National average cost of a an Ignition Timing Adjustment for popular vehicles:
Avg. cost $245
Avg. cost $72
What is an ignition timing adjustment and how does it work?
Ignition timing is the process of adjusting certain electrical components on your engine to synchronize the distribution of electricity used to energize the spark plugs and facilitate combustion across multiple cylinders.
In order for your engine to start and run, a mixture of air and fuel are introduced into the cylinders, compressed by the pistons, and ignited by the spark plugs. The timing of the ignition in each cylinder is important in order to ensure maximum power and efficiency. Combustion in each cylinder must also be synchronized with all of the other cylinders.
Modern vehicles rely on a computer that tells individual coil packs (devices that increase the voltage to the spark plugs) placed on each spark plug when to fire. But older vehicles featured a device known as a distributor that “distributed” electrical current to each spark plug at the right time.
These distributors are adjustable so that a spark plug will ignite the compressed air and fuel at a specific time when the piston is in the right position, usually a few degrees before it reaches “top dead center”, or TDC.
In order for your engine to run, a mixture of air and fuel are introduced into the cylinders, compressed by the pistons, and ignited by the spark plugs. The rapidly-expanding gasses that result from combustion force the pistons downward in their cylinders. The pistons, in turn, rotate the crankshaft in the same way that you might pedal a bicycle. But these operations do not happen all at once. Each spark plug must fire at a specific time in succession so that the pistons move at just the right time.
If a spark plug causes combustion too soon or too late, engine damage can occur. In some cases, small changes to advance the timing (move it ahead to create more horsepower) or retard the timing (move it later to reduce knocking or compensate for a turbocharger, for example) might be made. But in most cases, a technician will set the ignition timing to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation.
How do I know if my vehicle needs an ignition timing adjustment?
Ignition timing is critical to the efficient operation of your engine. If the spark plugs are firing and setting off combustion too early or too late, your engine can lose power or fail to run at all. If your ignition timing is incorrect, you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:
Your engine sputters, pops, or stalls
You hear spark knocks or “pings” from the engine when it is under a load
The engine lacks power
Your vehicle fails emission testing
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A mechanical distributor is made up of a shaft that extends upward through the top of your engine and that spins in time with the crankshaft. At the top of the distributor shaft is a plastic rotor that spins with the shaft. The rotor is housed inside the distributor cap. As it spins, an electrical contact at the end of the rotor transfers electrical current to contacts inside of the distributor cap that correspond with each spark plug wire and plug.
To adjust ignition timing, a technician needs to loosen and rotate the distributor shaft. This is done in the following manner:
Connect a timing light to the number one spark plug wire and (in some cases) an external tachometer
Unplug and cap the vacuum line connected to the distributor
Start the engine and set the idle to whatever RPM is specified in the vehicle's maintenance manual
Activate the timing light, aim the light at the crankshaft timing indicator, and observe the degrees of timing indicated
Loosen the distributor hold down bolt and slowly rotate the distributor until the timing indicator aligns with the proper specification from the vehicle's maintenance manual
Shut off the engine and retighten the distributor hold down bolt
Reconnect the vacuum line to the distributor
Remove the timing light, restart the engine, and set the idle back to factory specification
Remove the tachometer
Other questions customers ask
What happens if ignition timing is off?
If the ignition timing is off in an engine, combustion will occur either too early or too late in relation to the position of the pistons. When the timing is off, your vehicle could be hard to start, stall unexpectedly, knock, use more fuel, overheat, and lose power. Engine damage can also occur.
What causes a car to lose ignition timing?
If your engine loses timing, a number of factors can be the cause, including the condition of your spark plugs, engine temperature, and intake pressure. If the timing belt or timing chain are worn and skip out of position, timing will be greatly affected as well.
What sensors affect ignition timing?
A bad crankshaft position sensor (CKP) can affect engine timing in a vehicle with electronic ignition. The CKP informs the ignition control module (computer) how fast the engine is spinning inside. It also constantly communicates the position of the crankshaft. If the sensor is not functioning properly, the computer will be unable to adjust engine timing as it should.
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