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Types of Electronic Ignitions

Updated February 21, 2017

Electronic ignition systems first came into wide use in the 1970s. They were originally created to improve vehicle emissions but turned out to provide much greater horsepower and torque in vehicle engines. Since their introduction, several types of electronic ignition systems have become widely used in automobiles throughout the world. Knowing these different types can be useful for any vehicle owner.

Transistor-assisted Electronic Ignition Systems

Transistor-assisted electronic ignition systems are probably the simplest type, primarily because they use most of the components of older ignition systems. These systems included mechanical contact points which were subject to significant amounts of wear and tear. These systems solve this problem by using the contact points as low-voltage triggers for a separate, solid-state switching system which handles the higher currents necessary to start a vehicle.

Optical Trigger Electronic Ignition Systems

These type of electronic ignition systems do not use any sort of contact points but instead employ a beam of light which is broken by a vaned rotor, which, in turn, sends a signal to the electronic circuitry in the system which switches on a large current.

Magnetic Trigger Electronic Ignition Systems

Magnetic trigger electronic ignition systems operate on the same concept as the optical trigger systems, but instead of a light they use a magnetic Hall Effect Sensor to send the message to the electric circuitry which sets the current in motion.

Induction Electronic Ignition Systems

This type of electronic ignition system contains a coil which stores the power necessary to create the spark that sets the engine in motion. When the ignition is activated, the power supply to the coil is shut off, which triggers the release of electrical energy. This very simple design is sometimes referred to as the "Kettering system," named after the inventor of the modern ignition system.

Capacitive Discharge Ignition Systems

Capacitive discharge ignition (CDI) systems came into wide use in the 1960s. These systems have marine and automotive applications. CDI systems contain a capacitor storage system that sends a small amount of voltage into a coil similar to the type used in induction systems, except the coil here acts like a transformer and magnifies the power of the voltage. CDI systems are quicker and more efficient than most other types of ignition systems.

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About the Author

Justin Mitchell has been a writer since 2009. In 2002, he received a B.A. in theater and writing from the University of Northern Colorado. Mitchell worked as an ESL teacher in Europe and Asia before earning a master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York. He has written for the "New York Daily News" and WNYC.org, among other outlets.