5 Symptoms To Detect A Bad MSD Ignition Box (Explained) (2023)

The MSD ignition is designed with capacitive discharge technology to produce an extremely high current spark and ensures complete combustion of the fuel mixture to generate more power.

Therefore, when it turns bad, it visibly affects the engine performance.

However, there are some significant symptoms to detect when the MSD ignition is not working accurately or failing and in today’s article, I will try to address each of those symptoms.

What Sign You Should Look For To Detect A Bad MSD Ignition Box?The most obvious indication or sign of having a failing MSD ignition box is when you notice the engine is visibly missing the spark and struggling to start.


  • 5 Common Symptoms To Detect A Bad MSD Ignition Box:
    • 1. Missing Spark, Backfires, Or Stumbles
    • 3. Engine Enable To Start
    • 4. Ignition Key Does Not Turn
  • What to Do When You Detect A Bad MSD Ignition?
  • Is Replacing An MSD Ignition Typically Expensive?
  • How Often Should You Inspect Or Service An MSD Ignition?
  • The Verdict

5 Common Symptoms To Detect A Bad MSD Ignition Box:

There are other symptoms that also give a clear indication of having a bad or failing MSD ignition box.

So, let’s learn more about those symptoms and how to detect a bad msd ignition box –

1. Missing Spark, Backfires, Or Stumbles

When the MSD Ignition box has any issues like a loose connection, wrong wiring, or an internal short circuit, your vehicle engine will miss the required spark, backfire, or may even stumble.

The ignition system spark is supposed to light up exactly before the intake valve closes and after the exhaust valve open timing in order to fire up the engine to start.

Therefore, if the spark timing is too early or too late, it will count as no spark and cause the backfiring or stumbling issue.

MSD box can also cause the engine to backfire or stumble. Remember any issue related to the ignition system spark directly affects the engine performance.

(Video) How To: Testing an MSD 6AL

2. Engine May Stall, Runs Bad & Smells Bad

Another most obvious symptom of a faulty or damaged MSD ignition box is when you notice that your engine has started to stall very frequently, and the performance has turned significantly poor.

The poor performance, stalling, and bad or burning smell coming out from the engine compartment may also occur due to other major component failures.

But remember, an older or failing ignition circuit box also tends to cut out the signal and forces the engine to stall and run badly.

As a result, you might see that the engine abruptly shuts off after some time.

In some cases, users claim that their engines refuse to restart again even after several tries, but some were able to start their engines after a brief break.

3. Engine Enable To Start

Another common symptom indicating that your MSD ignition box or circuit needs attention is when your vehicle engine is taking too long to start and run or might not turn up at all.

This is a very obvious sign of an ignition failure, where it fails to provide the required operating signal and the engine fails to start as usual.

Sometimes, you may see that your vehicle engine is cranking like usual, but not actually starting up or maybe too slow to run.

4. Ignition Key Does Not Turn

If you ever notice that the ignition key is not turning on, there must be something wrong with your ignition system or box and it is preventing the key to turn on.

So, check whether the ignition lock is engaged or not. If the lock is not engaged, make sure to engage it by turning the steering wheel back and forth.

Remember, if the key does not turn on, your engine will not start either, so make sure to inspect your ignition box and fix the problem as soon as possible.

5. Dashboard Lights Are Flickering & No Starter Sound

Another commonly encountered indication of a faulty MSD is when you notice that your vehicle’s dashboard lights are constantly flickering.

Especially if your vehicle is in motion position and the dashboard lights are giving that sign, it is pretty much obvious that something is bothering your ignition system.

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Starting humming or slight noise is normal for any vehicle, but when you cannot hear the traditional starter noise, it can be another indication of possible error in your ignition.

Generally, people automatically assume that the ignition switch or the battery is damaged, or maybe the battery does not have enough voltage power.

But if you found no issue with the battery, that clearly indicates that you might have a bad MSD ignition, which is causing the problem.

These are the most common and obvious symptoms to indicate that you have a bad or failing MSD ignition box.

What to Do When You Detect A Bad MSD Ignition?

After encountering any of the above-discussed symptoms, you need to do a physical inspection to confirm the actual issue.

Fortunately, there are few easy ways to test and determine the actual problem in your MSD ignition.

So, just follow the below-described steps to fix your MSD ignition problem.

Inspect The White Wire Trigger:

Before starting the inspection, make sure that the ignition switch is in the Off position.

Then, you need to remove the ignition coil wire from the distributor cap and position the terminal.

Make sure the terminal is staying around 1/2 inches from a good ground.

Now, disconnect the white wire from the ignition amplifier or the distributor points and turn the ignition switch to the On position.

Next, tap on that white wire to ground several times to check whether there is a presence of spark every time you tap on the white wire.

(Video) Tony Msd 6al problem

If you see any spark, that means your ignition is working correctly.

Inspect All The Wirings, Replace The Coil & Add 12 Volt Red Wire:

If you still see no spark there, you need to check all the wirings one by one for wrong or lose connections and fix them.

It can be the ignition coil’s fault so, replace the coil and test again.

If that does not fix your problem, look over your MSD wiring, you will see a small red wire there.

Now, check whether the red wire has 12 voltages when the ignition key is turned on.

If it shows less than 12, you need to find a 12-voltage source to replace this one and test again.

Inspect The Magnetic Pickup Trigger:

First, keep the ignition switch is in the Off position. Then, remove the ignition coil wire and position the terminal just like before.

Now, disconnect the MSD Magnetic Pickup connector and turn On the ignition switch, but do not start cranking the engine.

Now use a small jumper wire to short the green and violet magnetic pickup wires together.

After you have finished shorting both wires together, pull the jumper off.

Remember, whenever a short is removed, a spark is supposed to jump up.

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If you cannot see a single spark there, you need to check the wirings, coil, and red wire’s voltage and fix the problematic component.

Replace The MSD Ignition Box:

After all those testing and inspection processes, if you still cannot find the spark, it means the ignition box is faulty or damaged, and you need to replace it.

Is Replacing An MSD Ignition Typically Expensive?

Absolutely no. MSD offers to replace and repairing of all their products by charging very reasonable costing.

However, the MSD ignition repairing cost will vary depending on the damaged level.

Approximately, MSD charges between $23.00 – $87.50(excluding all sales tax and shipping charges) for the repairing task.

How Often Should You Inspect Or Service An MSD Ignition?

Typically, all you need to do is maintaining the regular schedule servicing of your vehicle’s entire engine and other major components.

In general, the MSD ignition wires or cables can last for around 60,000 miles of operation, so, better you change that after each 60000 miles operation.

Better to follow your ignition product manual to maintain accurate repairing or replacing schedules.

The Verdict

Though MSD builds each of their ignition products as one of the best heavy-duty ignitions, sometimes these products can also fail or become broken.

Each of the above mentioned and described signs and symptoms will guide you to know when your ignition needs attention and fix the problem before it can severely damage your vehicle’s engine.

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How do you diagnose a bad MSD box? ›

DIAGNOSING A BAD MSD 6014- Step By Step Troubleshooting | Carbed LS

How is MSD Ignition diagnosed? ›

How to Solve Ignition Problems with MSD's Universal Ignition Tester

What are the symptoms of a bad ignition control module? ›

a faulty ignition module can affect ignition timing, resulting in an engine that misfires and runs rough. the engine may also run well at low speed, but won't accelerate well. 3. stalling: a failing ignition module can occasionally prevent the engine from getting spark, causing it to stall.

How do you test a MSD distributor module? ›

Use an ohm meter across the two wires and confirm that the resistance is between 400 and 1,300 ohms. If the pickup is out of this specification, it may not be triggering the ignition box. Confirm the operation of the ignition and coil by following the “How to False Trigger Your MSD Ignition” selection.

What does an MSD Ignition box do? ›

MSD's ignition boxes feature Multiple Sparks at lower RPMS, along with a stronger, hotter, higher voltage spark to completely ignite the mixture.

How do you test an MSD Ignition coil? ›

If you have an ohm meter, you can check the primary and secondary resistance of the coil. First, be sure to have the ignition turned off and the coil disconnected from the ignition. The primary resistance is measured with the probes on the positive and the negative terminals of the coil.

What causes no spark to distributor? ›

Loss of spark is caused by anything that prevents coil voltage from jumping the electrode gap at the end of the spark plug. This includes worn, fouled or damaged spark plugs, bad plug wires or a cracked distributor cap.

How do I test my MSD magnetic pickup? ›

Turn the ignition to the On position. DO NOT CRANK THE ENGINE. With a small jumper wire, short the Green and Violet magnetic pickup wires together then pull the jumper off. Each time the short is removed a spark should jump If spark is present, the ignition is working properly.

How do you test a magnetic pickup distributor? ›

On distributors with the pickup separate from the module assembly, you can check the pickup using your Ohm meter. Connect the leads from your Ohm meter to the 2 leads of the pickup. If you show a resistance of 50 to 200 Ohms, the pickup is functioning correctly.

How do you test a GM ignition module? ›

How to test a GM ignition module (crank sensor bypass test) - VRS

What are signs of ignition problems? ›

5 Signs of a Failing Ignition
  • Car fails to start. Perhaps the most generic symptom of ignition trouble is a vehicle that won't start. ...
  • Key will not turn. On the other end of the spectrum of obviousness is a key that will not turn in the ignition. ...
  • Stalling. ...
  • Flickering dashboard lights. ...
  • No noise from starter motor.

How do you know if your ignition switch actuator is bad? ›

Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Steering Column Actuator
  1. Difficulty starting the car.
  2. Key can be taken out of ignition switch anytime.
  3. No resistance on the key.
  4. Overheating ignition switch.
  5. Pay attention to dashboard lights.
Jan 12, 2016

How do I test a CDI box with a multimeter? ›

Step 2 – Testing CDI (Cold Test)

First take the leads of the multimeter and connect them together. If you are using a digital multimeter then you should hear a beeping sound. Measure for continuity between all the ground and the various other points. If your cdi is working well, you should not hear any sounds.

How do you test an ignition switch? ›

Put the metal plug on any metal surface of the engine. As soon you've placed the ignition key in the ignition switch, power on the engine. Now check if there's a spark on the old plug. Assuming there are no sparks on the plug, it's clear that the ignition switch is obviously defective and needs to be replaced.

How do you test a distributor? ›

To test a distributor, you need to use a multimeter tool and measure the resistance across the positive and negative terminals. The reading should be between 600 and 1400 Ohms for a functional distributor.

How do you test magnetic pickup MSD? ›

Turn the ignition to the On position. DO NOT CRANK THE ENGINE. With a small jumper wire, short the Green and Violet magnetic pickup wires together then pull the jumper off. Each time the short is removed a spark should jump If spark is present, the ignition is working properly.

Do MSD coils go bad? ›

Don't believe the Techs at MSD, the coils do go bad and be prepared to keep a spare in your trunk along with a pickup coil for the distributor, I've seen two of those go bad as well if the cap is not vented properly.

How do you test for no spark? ›

Remove a plug wire and insert an old spark plug or a spark plug tester into the end of the wire (the plug boot). Place the spark plug on a metal surface on the engine, or ground the spark plug tester to the engine. Then crank the engine to check for a spark. No spark indicates an ignition problem.

How do you use a MSD tester? ›

How to Use MSD's Ignition Tester - YouTube


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