How To Test The Ignition System (1990, 1991 5.2L V8 Dodge Dakota)

Testing the ignition system is not that hard on the 1990-1991 5.2L V8 Dodge Dakota. In this tutorial I'll explain how to do it in a step-by-step way.

All the steps are explained in detail. With your test results you'll be able to find out if the ignition coil is bad and causing your Dodge Dakota to not start.

Now, if your Dodge Dakota starts but it's misfiring, you'll be able to find out if the ignition system is behind it.

You can find this tutorial in Spanish here: Cómo Probar El Sistema De Encendido (1990-1991 5.2L V8 Dodge Dakota) (at: autotecnico-online.com).

APPLIES TO: This tutorial applies to the following vehicles since they use the exact same ignition system components: 1990, 1991 5.2L V8 Dodge Dakota.

Ignition System Test Basics

The ignition system on the 1990-1991 5.2L V8 Dodge Dakota is a conventional distributor-based ignition system. Its main components are:

  1. Ignition Coil.
  2. Distributor.
  3. Distributor pickup coil.
  4. Spark plug wires (high tension wires).
  5. Distributor cap and rotor.

When you turn the key to crank and start the engine, this is what happens:

  1. The distributor pickup coil starts to generate and feed a camshaft and crankshaft position signal to your Dodge Dakota's fuel injection computer.
  2. Once the fuel injection computer receives the pickup coil signal, it sends the ignition coil an activation signal.
  3. Once the ignition coil is activated by the fuel injection computer, it starts to spark.
  4. The ignition coil's spark is transmitted to the center of the distributor's cap by a high tension wire.
  5. The distributor rotor then distributes the spark to the distributor cap towers.
  6. From the distributor cap towers the spark is transmitted to the spark plugs via high tension wires.

With the help of this tutorial you'll be able to check the ignition coil's high tension wire, the spark plug wires, the distributor cap, and the ignition coil.

What Tools Do I Need To Test The Ignition System?

There are quite a few tools you'll need to test the ignition system on your 5.2L V8 Dodge Dakota. The cool thing is that none of them are expensive.

The most important tool you're gonna' need is a spark tester. Here are my recommendations:

  1. An HEI spark tester
    1. A spark tester is a must have tool! It will help you get an accurate diagnostic test result as you test for spark. You can see an example of this tool here (and you can buy it here too): OTC 6589 Electronic Ignition Spark Tester).
  2. A 12 Volts automotive test light.
  3. Battery jump start cables.
  4. A multimeter.
    1. If you don't have a multimeter or would like to upgrade yours, see my recommendations here: Buying A Digital Multimeter For Automotive Diagnostic Testing.
  5. A helper.

TEST 1: Testing The Spark Plug Wires For Spark

Testing The Spark Plug Wires For Spark. How To Test The Ignition System (1990, 1991 5.2L V8 Dodge Dakota)

Whether your 5.2L V8 Dodge Dakota does not start or starts and runs with a misfire, it's important that you test all 8 spark plug wires for spark.

Testing all 8 spark plug wires will ensure that you get the correct diagnostic test result from your ignition system tests.

One more thing, it's important that you use a dedicated spark tester for your spark tests. Any spark tester will do. If you don't have one and need to buy one, then I recommend the HEI spark tester. You can find out more about it and where to buy it here: HEI Spark Tester.

CAUTION: All of the ignition system tests are done while cranking the engine. Be careful and take all necessary safety precautions.

Let's get started:

  1. 1

    Disconnect the #1 cylinder spark plug wire from its spark plug.

  2. 2

    Attach the HEI spark tester to the spark plug wire (see the photo above).

  3. 3

    Connect the HEI spark tester to the battery negative (-) terminal with a jump start cable.

  4. 4

    Have your assistant crank the engine while you observe the spark tester.

    NOTE: If you're testing a misfire condition, the engine will start so be careful.

  5. 5

    You're going to see only one of two results: the spark tester will spark or it won't spark.

  6. 6

    Repeat the spark test on the remaining spark plug wires.

Let's examine your test results:

CASE 1: Spark is present at all eight spark plug wires. This is the correct and expected test result.

You can correctly conclude that the distributor pickup coil, the distributor rotor and cap, the ignition coil, and the spark plug wires are OK.

If you're trying to troubleshoot a misfire problem on your 1990-1991 5.2L V8 Dodge Dakota, then take a look at the suggestions found here: Other Causes Of A Misfire.

CASE 2: All spark plug wires have NO spark. The next step is to check that the ignition coil's high tension wire is delivering spark to the distributor cap.

To check for spark from the ignition coil's high tension wire go to: TEST 3: Testing The Ignition Coil's High Tension Wire For Spark.

CASE 3: Some of the spark plug wires (but not all) have NO spark. The next step is check for spark directly on the distributor cap towers that feed spark to the wires that did not fire off spark. For this test go to: TEST 2: Testing For Spark At The Distributor Cap.