Igniters are responsible for lighting the gas in the grill’s burners. When they work well, igniters make grill-lighting as easy and convenient as pushing a button or turning a dial. But, not surprisingly, considering they do their job in an abusive environment of high heat, acidic meat drippings, and corrosive weather conditions, sometimes things go wrong. In fact, igniter failure is a common complaint – and source of frustration – for gas grillers.

True, you can usually light the grill by manually inserting a long match or lighter through a hole in the base of the grill. But, replacing the igniter is an easy and relatively inexpensive fix that will have you back in business faster than you can say finger-lickin-good.

How do Igniters Work?

Igniters are among the more complex elements of a gas grill. The visible part of the system is usually a push-button or a rotary knob on the control panel. Hidden behind the panel – and where the real, science-fair-worthy action takes place – is the spark-generating component.

The spark-generator contains a piezoelectric crystal. When the start button is pushed or knob turned, it triggers a spring-loaded hammer which strikes the crystal. The energy generated by this friction creates an electrical spark that travels down a flexible wire until it reaches an electrode tip at the end of the wire. The electrode is positioned within a small, open, metal box called a collector box that traps some of the gas going to the burner. The spark arcs from the wire’s electrode tip to the ceiling of the collector box, igniting the gas that’s been trapped inside. This, in turn, lights the gas in the adjacent burner.

Some grills have separate igniters for each burner, and the process must be repeated for each one. Others have cross-over ignition systems, in which one burner automatically lights the one next to it.

Types of Igniters

There are two main types of spark-generating igniters:

  • Piezo – Each time the start button is pushed or knob turned, it generates one spark.
  • Battery-operated – These igniters create multiple, continuous sparks – and that familiar “click, click, click” sound – until ignition is successful. Battery systems are becoming more popular because ignition is more reliable.
  • A third type of igniter – hot-surface ignition –– is found on only a few, mostly high-end, grill models. It does not spark, but rather has an igniter rod that instantly gets so hot it lights the gas in the burners. This system is highly corrosion-resistant so it is very durable and dependable.

Troubleshooting: What to do when the igniter’s not working

  • First, check the battery – it’s often the culprit. To replace a dead or corroded battery, simply unscrew the igniter button. Pop in a new AA battery and reposition the unit.
  • If that doesn’t work, check the flexible wire. Are the connections tight?
  • Is the wire’s electrode tip aligned properly within the collector box? Is the electrode corroded? Try sanding the tip with sandpaper or wiping it with alcohol.
  • Is the collector box cracked? If so, it must be replaced. If not, try sanding the interior of the box.

Need to Replace?

If none of these easy fixes works, it may be necessary to replace the igniter unit. But before you do, try one more test. Manually light the grill with a match. If it lights, the problem is likely the igniter. If it doesn’t light, the issue may actually be a clogged or dirty burner. Clean the burner and test the igniter again. If the grill lights, there’s no need to replace the igniter. If it doesn’t, a new igniter will probably do the trick.

For a complete list of replacement igniter parts from Appliance Factory Parts, select your grill brand.

One important safety note: If a grill ever fails to light, always wait 5 minutes before attempting to relight it to allow the gas to dissipate.

April 21st, 2015

Posted In: BBQ Maintenance

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