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condenser change at tune up


gregleck
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When I was a kid working on my '62 Olds, my father told me to always change the condenser, along with the rotor, points and plugs,

during a tune up.  It was a cheap item.

 

Now, I am running a 37 Buick Special (6 volt system, 248 cid straight 8) and am about to tune it up.  I got a new set of points, rotor, and cap from Bob's Automobilia.

 

However, I have heard, from several sources now, that about 50% of the condensers out there are bad, right off the shelf, and often fail in a few hundred miles.

 

Can anyone suggest a good source which might supply me with a condenser likely to last longer than that?

 

 

 

 

 

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When I was a kid working on my '62 Olds, my father told me to always change the condenser, along with the rotor, points and plugs,

during a tune up.  It was a cheap item.

 

. I was told exactly the same thing by my Auto Shop teacher back in high school, and have done so ever since.
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I suppose that all of us of a Certain Age learned that in our youth.  But today, given the oft-reported quality problems, if there is minimal if any cratering of the old points, I leave the old condenser in there for another 10K miles.  The transfer of material from one point to the other (cratering) indicates that the condenser (actually, CAPACITOR) value is not quite right for the system. BUT I always carry at least one spare condenser among my spares.

 

Heat is the enemy of capacitor longevity, and externally-mounted units are arguably subjected to greater heat than inside-the-distributor units.  A Pierce-Arrow Society member who used to work for the Onan Engine Company recommends Onan capacitor p/n 0312-0256 for high-heat applications. I bought some online and so far have installed a pair, externally mounted, on my Delco 668-E distributor on my 1930 Pierce with excellent results.  Note, however, that these Onan units come with long (approx. 4.75 inch) pigtails which may prove awkward for inside-the-distributor mounting.

 

For what it may be worth... 

 

George

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  • 2 weeks later...

Back when the mantra was "points and condenser", all were made in the USA by "name brand" companies and they worked for us back then.  The point erosion/"cratering" was supposed to be related to condenser values, but I now wonder if such things happened as a normal matter of course, as spark plug "gap erosion"?  Or did the electrical value of the condensers change with time and use?

 

"Point cratering", as spark plug "gap erosion" is not going to happen immediately, so you'll have some "run time" before those issues should become "critical".  Therefore, I'd suspect that if you currently have an ignition system that works, just needs a little "freshening", then I'd rather have a "known working, and has worked" condenser rather than chance some "possibly known quantity new part" in the distributor.  So I'd just replace the point set AND BE SURE to add an appropriate amount of POINT GREASE to the point set's rubbing block!!!!!

 

IF the point gap and dwell are not in the desired range at the same time, that can indicate wear of the lobes on the distributor shaft.  Been there, done that, when I couldn't get the dwell and gap to coincide on a distributor, so I pulled it out and tried to set the gap wtih a dial indicator, which is when I found the variations from lobe to lobe on the distributor "cam".  However you end up getting the points adjusted, be sure to re-set the basic timing as dwell affects the basic timing setting.  Pertronix does have 6 volt electronic ignition conversion kits, if you call them, FYI, if such a thing might be desired.

 

I mention the "point grease" issue as that was an integral part of the earlier point changes, but the little vials of lube seemed to not be in point sets starting in about 1980, as if it was not needed or some decided to delete it as an incognito price increase.  It's still just as important NOW as it was THEN.  I also suspect that some of the low-mileage point deterioration/replacement issues were because of that and those who changed the points not knowing about it. 

 

Thinking about those things now, I suspect that voltage to the points is more important the condenser value.  AND that people would "normally" file the points between changes?  Both reasons I suspect that changing the condenser might not be as important as was suspected in earlier times.  But how much the value would change with time, heat, and use would be an important issue.

 

Plus, in earlier times, when a "condenser checker" might not have been "readily-available" everywhere AND something of a non-trust of things "electronic" (with many snake oil salespeople back then!), it was better to sell a condenser as a part of the tune-up for general piece of mind (in a time when wireline "single line" telephones were still a luxury for many!) was more important than the modest added cost.

 

NTX5467

Edited by NTX5467 (see edit history)
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In addition to the fine information that NTX has provided, I still have my tube of distributor cam lube that is still nearly full after forty-five years. Following the advice of my Auto Shop teacher, "a little bit is too much", as in brake shoe lube on backing plates.

A little story I was told while attending the Sun Automotive Diagnostic class back in 1971, was that Standard Ignition Products had an outbreak of failed ignition points shortly after the start of World War II. Long story short, it was discovered that as men went off to fight, women were hired to take their place, and if a woman who was assigned to assemble ignition contact sets, was in here menstration cycle, here body secreted an acidic substance that if in contact with the ignition points would cause them to fail. The remedy was to rotate the labor force to women who were not in their cycle.

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