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MG TD TF 1500 - Coil Polarity (or Polarities)

voltmeteris from the Chicagoland MG Club website - my father and I were testing this on his TD (it is fitted with pertronix) the other day and I thought the group might enjoy the tech tip.

Coil Polarity

I was converting my older British car over from positive to negative ground when I came across the question of coil polarity. I discovered coil polarity is very much misunderstood. In researching it, I was very confused until I found out there are two definitions of coil polarity. I talked to three or four knowledgeable people on the subject and read several technical books and articles. Everything made sense in itself but didn't jive together until I found out they were talking apples and oranges.

Definition #l Coil Polarity (In relation to battery)

The polarity of the coil should match that of the battery by connecting it so (+) goes to (+) and (-) connects to (-). But don't worry about which way you install the battery (positive or negative ground) or which way you install the coil (regardless of coil markings) it will automatically adjust itself. The coil will work efficiently and put out the same voltage either way it is hooked up, but the spark plugs are more sensitive when it comes to polarity, hence our second and more important definition.

Definition #2 Coil Polarity (In relation to spark plugs)

Coil polarity should be such so as to provide negative polarity to the spark plugs center electrode.

It has been found that it takes approximately 15% less voltage to form an arc at the plugs, if the hotter center electrode is negative, and the cooler (by comparison) ground electrode is positive. The center electrode is hotter since heat transfer from the tip must make its way through the porcelain insulator past the sealing gaskets to the shell block and then to the water jackets.

If your center electrode is positive, your car will probably still run fine until, with its 15% handicap, it exceeds the coil output. If you live where temperatures dip down to 0
Jeff Delk

"But don't worry about which way you install the battery (positive or negative ground) or which way you install the coil (regardless of coil markings) it will automatically adjust itself."

This is a bit of a misconception. The coil does not 'automatically adjust itself'. The itself is not polarity sensitive. If it is hooked up correctly as per the markings, it will put out a high voltage pulse with a polarity that is correct for the vehicle. If it is hooked up backwards it will put out a reverse polarity that will not be correct for the maximum efficiency for the spark plug. Everything else in the article is correct, it is only the 'automatic adjusting itself' that I have an issue with.

Since the article was written before the days of digital multimeters, the test of the high voltage polarity, should include a statement that an analog meter should be used so one has a needle that can be watched for the direction of swing. A digital meter may indicate a + or - when the test is done, but due to its sampling period, it may no indicate anything is it doesn't sample during the duration of the pulse. Cheers - Dave
David DuBois

david, i guess it is in the reading. i read it as "no matter how you install the coil, you will get a spark, but for maximum performance here is why polarity is important." which is what your second paragraph says to me as well.
excellent point on the analog multimeter. junior mechanics have never seen such an animal. LOL! regards, tom
tom peterson

Yes - the analog meter helps - thats what we used in testing. I have not included the various images that were included in the piece. Those show the various tests and illustrate the use of the analog meter.

I wonder how many folks have a coil connected with improper current to the secondary lead?
Jeff Delk

Thread reactivated
G Evans

Great chance to damage a digital multimeter this way.
Analogue only.

LC Laurent31

This thread was discussed between 18/05/2010 and 10/04/2017

MG TD TF 1500 index

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