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Getting to hard-to-reach plugs

With all the stuff crammed under the hoods of vehicles, it can be hard to get at some spark plugs and, even when you can reach them easily, they may be difficult to remove. Here are some tips on extracting these spark plugs.

Almost every vehicle has at least one plug that’s a miserable thing to reach. If you have one, and it’s safe for you to deal with, save it for last. Then you can work on it with the satisfaction of knowing that, when you get the darn thing finished, you’ll have finished the job.

If you find that one or more plugs are blocked by an air conditioner or some other part, try using various ratchet handle extensions to get around the problem. There are universal extensions that allow the ratchet handle to be held at odd anglesTbar handles for better leverage; and offset handles for hard-to-reach places .

Just remember that you must keep the ratchet handle right in line with the angle of the plug it’s contacting to avoid stripping the threads. If you absolutely can’t reach the offending plug, you can always drive to your service station and humbly ask them to change just that one plug. They won’t like it, but it is a last resort. If you get to that point, you’ll probably be glad to pay to have it done.

Mastering the mighty ratchet

Ratchet handles can be a bit tricky if you’ve never used one. When you figure out how yours works, it will make many jobs much easier. The little knob on the back of the ratchet handle causes the ratchet to turn the socket either clockwise or counterclockwise. You can tell which way the handle will turn the plug by listening to the clicks that the handle makes when you move it in one direction. If it clicks when you move it to the right, it will turn the socket counterclockwise when you move it, silently, to the left. If the clicks are audible on the leftward swing, it will move the socket clockwise on the rightward swing.

Every screw, nut, bolt, screw-on cap, and so on that you encounter should loosen counterclockwise and tighten clockwise (“lefty loosey, righty tighty”). If your ratchet clicks in the wrong direction, just move that little knob to reverse the direction. shows you the proper way to use a ratchet handle.

Reading your spark plugs

You can (and should) actually read your spark plugs for valuable “clues” about how your engine is operating. To read your spark plugs, follow these steps.

As you can see in , the hook at the top is the side electrode, and the bump right under its tip is called the center electrode. The spark comes up the center of the plug and jumps the gap between these two electrodes. This gap must be a particular distance across for your engine to run efficiently.

Last word

If the gauge has a lot of room to wiggle around, it may be because your old plug has worn down its center electrode, causing a gap that’s too large. If the gauge can’t fit between the center and side electrodes, the gap is too small, which means that the spark plug isn’t burning the fuel/air mixture efficiently.

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