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How To Use A Timing Light: The Simplest Explanation

Many older models of a car or automobile need you to adjust the timing. This timing refers to the overall performance of a vehicle. And if it is done rightly, you notice a significant improvement in the driving experience whereas the incorrect timing leads to a poor experience. The tool that is used to adjust the timing of a vehicle is known as timing light, and today, we are going to learn how to use a timing light.

how to use a timing light
Guide to use timing light by yourself.

Let’s talk about the timing before digging into how do you use a timing light.

What Is Timing?

Let’s get to know some more factors about timing in your car before jumping to using the tool. You see the timing in degrees that you can move forward or backward. It is performed by testing the exact timing of your car and matching it with your car’s manual. Accordingly, you adjust the timing back or forward until it matches your automobile’s manual.

In detail, the engine works by using small explosions of gasoline to make pistons move up and down. That motion spins the engine which in turn rotates the gears and spins the wheels. To ignite the gasoline, we use electric spark plugs, so when we refer to a vehicle’s timing, usually, we talk about making sure the spark plug fires at the best possible moment.

automobile timing light
The engine works by using small explosions of gasoline to make pistons move up and down

So you can easily adjust the timing by using a timing light. Let’s talk about the timing numbers.

Understanding Timing Number

The standard of timing is really important. That’s why you should understand the timing numbers. Timing adjustments are measured in degrees. You will advance or move back your timing by a few degrees during this process. You can find these numbers on the engine’s crankshaft pulley or flywheel. It will be the guide to precise timing adjustment. By looking at that number, you can compare what you see to what manufacturer recommendations. And that number is different depending on car models, car makers. But it is not listed on the owner’s manual so you can check on the manufacturer’s websites or listings from professional mechanics. 

how does a timing light work
By looking at that number, you can compare what you see to what manufacturer recommendations

For now on, let’s move on how to use a timing light. 

How To Use A Timing Light: The Basics And Overall Process

After you have caught the basic information about the timing on the car, what you should know next is how does a timing light work and how to use a timing light. 


1. Learning To Use the Timing Light

The first step on how to use a timing light, you need to first see the timing tape and what it says. You see the zero on the tape; the number on the right side of it indicates the downward and the left side shows the upward motion of the piston.

This way, when you move the wheel right, you advance the timing and moving the wheel left sets the timing backward. To get prepared, keep the manual handy where it shows the process about adjusting the timing. Take the key off the ignition and keep the engine shut down.

Now you need to read the timing, and for this, understand the clips of the auto timing lights as the manual says. Connect the clips accordingly where the red clip goes to the positive terminal, and the black clip is for the negative terminal of the battery. This is the step that you have to do rightly on learning how to set timing with an automobile timing light. The incorrect attachment results in wrong readings.

By now you are done with attaching both clips. Now, the third clip is supposed to go with the Number-1 spark plug wire. Turn on the vehicle and set it on idle.

Note: the timing light concept works on four strokes engines only and not on modern automobiles.

Afterwards, the gun displays the number as it spins so you can take a note about the spark plug firing. It happens when the spark sets fire, and it gives a signal to the light which gets into the gun, and it illuminates the number.

Let’s watch this 4 minutes video to learn how to use timing light!

2. What Next? The Process Further

Make sure your car is neutral, and you can call a friend to rev the engine while you are performing the process. At this point, the light freezes, and you should put the light on the flywheel or the harmonic balancer. Keeping the rev set at 3500 RPMs provides further assistance. Have a look at some more maintenance tips here.

Some automobiles also feature a vacuum timing, and if this is the case, you would need to loosen the distributor bolt a bit. Get the vacuum hose off the carburetor and plug it in using a rag.

By now, you know the present timing of your car that you need to adjust. Whether you need to adjust it or not depends on the manual of your car. Match it up with the current reading and adjust the distributor in one direction or another.

auto timing lights
By looking at the timing light number, you know what you need to adjust.

Having someone by your side helps you to rev the engine so you can match the exact readings as per the manual of your car. Once you are done on setting the right readings, tighten the distributor bolt. This is the process of learning how to use a timing light. At last, make sure you have connected the vacuum hoses.

The entire process can be done without putting any effort if you take the car to the professional repairer. One who does not go the DIY way or does not want to perform the technicalities can bring the vehicle to the repair shop. However, it is always great to learn using the timing light to save some bucks every time. Additionally, it is beneficial to understand the working of your four strokes engine if you want to dig deeper.

Sum Up

Before going with ‘how to use a timing light’ know if there is a need to adjust the timing. You can easily notice some of the symptoms that indicate that you need to work with the car’s timing. Backfiring and pinging are some of the symptoms of a car that has disturbed timing. While ending this piece of writing here, we hope you find it helpful.