6 Symptoms to Detect a Bad MSD Ignition Box & How to Fix

6 Symptoms to Detect a Bad MSD Ignition Box & How to Fix

Modern-day cars are equipped with numerous components enabling you to exploit the car’s limits regarding power, efficiency, comfort, safety, and overall technology. 

The MSD (Multiple Spark Discharge) ignition box is a piece of patented MSD Ignition technology tasked with firing your spark plugs multiple times as opposed to most systems, which only do it once.

Be that as it may, the MSD box isn’t perfect and can suffer from a wide variety of issues.

We will tell you what these issues are, what to do if any of them occur, and how expensive it is to replace/repair the MSD ignition box. 

Lastly, we will also tell you how serious some of these issues are and how often you ought to inspect or service the MSD ignition box system. 

6 Common Symptoms to Detect a Bad MSD Ignition Box

The symptoms that lead to MSD ignition box issues are missing spark plugs, backfires, stumbles, engine stalling, rough idling, and weird smells. 

Other issues include the car not starting, the key not turning, the fuses constantly blowing, and dashboard lights followed by no starter motor sound.

We will now list these symptoms in a more detailed manner to help you narrow down what is causing the initial problem. 

MSD Ignition Box SymptomsMSD Ignition Box Problems
Missing Spark, Backfires, or StumblesMSD box connection issues, internal short circuits, improper wiring.
Engine Stalls, Runs Bad & Smells BadSparks not lighting up, intermittent spark lighting problems, burnt wires.
Engine Unable To StartNo/low current is supplied to the sparks due to wiring issues or short circuits.
Ignition Key Does Not TurnIgnition cylinder is stuck, the wheel is locked, and the connection to the MSD box is bad.
Dashboard Lights are Flickering & No Starter SoundMSD connection issues, starter motor connection issues, and battery issues. 
Fuse Keeps BlowingVoltage problems, current flow problems, damaged wirings, and system short circuits.

Missing Spark, Backfires, or Stumbles

Missing sparks, spark backfires, or engine stumbles can be caused by the MSD ignition box’s loose connections, improper wiring, or internal short circuits. 

If the timing of the system is off and isn’t able to cause the sparks when needed, the car may stumble, or backfire.

For this system to do its job, the sparks night to engage after the exhaust valves open and right before the intake valves start closing. 

This is the time when the sparks can start the engine up, which means that improper timing of any of these will result in the symptoms mentioned above.

As far as missing sparks are concerned, these tend to happen because the individual plug isn’t properly connected to the rest of the box. 

Even though the MSD box connections are designed to last a long time, they can corrode or even completely disengage.

Engine Stalls, Runs Bad, and Smells Bad

Engine stalling, rough idling, and weird odors can be caused by a wide variety of problems, and it can sometimes be really difficult to pinpoint exactly what is causing these symptoms. 

As mentioned above, MSD box connection issues can cause the engine to stall, idle roughly, or emit weird smells. 

The stalling is typically associated with the moment you start the car up while rough idling is related to some of the sparks not lighting up when needed. 

Lastly, bad smells can be caused by burnt-out MSD wires, which can even lead to a fire if not dealt with in time.

Engine Unable to Start

Virtually all ignition issues affect the car’s ability to start up. 

This is rather to be expected as the ignition is primarily tasked with supplying the current from the battery to the spark plugs, which light up to combust the fuel and air mixture and thus start the car up.

If your engine is taking too much time to start up, or it fails to kick in at all, there is a great chance that something is wrong with your MSD ignition box.

Do keep in mind that these problems can be caused by other systems as well. If you can’t hear the fuel pump priming when turning on the accessory power, the same can be caused by a faulty fuel pump.

Lastly, a starter motor or a battery/alternator issue can also cause the car to refuse to start. 

Ignition Key Does Not Turn

While trying to properly pinpoint the essence of any issue, it’s important to inspect most of the systems directly linked with what might be causing it. 

As such, the ignition cylinder should also be looked at, especially if the key refuses to turn while in the ignition cylinder.

The ignition lock needs to be engaged for the key to turn. Try to wiggle the steering wheel left and right while turning the key as that should unlock the ignition cylinder. 

Even though this rarely ever leads to MSD ignition box problems, there are instances in which people tried everything in order to finally realize that the problem was actually related to the ignition cylinder.

Dashboard Lights Flickering & No Starter Sound

If you come across most, if not all of your dashboard lights flickering and refusing to turn off, the first thing you need to check is the battery, the starter motor, and the alternator. 

These problems are typically caused by low battery voltage, the battery not charging via the alternator, or problems with the battery and alternator wiring. 

The terminals can corrode and mess with the connections while alternator belt problems can stop it from charging up the battery.

If all of these are fine, you should focus on your ignition system next, more specifically, the MSD ignition box.

To be perfectly honest, it seems like the dashboard flickering symptom is one of the more common ones associated with MSD box trouble. 

This is why you should always check the MSD connections for any sign of wiring corrosion, deterioration, or electrical short circuits.

Fuse Keeps Blowing

Whenever a fuse pops, it’s due to the system being overrun by large surges of electricity. 

As the MSD ignition box draws a lot of current from the battery as it tries to spark multiple plugs, the system can sometimes panic and cause a fuse to blow. 

The MSD pushes about 600 volts to the coil, which isn’t something to ignore. 

Try to measure the voltage of the coil while trying to start the car up. If there is no current passing through the system, be sure to check if the fuse is blown.

If you simply replace the fuse and don’t fix the problem from which it originates, chances are that the fuse is going to blow again.

What to Do When You Detect a Bad MSD Ignition? (How to Fix)

What to Do When You Detect a Bad MSD Ignition (How to Fix)

When it comes to fixing these problems, you first need to pinpoint exactly what is wrong. Sometimes the problem can be caused by just a single issue, but it can also be caused by a plethora of issues.

If you fail to inspect one of these components, chances are that you are not going to fix the problem for good. This can cause you to spend a lot more time and money which is why it’s imperative for you to inspect everything together and then go about fixing the problem.

We are now going to outline the entire process of troubleshooting the MSD ignition box system and fixing it for good. 

Just be sure to follow these steps in a detailed manner as missing one can sometimes cause more harm than good. 

You should consult yourself with this video below before and while troubleshooting the system in order for it all to make sense.

Step 1: Conduct a white wire trigger inspection.

Step 1 Conduct a white wire trigger inspection.

Before you inspect anything, be sure to put the car’s ignition system in its off position to prevent electrocution and take the key out of the cylinder.

After taking the key out of the cylinder, you ought to start by removing the ignition coil from the distributor cap and positioning the terminal in its place.

It’s also important to position the terminal about half an inch off the good ground to prevent causing any damage to nearby people and systems in case of a short circuit. 

Continue by disconnecting the white wire from the ignition amplifier and turning the key to its ON position. If the white wire causes a spark every time you touch the ground, it means that the ignition is working as intended. 

Step 2:  Inspect all the wirings, replace the coil, and add 12-volt red wire.

If the white wire didn’t spark when you touched the ground, there is something wrong with the ignition system, and it is your job to figure out what that is. 

Using a voltmeter to measure the current supplied by the red wire is your next step.

If the red wire is pushing above/exactly 12 voltages while the key is in its ON position, the connection is fine. 

If the red wire isn’t providing any current at all, you will have to buy a new one as this one is toast. 

At this point, you should also check if the ignition coils are fine. If they are, proceed to the next step, if they are not, replace them and proceed to the next step. 

Step 3: Inspect the Magnetic Pickup trigger. 

Place the car’s key in its OFF position then continue to remove the ignition coil connection wire and place the terminal half an inch of good ground as performed in step number 1.

Carry on by disconnecting the MSD Magnetic Pickup and turning the key back to its ON position, but don’t crank the engine just yet. 

Step 3 Inspect the Magnetic Pickup trigger.

The main thing you need to do here is to find an adequate jumper wire to short the violet and green wires together and pull the jumper off the system. 

It’s important to remember that removing the short should cause the sparks to jump up. If there are no sparks anywhere, continue the troubleshooting process with the next step.

Step 4: Replace the components.

After you’ve done everything listed in all of the previous steps and the issue still persists, it’s time to check some of the components individually and replace them if they seem to be faulty. 

  • Wires – Check all of the wires going from the MSD box to all of its linked components. Check the current flow of every wire individually, and replace the wire if it isn’t providing any current.
  • Ignition Coils – We’ve already talked about replacing the coils if they aren’t working as intended, but be sure to inspect them again after going through all the steps mentioned above.

Step 5: Replace the MSD ignition box.

If you still didn’t manage to fix the MSD ignition box by carefully examining all of the associated components, there is only one thing left to do and that is to replace the MSD ignition box altogether. 

Step 5 Replace the MSD ignition box.

Is replacing an MSD ignition typically expensive? How much does it cost?

The MSD box isn’t as expensive as most people initially believe. You can expect to pay between $20 and $100 (shipping, labor, and taxes included) for a brand-new MSD ignition box.

If you want to source it from somewhere else (not MSD directly), the price can be both higher and lower. 

How often should you inspect or service an MSD ignition box?

You don’t need to service and maintain the MSD ignition box specifically as it can be done simply by following all of your pre-scheduled maintenance.

The MSD ignition box should be good to last about 60,000 miles or so before some of its cables and connections start causing problems. 

Also, it’s a good idea to stay on top of all the things related to the MSD box by checking all of the associated MSD ignition box owner manuals.