How to Clean a Distributor on a 1989 Nissan Sentra

The distributor in a 1989 Nissan Sentra "distributes" the spark from the battery to each of the spark plugs and enables the engine to start. Bad spark plugs or carbon buildup can interfere with the operation of the distributor, which needs a clean spark transfer inside it to function properly. Cleaning the distributor is a process that doesn't take a lot of time, usually less than an hour, and can be done yourself. The process involves careful preparation of the distributor, the distributor cap and the rotor inside the cap prior to cleaning.

Tools Used: Wax pencil, Sharpie, Emery cloth, 3/8-inch ratchet, Soft toothbrush, Cotton swabs

Clean Distributor

Disconnect the negative battery cable from the negative battery terminal and set it aside, making sure it does not come into contact with metal. This will prevent injury to yourself and damage to the electrical components of the car.

Draw a small mark on the cylinder head, distributor base and cap using a wax pencil or Sharpie. The marks should all line up as you will need to make sure that these marks are lined up upon reinstallation.

Locate the retaining clip on the distributor cap. The retaining clip slides up to allow removal of the distributor cap from the wiring harness. Lift the distributor cap gently away from the distributor. Do not remove the spark plug wires from the cap unless you are replacing the spark plugs while you are cleaning the distributor.

Disconnect the vacuum lines by removing the clip securing them to the distributor. Turn the distributor cap over and note the position of the rotor inside. The rotor will be a round metal piece with spokes that rotate inside the cap and distribute a spark to each of the points on the cap.

Using a wax pencil, carefully mark the areas where the spokes meet the points and number them to make sure the position of the rotor is the same as it was before the cleaning.

Unbolt the distributor from the engine with a 3/8-inch ratchet. There are four bolts on most 1989 Sentras. Set the bolts aside and remove the distributor assembly from the engine. Inspect the interior of the cap and the distributor.

Scrub carbon deposits from the cap, the distributor and the interiors of both with a soft dry toothbrush. Clean the exterior with a small dry emery cloth. Do not use solvents or compressed air to remove the debris. Scrub the sides and interiors gently. For areas that are difficult to reach, use a small cotton swab to clean what you can, making sure not to leave cotton residue inside the distributor cap or on any parts.

Realign the marks on the rotor inside the distributor cap. Bolt the distributor back onto the engine and make sure the marks are aligned in the right place on the base and the cylinder head. Reconnect the vacuum lines and wiring harness to the distributor cap. Slide the retaining clip up and hook the wire from the wiring harness underneath the hook and allow the clip to lower gently. Reconnect the negative battery cable.

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