Internal combustion engines can be divided into spark-ignition engines, which require spark plugs to begin combustion, and compression-ignition engines (diesel engines), which compress the air and then inject diesel fuel into the heated compressed air mixture where it autoignites. Compression-ignition engines may use glow plugs to improve cold start characteristics.
The spark plug has two primary functions:
To ignite the air/fuel mixture. Electrical energy is transmitted through the spark plug, jumping the gap in the plugs firing end if the voltage supplied to the plug is high enough. This electrical spark ignites the gasoline/air mixture in the combustion chamber to remove heat from the combustion chamber.
Spark plugs cannot create heat, they can only remove heat. The temperature of the end of the plug\’s firing end must be kept low enough to prevent pre-ignition, but high enough to prevent fouling. The spark plug works as a heat exchanger by pulling unwanted thermal energy from the combustion chamber and transferring heat to the engines cooling system. The heat range of a spark plug is defined as its ability dissipate heat from the tip.