Need new spark plugs? Here's what to expect.

When spark plugs fire, each one creates a spark that ignites a mixture of air and...

When spark plugs fire, each one creates a spark that ignites a mixture of air and gasoline in your car's engine; this combustion powers your car. The engine has one spark plug for each cylinder, and each plug fires around 1500 times a minute. When these plugs, or the wires that connect them to the distributor, wear out or get fouled, they do not fire when they should.

These misfires cause the cylinders in your engine to miss strokes. Think of it as your car having an irregular heartbeat. As a result, your car may run roughly, develop bad gas mileage and have trouble starting. If you let the problem go long enough, your car may not start.

When you notice the above symptoms, check the spark plugs and their wires first.

The price tag

If bad spark plugs are the problem, what should you expect? Although a bad spark plug or wire is a serious problem, it is also one of the easiest and cheapest engine problems to fix.

The cost of spark plug replacements depends on where you go for service, as well as the make and model of your car. Take your car to the dealership for around $300 or less, or visit an independent mechanic for less than $200 on average. Shop around Atlanta mechanics before you commit.

Can you fix it yourself?

Mechanics' fees include the cost of labor, so if you feel comfortable working under the hood, save some money by doing the job yourself. You can usually finish the job in under an hour, depending on your skill level and how many plugs your engine has. Visit any Atlanta automotive store to buy spark plugs for $10 to $15 each.

Before you raise the hood, however, consider these factors:

  • If you don't have the right tools--a repair manual, a ratchet with a spark plug socket, dielectric grease and a torque wrench--compare their cost with your mechanic's quote. Consider the time you will need to spend picking up these items at the store, and decide whether your potential savings are worth it.
  • Look at your engine and your car's repair manual. Some cars' spark plugs are easy to access, but others require more disassembly. If this applies to your car, decide whether you really want to tackle it.
  • Spark plug replacement is a fairly simple repair and plenty of guides are available online, but if it is done incorrectly, your car may wind up in the shop to have the repairs done over again. If you are confident that you can do the work yourself, or you're willing to accept the risk of having it done again later, go for it! Otherwise, take your car to a professional.

Spark plugs are a vital part of your ignition system; fortunately, they are also simple and relatively inexpensive to fix, so do not put off this important piece of car maintenance.

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