Gallery: Find Ignition Faults with an MSD Universal Ignition Tester (Videos)

Ignition problems? There are very few things more upsetting than an engine with an ignition-related problem. Throwing parts at the difficulty often results in an unsuccessful repair. However, now you have a stockpile of unnecessary new parts, less money in your pocket, and valuable free time wasted. Simple component failures, like plugs and wires, coil(s), distributor, rotor and cap, could be the cause.

More complex parts like the module or the crank trigger could also be at fault. Even if the ignition components seem to be operating correctly, the ignition concerns could be related to battery or charging system failures. To combat ignition problems and fix the problem correctly the first time, MSD has developed the Universal Ignition Tester. And for those who live in strict emissions states, the tester is 50-state legal for sale or use on emissions-controlled vehicles.

Above left: As ignition technology advances, so does the need for a precise and user-friendly means to analyze today’s cutting-edge ignition systems. The newly introduced hand-held MSD Universal Ignition Tester can examine single channel ignition systems and the coil per cylinder ignition systems. Above center: The rugged Universal Ignition Tester has only seven wires (not all need to be connected – depending upon the ignition). There are three wires terminated with alligator-style ends. A white wire connects to point-type ignitions, and the red and black wires connect to the battery. The other four wires terminate in pairs in two separate MSD connector ends. The blue and green wires attach to the cam sync pickup of an MSD programmable ignition. The green and violet wires connect to a magnetic pickup input from an electronic ignition. Above right: The MSD Universal Ignition Tester verifies the operation of RPM activated switches and triggers, checks the shift points, sets engine rev limiters and shift lights, and even checks the tachometer’s accuracy.

In the past, finding a fault in any of the ignition components often required expensive test equipment. With the introduction of the MSD Universal Ignition Tester, now there is a way to test the ignition, battery and charging systems with a single affordable tool. The tester provides precision diagnostics eliminating the guesswork in finding the troubled component, which reduces the expenses and wasted time. MSD’s Universal Ignition Tester can test the long-established single channel ignition systems and late-model coil-on-plug (coil-per-cylinder) applications.

The Universal Ignition Tester comes with a large, easy to read backlit display packaged in a compact housing. The tester has a single dial control to easily navigate through the display screens. MSD developed the tester to monitor the operation of points and magnetic signals, including one-, four-, six-, eight-, and twelve-cylinder engines. It can also test odd-fire six-cylinder engines and 24x, 58x, 12-1, and 36-1 trigger wheels. MSD has provided cam-sync output testing for the distributor-less ignitions (DIS) and electronic fuel injection (EFI) systems, dwell/duty-cycle controls, and battery readout information.

Above left: To start, you’ll need to connect the appropriate lead based on the style of ignition being tested. There are plenty of electrical diagrams included in the instruction manual that illustrate how to connect the tester based on the distributor or crank trigger and the type of MSD ignition system used on the vehicle. The MSD Universal Ignition Tester works with many engine cylinder configurations and multiple crank trigger types. Above center: The MSD Universal Ignition Tester can perform battery diagnostics, check the cam sync output signal, change the dwell and duty cycle of a device, or test for a distributor signal. Above right: A special feature of the Universal Ignition Tester is the RPM run mode. The tester’s run mode function simulates a complete quarter-mile pass based upon parameters input by the user. The run mode can confirm the operation of the ignition components.

A valuable option on the Universal Ignition Tester is the engine speed sweep test, which allows the user to create an ignition assessment through a predetermined engine RPM range. The RPM run mode simulates an actual quarter-mile pass. It can verify the operation of any RPM activated switches and triggers, check the shift points, set rev limiters, and actuate shift lights. The RPM mode can even check the tachometer’s accuracy.

The Universal Ignition Tester has seven wires, which are connected as needed (per application) to the vehicle’s ignition or battery. The white wire connects to point-type ignitions. The blue and green wires attach to the cam sync pickup of an MSD programmable ignition, and the green and violet wires connect to a magnetic pickup input from the electronic ignition. The green and violet wires also can adapt the power grid to the magnetic pickup pigtail.

Above left: When the RPM run mode is utilized (on a single coil ignition), the secondary coil wire needs to be disconnected from the distributor cap. A spark tester is plugged into the coil wire and grounded to chassis ground. The spark tester simulates each spark event rather than the spark plug in the cylinder. MSD includes the spark tester with the Universal Ignition Tester. Above center: Ignition problems are not always directly related to the ignition. If the battery and charging system output drops, the ignition spark output will be reduced or completely fail. MSD has built-in a battery system diagnostic to monitor the voltage. Above right: The dwell duty cycle setting is used with points output with the white wire. It is adjustable from 10° to 60°. The default setting is preset at 20° because that is the duty cycle for MSD ignitions.

Lastly, a red and a black wire connect to the battery to power the ignition tester. To aid with the testing and monitoring, MSD has included a test plug (spark tester) and a power grid adapter harness. For assistance in connecting the tester to your ride, MSD provides several electrical diagrams in the instruction manual.

On occasion, all of us experience ignition-related problems, and the MSD Universal Ignition Tester has made locating the concerns much more straightforward. The ignition tester is small enough to fit in a tool bag housed in your trunk. Still, it is powerful enough to diagnose ignition concerns with a few wire connections and manipulating a single dial. The Universal Ignition Tester is available at your favorite online retailer, so pick one up today. What do you have to lose – except that pesky ignition misfire?

Above left: The non-alligator terminated wires are installed in a pair of MSD specific connectors. The connectors are a simple plug-n-play with all other MSD components. Above center: MSD includes a power grid adapter harness with the Universal Ignition Tester. The harness allows testing of a magnetic pickup of a power grid system by using the violet and green magnetic pickup connector. Above right: More advanced users will appreciate the run mode and the onboard data acquisition systems to simulate and record a run. When the run is complete, upload it and play it back to confirm ignition timing, verify rpm retards, and check any rpm-activated components.

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Chris Holley

Chris Holley

Technical Contributor Chris has been a college professor for 20 years; the last 15 spent at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA. During the day Chris instructs HVAC and electrical/electronic classes, and high-performance classes, which includes the usage of a chassis dyno, flow benches, and various machining equipment at night. Chris owns a '75 Dart, a '06 Charger, a '12 Cummins turbo diesel Ram, and he is a multi-time track champion (drag racing) with his '69 340 Dart, which he has owned almost 30 years.

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