Hook up timing light

How to Hook Up a Timing Light | It Still Runs

That is, as long as your car runs and is connected to a working volt battery. Getting your timing light ready for action is breathtakingly simple. With the engine off, you merely clamp the timing light's red wire to the battery's positive terminal, then the black wire to the battery's negative terminal.

Lastly, you take the signal wire and clamp it directly to the Number 1 spark plug wire.

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If you're not sure which is the "Number 1" spark plug wire, stop! And get thee to a service manual or online owners' forum for your vehicle. With a few of the timing lights out there, you might have to attach the unit's spark signal pick-up wire directly to the spark plug tip. Most light units on the market today, however, clip right to the spark plug wire itself. These inductive timing lights are able to detect the jolt of electricity each time the spark plug fires, similar to a doctor using a stethoscope to determine your body's pulse.

When you pull the trigger of the timing light with the engine running , each time the Number 1 plug fires, the timing light flashes a beam of light. Through a phenomenon known as the stroboscopic effect, a properly aimed timing light will indicate where the Number 1 piston is in its up-and-down travel when the spark fires. Representatively speaking, that is.

Obviously, you don't see the actual piston's location. Instead, the timing of the spark is measured in terms of degrees. The degrees refer to how far the crankshaft has rotated relative to the Number 1 cylinder's piston at top dead center TDC of the compression stroke. On some vehicles, the crankshaft pulley has a bunch of degree marks and numbers on it. The engine has a mark right next to the pulley that represents TDC. The strobing timing light "freezes" the motion of the pulley and allows you to see how many degrees before or after TDC the spark is firing.


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By manipulating the distributor cap turning it slightly clockwise or counterclockwise , you can adjust that timing of the spark delivery. To make things more confusing: Sometimes the timing marks are found on the flywheel or even on the fan pulley. And sometimes the indicators are reversed. So just read your vehicle's manual and know what you're looking for before you start waving that light gun around!

For any number of reasons, a person might wish the spark to fire earlier than the piston reaching TDC this means the timing is advanced. Conversely, if excessive knocking is a problem, it might seem a better idea to have the spark ignite the fuel slightly after the piston reaches TDC this means the timing is retarded.

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How does a timing light work?

How do you know what the proper timing specifications are? If it does come in contact, then just wash with soap and water. The largest clip the one with the thickest insulation goes on your 1 spark plug wire by attaching the clip around the wire that leads to your 1 spark plug. Next, you will want to rotate the lower crankshaft pulley so that it has the timing marks called out on the crankshaft pulley.

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Be aware that on some cars the timing marks are located somewhere else and you should consult either your owner's manual another instruction manual , or automobile dealer. You may also see a pointer on the engine block that will point to these marks as well. Your auto's spec sheet should tell you what your timing degree should be.

For example, a Ford , 6 Degrees BTDC rpm in drive gear - with automatic trans, with a firing order of There is also an "ATDC. Now, your timing marks with have a line labeled "0" with marks above and below it, and depending on which way the wheel rotates, you will see the lines before the "0" BTDC , or after the "0" ATDC.

If you want, you can use some chalk to mark the timing marks to make them more visible.

Then, on the side of the distributor, disconnect the rubber hose from the vacuum advance and put a piece of duct tape on the end of the hose to seal it off. Okay, now start up your engine, letting it warm up. We will assume that your auto is properly idling, otherwise, if the idle is off, and your mechanical advance may influence your timing adjustment.


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Take your timing light and aim it at the timing marks, pressing the button on the light. Because you have the light hooked up to your spark plug means that it has current passing through it every time your spark plug fires, making the light go off and on, creating the strobe effect. Because of this, the timing marks should appear to be standing still. Now, is that pointer earlier described pointing at the correct mark? If yes, you are all set, you do not need to adjust your timing. You are good to go! If it is not, you should adjust your timing. See the next steps to adjust the timing.

Below the distributor, at the base of your distributor shaft, is a fastener called the distributor hold-down clamp. We want to loosen this fastener so the distributor can turn on the shaft.

Technical Details

Grasp the vacuum advance and move it back and forth. Rotate the distributor slightly, then aim your timing light back at the timing marks again. How does it look?