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How to Set Ignition Timing With a Distributor

How to Set Ignition Timing With a Distributor
The wrong ignition time can damage your engine.

Your vehicle's engine performs the vital task of churning out power for your car. We all know that air and fuel are essential components in the combustion process. However, your engine must also ignite this air-fuel mixture at the right time to crank out maximum power. This makes ignition timing incredibly important for things such as drag racing.

The Importance of Adjusting Your Ignition Timing

If you aren’t familiar with ignition timing, you should know that setting it incorrectly can be bad for a variety of reasons. An ignition timing that is slightly off may cause your car not to start.

In other cases, a poorly-set ignition time will cause your engine to run hotter than it needs to. It can also cause your vehicle’s idle-speed to be low and choppy.

Setting Ignition Timing With a Distributor

It is possible for you to adjust your engine’s ignition timing yourself. However, this requires a timing light or a timing gun. In addition to this, you will need someone to help you with the adjustment.
The steps for setting ignition timing are as follows:


1. Connect Your Timing Light or Timing Gun

The first step is to connect your timing light or timing gun to your car’s battery. Connect the sensor that comes with your timing gun to the number one cylinder spark plug wire. This gun functions by casting a light on the timing marks in a strobe-like manner as it spins. You can then use this to determine when your spark plug fires on the timing index provided.


2. Rev the Engine

The next step is to get the car in neutral and get your helper to rev the engine. While they do this, you should illuminate the timing numbers using your light. You should see the light “freeze” at a certain number. You should then note down this number, as it may be a few degrees left or right of zero.

3. Cross-Check Your Timing Number

Every car model or engine build has its own timing number. This means you will need to read up on your vehicle or contact the manufacturer to find out what its ideal timing number is. Alternatively, you can take your vehicle to a mechanic for guidance.

4. Adjust Your Timing

The next step is to finally adjust your timing. Start by loosening the bolt securing your engine’s distributor. You should loosen this just enough to permit your distributor to be turned. Then turn the distributor housing in one direction, depending on whether you want to move your timing ahead or back.

If you are unsure where your timing needs to be, setting it between 34 and 36 degrees when your engine is revved at 3500 RPM is usually a safe bet. Once the adjustment is complete, you should tighten your distributor bolt again.

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