How to Time an Engine without a Timing Light

When the distributor sends an electric spark into the engine chamber which is full of gas that’s when the car gets power to start. All these steps are sequenced and balanced finely to provide maximum power. 

There are some vehicles where there are no marks of timing. At that time you have to time the engine without a timing light. With proper information and a few common tools this is not a difficult task to do. In this article, we will see those techniques. 

Timing an Engine without a Timing Light

Timing an engine without timing light is not a difficult job, when you have the proper knowledge. That’s what we are going to see in the following article.

What is timing light?

A timing light basically is a mark by which we can easily check the timing of an engine. This is a method of checking any kind of issues regarding engine timing.

In short, this is one kind of stroboscope that we use dynamically to set the ignition timing of an internal combustion engine. That should be equipped with a distributor. 

To make it easier, an engine gets power when you ignite the gas inside the chamber and it is a continuous process that happens in a regular interval. The time gap between one ignition spark to another is indicated by timing light.

Why you should know how to time an engine without timing light?

Timing an engine properly is very necessary otherwise you may face a lot of problems. Sometimes you buy a new car but the manufacturer’s timing marks can be missing or damaged. At that point, if you know how to time your engine without timing light, it can be a big help for you indeed.

Let me tell you a short story, once I faced this kind of situation with my brand new car. I was so worried about it, but luckily my friend knew about timing the engine without any marks. He helped me to get out of this problem. After that, I learnt it from him and did this quite a few times on my other cars. Though I found some solutions as timing light for MSD ignition, this knowledge can be very handy at times.

Signs that you are having incorrect ignition timing

If you want to know whether you are having some problems with ignition timing, at first you have to understand the symptoms of incorrect ignition. Only then you will be able to fix the problem. Here are some symptoms:

  1. You may face some acceleration problems. Your car can be sluggish in acceleration. When your engine will not get the proper push from inside, it will not give you the proper output also.

  2. When you will see you are facing mileage problems means your mileage is decreasing, you can be sure you are having incorrect ignition timing.

  3. Backfiring is another sign of this. When you will have backfiring problems very often, it means you are having it for sure.

  4. Hard starting or failing to start in one single ignition is another sign of having incorrect ignition timing.

  5. If you are having this problem, sometimes you may hear some sparking sound from the chamber of the engine.

All these are the signs that you are having incorrect ignition timing. It will slow down the acceleration and fuel efficiency will decrease. You will also find it very hard to start your car in one single chance.

Process of timing an engine without timing light

step 1

First you need to remove all the spark plugs with the spark plug wrench. Now it will be easier for you to turn the engine by your hand without the spark plugs. Before removing the spark plugs, mark the spark plug wires for the cylinder number with a short piece of masking tape on each wire. 

Now remove the valve cover from cylinder number one. Now the question is which one is the number one cylinder. Here is the answer, on a V-block engine you will find it on the driver’s side. If you have an in-line engine, the one cylinder is the one which is closest to the front of your car. Before you start doing anything, it is better to check the specifications of your car to be sure about the position of cylinder number one.

step 2

Now rotate the engine clockwise and at the same time observe the valves on the cylinder number one. Now insert a screwdriver through the spark plug hole of one cylinder. When you see the screwdriver is at top position, it means one cylinder is at the TDC on the compression stroke.

step 3

At this point, you should remove the distributor cap and observe the position of the rotor very closely. Before that, make a mark on the wire of the spark plug on the distributor cap. 

step 4

Now it’s time to loosen the bolt which holds the distributor and continue this process until the rotor lines up with the mark that you made earlier in step 3. This is the process of setting your timing to zero degrees of mechanical timing.

step 5

Now it’s time for some change. Change the valve cover, spark plugs and spark plug wires. Here you can do another thing, marking the harmonic balancer. Here your reference will be the zero point. You need to choose a fixed point also and that can be a bolt head or something steady that doesn’t move when the engine is running. 

step 6

Next you have to connect a vacuum gauge. You can find the connecting port at the base of the carburettor or throttle body. This port position varies according to the model of your car. Now turn on the engine and observe the vacuum gauge reading

You should turn the distributor and you need to continue this until you note the highest vacuum gauge reading. Tighten the bolt which holds the distributor one inch back from the highest reading of the vacuum gauge. The general reading can be between 14 to 21 inches but this is dependent on the condition of the engine. 

After you have completed all the steps, clean your hand with a hand cleaner, grab the steering wheel and go for a test drive. But don’t just enjoy the drive, keep your ears alert and notice every sound that your engine makes. If you hear excessive ping, just repeat the step 5 and 6.  

How to be sure that your timing is correct?

After tuning your engine you should give it a try on test drive. You can be sure about your timing when your car is at maximum power and you don’t find any difficulties to start the engine, there is no backfiring and no pinging while you accelerate.

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