Reader Question: Points vs. Pointsless?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Paul asks: It’s been decades since cars came with points instead of ignitions controlled electronically; I wonder if you could share any pros – and cons – of these two ways to put fire in the hole?

My reply: Certainly!

Like almost everything each of the two ways of firing spark plugs has upsides and downsides, the big difference being that they’re not completely understood by many people.

For instance: A points-type ignition relies on a mechanical system to trigger the pulse that fires the plug; this point gap must be regularly adjusted, whereas with electronic ignition, there is no such adjustment, ever. (Both do have adjustable timing, but that is a separate thing.)

Now, here’s the thing. While it is true the points system has to be adjusted more often, it is adjustable. The electronic system either works – or it doesn’t. To put it more precisely, the points system will give you indication something’s not adjusted quite right whereas the electronic system will just stop working. Granted, it usually does that very rarely – but when it does, you’re stuck.

The points system may also stop you – but it’s a lot easier to get going again, with your hands and hand tools, such as a screwdriver. You can “field adjust” the points so the plugs will fire – and you can avoid a tow.

The other thing is that points are cheap – electronic control modules often aren’t.

Basically, the bargain is: Electronic gives you less fuss for more expense while points give you more fuss for less expense.

. . .

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  1. The hassle of maintaining points is grossly overrated. The best system I’ve found though is the MSD (multi spark discharge) aftermarket electronic ignitions. You can fire them with points, but they work amazingly. At low-mid RPM’s they fire several times per event, greatly reducing fouling and giving much better burn in your cylinder.


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