inside the distributor cap is a terminal,which responds to each post. These terminals are arranged per the circumference of the cap, according to the firing order, and the secondary voltage is sent to the appropriate spark plug at the correct time.
The distributor shaft, which is driven by a gear on the engines camshaft, has a rotor attached to the top of it which must spin at exactly half the speed of the camshaft, on a standard four stroke engine. Mounting the rotor in this location is essential because, it ensures that proper synchronization is occurring and that the rotor is not spinning to fast or to slow. The rotor is pressed against a carbon brush on the center terminal of the distributor cap which connects to the ignition coil through the top, and wired directly to the coil in HEI systems, or by using the center terminal in point ignition systems and being remotely connected to the coil. As the camshaft rotates, the rotor spins and its outer edge passes each of the internal plug terminals, which is what fires each, appropriate spark plug.
The distributor cap is subjected to violent vibrations and tremendous amounts of heat, it is inevitable that is will eventually crack or get large amounts of carbon build-up, or corrosion near the metal terminals,and need replacing. The distributor cap is easily installed and removed. This cap can also be removed, in order to prevent the engine from being "hot wired",and stolen.
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