Points vs Electronic Ignition

Article by Mark Trotta

Up until the mid-1970s, most passenger cars and trucks came with points ignition. They were, and still are, easy to understand and easy to diagnose.

points vs electronic ignition

Once properly set, a points ignition will run fine for 15,000 miles or more, without any adjustment. For a classic car that gets driven 1,000 miles a year, that's a pretty trouble-free system.

I like points ignition for their simplicity and ease of diagnosing. Apparently, some people don't understand simplicity, and replace their points distributor because they were told it was unreliable.

Keeping Things Original

I don't consider myself a traditionalist. When it came time to rebuild the motor in my 1965 GTO, it made good sense to replace the original rope main-seal with a neoprene type. To me, that took little away from it's originality.

389 Pontiac engine

For the GTO ignition system, I stuck with points ignition. They worked just fine. The acceleration from the 389 Tri-power snapped your head back and gave rubber in all four gears.

Fixing Something That's Not Broken

Electronic systems can be unreliable, and unlike points, they will stop working without a warning. A set of points will at least give you a clue, showing such signs as running rough, or maybe they haven't been changed in many years.

points vs electronic ignition

In 2007, I had the rare opportunity to buy a 1968 Jaguar XKE that did not run. The previous owner did not know what was wrong with it. Because the Jag exterior was in such good shape, I took a leap of faith and bought the car.

Jaguar XKE ignition

Electrical Troubleshooting

Cranking the motor revealed no spark at the spark plugs. A session of electrical troubleshooting found the no-spark problem - a defective aftermarket electronic ignition unit someone had "upgraded" the car to. Re-installing stock points and condenser solved that problem. After the Zenith-Stromberg carburetors were rebuilt, the motor fired back to life.

points vs electronic ignition

So, the question really becomes, not which one is better - but which one is better for you.

If you consider yourself a mechanic, stay with points.

If you consider yourself an automotive technician, switch to electronic ignition.

Don't Forget The Condenser

Points go bad more than condensers, but I have had two condensers fail on me on two different occasions. I would recommend replacing both points and condenser at the same time. (If you really have to be "thrifty", you can probably re-use the condenser if the points were not pitting).

When in proper working order, a points ignition system works very well and will give 15,000 miles of service. So unless your classic car is your daily driver, points ignition is fine.

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