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Timing Adjustment Basics

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Now that you know what timing essentially is, I can tell you the basics on how to adjust and set it on your engine. Timing is different on every engine, so it's a good idea to have a good service manual handy to talk about the details in your engine. Newer engines adjust the timing themselves, so as long as your sensors are all functioning as they should, you won't have to do any tinkering with timing. In fact, you usually can't unless you remap your ignition computer's chip or buy an aftermarket performance chip that has a different timing map flashed into it. Be careful because the wrong chip can not only make your car run badly, but can also throw error codes and bring on the dreaded Check Engine Light.

If you're cool enough to have an older school car or truck with a distributor that you can put your hands on, adjusting the timing is as simple as giving the distributor a twist. You'll need a timing light. With the light wired up per the instructions and the engine running, point the light at the main pulley that comes off the crankshaft. This pulley has a notch or mark on it. On an engine timed to zero degrees advance, also known as Top Dead Center, that mark will appear to flash with the light pointed at it. If you loosen the distributor and turn it slightly, you'll see that mark move to the left or right. Turn the distributor too much and the mark will leave entirely. You can also shut off the engine this way. On most crank pulleys, there is another mark. This is the mark you aim for, usually somewhere between 3-5 degrees before Top Dead Center. All you do is turn the distributor until that timing mark is flashing at the right spot every time. Once it's set, tighten the distributor so it won't turn on its own, and you're good!

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