How Can You Set Up The Ignition Timing

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The ignition timing of cars is basically a process where it supplies spark at the correct time to fire. And this process is controlled by the timing; you need to adjust the timing whenever it is needed to maintain the best performance.

When your car’s timing is neglected, the car suffers from poor gas mileage. It also decreases the power of the engine, and gradually your engine will stop running. Here is this article; we will let you know how you can use the timing light and how to use it to set ignition timing. 

How Can You Set Up The Ignition Timing

What Is Timing?

You require a mini-lesson on how engines work before we start learning how to use timing to set ignition timing. The timing in the car refers to the ignition and the whole procedure of plugs the fire spark, creating a spark in the combustion chamber of the car.

The timing of the car needs to be at the right setting to perform at the top level. Timing also affects the speed and efficiency, which affects the engine fires. 

While engines work by making the pistons move up and down by using gasoline explosions. That motion spins the engine and makes your car’s gear rotate and spin the wheels. You need to use electric spark plugs to ignite the gasoline. 

The Four Strokes

The engine needs to go through the four strokes in sequence to keep the engine running. These strokes are also known as intake, exhaust, and power. For combustion, air and fuel are drawn inside the cylinder during the intake. 

Pressure is necessary to have a good explosion rather than having a slow burn. And this part is the key thing that keeps the propulsion out of the process. The air that the engine draws is fully compressed, and this process is called the top dead center. It is high time when spark plugs should fire. 

The next stage is power. Power is required to push the piston back to the rotate engine during the explosion of gasoline. And the last step is exhaust; here, the explosion’s byproducts are ejected to create the start of the process anew.

Understanding Timing Numbers

The timing is really essential to keep the car going. That’s why it is necessary for you to understand timing numbers. Generally, the measurement of the timing adjustment is in degrees. During the process, by a few degrees, you can move the timing back and forth. The timing numbers can be found on the crankshaft pulley of the engine. 

The number of the timing varies from car’s model to model. With the help of these timing numbers, you will realize what car makers recommended. But you will not be able to find these numbers on the manufacturer’s websites or listings. 

How to Use a Timing Light?

We would suggest you use the timing light on the engine when it remains off to avoid unwanted accidents. The timing light or gun should have a few clamps. You need to attach the corresponding cables with the power and ground terminal to the battery of the car. Then attach the third wire with the first number spark plug wire. 

Now you have to make sure that you have chosen the right block because it will widely impact the reading of the timing. Once you’re done attaching everything to the car, start it and let the car idle. Now hover the light on the timing numbers in the crankshaft pulley, then you will get to see the numbers. 

The timing light or gun comes with a simple concept. When the spark is plugged in, the engine fires, it tells the timing light to flash. While the engine is running, the timing numbers will appear steady as the strobing effect makes it happen. Once you are done checking the idle timing of the car, now you need to rev the engine. This particular part of the process may require a friend of yours.

The rev of the engine needs to be up to approximately 3500 RPMs when it stays neutral. When the engine runs faster, the timing of the reading will change. This thing is responsible for the timing range.

Changing The Timing

You will know what to do with numbers and what adjustments to make when you find them. It is not difficult to learn how to advance the timing of the car. You will be barely able to twist the timing if you loosen the timing. 

You will be able to rotate the distributor, but you are not eligible to remove it from the car. In fact, you will adjust the ignition timing when you spin the housing of the distributor. 

Make sure you are creating the adjustments in small increments till you reach the perfect range of the car’s timing. You will need to practice the process regularly to master it, and practicing is a must when you do it for the first time. You may start wondering which direction you should rotate the distributor. But fortunately, it completely depends on the car you have. 

You can advance the timing of the car by rotating it in the opposite direction of the rotor. If the engine needs advance timing, then you will be required to turn the rotor on clockwise and then spin the distributor counterclockwise. If you find this process tricky, then you can just utilize a small twist.  

After finishing operating with adjustment, tighten the distributor and try to make sure whether the vacuum hoses are attached or not. It would be better if you check the timing once again at this stage. That’s pretty much it. Once you’re done with all the above processes, your car will be able to run at its best again. 

How Can You Set Up The Ignition Timing

You have just learned what timing is, how you can use the timing light, and many more. Here is how you use the timing light to set ignition timing:


Before you start the process, you need to read the car manual on how you can hook up the timing gun. Most of the timing guns come with three clips. Make sure that the auto engine is turned off and keep the key away from the ignition. However, it is also good to keep the battery terminal clean in order to boast a better connection.  

Step-by-step guide

Checking The Timing Number

The first step of setting the timing light is connecting the clips corresponding with the power and ground terminals. You need to attach the red corresponding clip with the positive terminal. Next, attach the black-colored corresponding clip with the negative terminal of the battery. 

If you accidentally attach the clips on the wrong clips, then the reading will provide you wrong information. When you are done attaching the chips, now it’s time to fix the third wire with the first plug fire. 

Adjusting The Timing, if Needed

After you get the ignition timing number that you need, the next step is to adjust the numbers only if it is necessary. Different car models come with different timing numbers, and these values depend on the transmission that the car used and how long it has been that particular car was manufactured. You are easily able to find out when your car’s timing needs an adjustment by reading the manufacturer’s manual. Or else, you can contact the local mechanic to adjust the numbers. 

Untighten The Distributor’s Bolt of The Car Engine

You need to loosen the bolt in a manner so that you can rotate the distributor. You can also change the timing by rotating the distributor in one direction. Now which direction you need to rotate the distributor will determine whether you want the timing to advance or drawback. If you want to advance the ignition timing, then you will need to turn the distributor counterclockwise direction. 


  • If you are not sure about what timing you require, keep the timing between 34 to 36 degrees. 
  • Keep all the safety tools with you to make your work easier. 
  • Make sure you remove all the extra tools from the engine after finishing all the work. 


Bad ignition timing is not good for your car as it kills the efficiency and power of the engine of the car. Good ignition timing is required to keep your car’s engine going, and the four strokes work on it to make it happen. 

Before you start setting the timing light, you must check whether you need to adjust the timing or not. There are a few easy ways to tell if your car has a bad timing adjustment or not. Backfiring and pinging are the most common issues that indicate bad timing. We are hoping that this article was useful for you. 

Avatar for Jack R. Stephen

I am Jack R. Stephen from Dallas, TX, USA and Co-Founder of Handy Tool Tips. I am a tool expert with years of practical experience. Besides my professional work, I love writing to help others with knowing handy tools thoroughly. For recreational & enjoyment purposes, I love going to hike with my best friend, Cameron. He was mentioned in several News Portals for his outstanding skills and professionalism for making great stuff with his tools. If you would like to chat with me please feel free to reach out via facebook or twitter or email.

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