Finding the distributor cap in a Ford Econoline
March 6, 2011 5:49 PM   Subscribe

Where is the distributor cap on a Ford Econoline?

It's raining, and my boyfriend's work van isn't going to start in the morning. The van only has problems in the rain. We'd like to maybe spray some WD-40 in the distributor cap (just to get it going early tomorrow) but can't find the distributor cap.

Where is it, and is this a good short-term fix? Is there anything else we should know before doing this?
posted by sarling to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
Find the spark plugs. Find the spark plug wires. Follow the wires to the point where they all converge on a cylindrical object. Bam, that's the distributor cap.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:54 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: Take off the doghouse (the dome thing in the passenger compartment). The thing with the heavy wires leading to it is the dist cap. The wires are in order, so either don't take them off or make sure you mark what goes where (nail polish).

You should be able to turn the two little screws on each side a quarter turn to get the thing off. Inside you'll find the rotor (still attached to the engine). It's likely corroded at the tip. Scrape off the corrosion. Look inside the dist cap and see the little contacts (one for each cylinder)? Those are probably corroded too. Scrape 'em.

That should get you down the road.
posted by notsnot at 6:19 PM on March 6, 2011

What year model is this van that we're talking about? Does the distributor have a mechanical rotor?
posted by nefariousj at 6:34 PM on March 6, 2011

Response by poster: The van is no older than 2000, but what year, I can't say. Don't know about the mechanical rotor.
posted by sarling at 6:37 PM on March 6, 2011

The van's registration papers ( Americans call it a "pink slip", I believe) will tell you what year it is.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:48 PM on March 6, 2011

Did you find that pesky distributor cap?

Ford Econolines switched over to coil packs and did away with the distributor caps pre-2000. If you find one on your van, then you don't have what you think you have.

I would suggest you take the vehicle to a mechanic at some point to diagnose the problem. IF you actually have a distributor cap on your van, I would also suggest trying out some contact cleaner as spraying it with wd-40 would just make it greasy but in no way improve electrical conductivity of said distributor cap.
posted by Gravitus at 9:05 PM on March 6, 2011

You may be able to put a heater under the van to prevent problems with condensation. Obviously, there are many unsafe ways to do this, particularly in the rain, but if it's at all practical it may be quicker than removing the doghouse, although the Ford Econoline doghouse looks much easier to remove some of those in other vans.
posted by yohko at 10:12 PM on March 6, 2011

My instinct says that if you can't start the van on a rainy day, then you need to replace your spark plug wires...
posted by plinth at 3:19 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Econoline vans, generally speaking, use the same powertrain as the F-series pickup trucks, and I can tell you that my 2000 F-150 (5.4 V-8) does not have a distributor - it uses an electronic ignition with coil-on-plug. So, looking for a distributor cap or spark plug wires is probably not a fruitful exercise here, assuming your van is 2000 or newer as you've indicated. From what I remember, they made the switch from mechanical rotors with the 1998 model year, so it's probably worth verifying the model year of your boyfriend's van.

That having been said, the coil-on-plugs do tend to fail in wet/damp weather over time - I've had to replace two in my F-150, and will need to do a third soon. It will present itself as a miss (engine running rough and stuttering/jerking, with a decrease in power on acceleration), and the engine computer will throw a P030x code, with the X being the cylinder with the faulty coil. Most auto parts stores will read the codes for you for free.
posted by deadmessenger at 5:58 AM on March 7, 2011

N'thing plug wires.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:28 AM on March 7, 2011

I would also suggest trying out some contact cleaner as spraying it with wd-40 would just make it greasy but in no way improve electrical conductivity of said distributor cap.

The WD-40 trick doesn't come from hoping to improve electrical conductivity. In many older cars with mechanical rotors, water/condensation would collect under the distributor cap and hinder spark and starting. A quick spray with WD-40 (which acts as a water displacer) would get rid of the condensation and allow easier starting.

But yeah, to the OP, if the van is "no older than 2000", I rather doubt you have a distributor, it is most likely totally electronic ignition. Sure, your problem may be related to wet weather, but I think the root of the problem lies elsewhere under the hood. Worn or faulty plug wires that are arcing, perhaps. When's the last time the plugs were changed, if ever?
posted by xedrik at 8:31 AM on March 7, 2011

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