How to Set the Timing on Cars

by Contributing Writer; Updated June 12, 2017

It could be found in almost every Dodge and Plymouth car passenger car and Dodge truck. Its important to have the timing on your Plymouth car engine set to the proper specification. This will ensure optimal performance and gas mileage. Having the timing set too late -- retarded -- will result in poor acceleration and mileage because the fuel is not being completely burned. Having the timing set too early -- advanced -- can cause the engine to clatter under acceleration, which can damage the engine. As they say, "Timing is everything. "

Under The Hood:

 How to Set the Timing on a 318 Mopar Engine

Park the vehicle on a level, paved surface and set the parking brake. Run the engine until it reaches normal operating temperature. Turn off the engine. Place an automatic transmission in "park" and a manual transmission in "neutral."

Remove the wingnut on the top of the air cleaner and remove the air cleaner. Disconnect the vacuum line at the distributor and plug it with a plastic vacuum line plug. Some distributors may have two lines. Disconnect the PCV valve line from the carburetor. If the vehicle has a charcoal canister, disconnect it at the carburetor. Do not plug this line. If the engine has an EGR valve, disconnect its vacuum line at the carburetor and plug it.

Look at the crankshaft pulley. The harmonic balancer is large, metal disc that the pulley bolts to. Find the timing marker attached to the timing cover. It sits directly above the balancer. Spray the marker with some parts cleaner and wipe with a shop rag. Dab some liquid paper on the marker to make the numbers easier to see.

Rotate the crankshaft with a ratchet and socket. Turn the crankshaft in a clockwise direction until you see the small notch in the balancer. Spray the notch with some parts cleaner and wipe a shop rag. Dab some liquid paper on the notch.

Hook up an inductive timing light to the engine. The red lead is clipped to the positive battery terminal; the black lead is clipped to the negative battery terminal. The spark plug pickup lead is clipped over the No. 1 spark plug wire. This is the first spark plug wire on the driver's side of the engine.

Loosen the bolt on the distributor hold-down clamp with a wrench. Loosen it only enough so that you can barely turn the distributor. Start the engine. Being careful of moving parts such as belts, pulleys and the fan blade, shine the timing light down on the marker. The light will allow you to see the notch on the balancer lined up with the marker. If the notch is not lined up in the proper position, turn the distributor to move the notch to the proper position. Tighten the distributor hold-down clamp bolt and double-check the timing.

Turn off the engine. Disconnect the timing light. Reconnect any lines that were disconnected. Replace the air cleaner.

Items you will need

  • Ratchet socket set

  • Plastic vacuum line plugs

  • Parts cleaner

  • Shop rags

  • Liquid paper

  • Wrench set

  • Inductive timing light

 How to Set the Timing on a Ford 390

Park the Ford on a firm, level surface and set the parking brake. Run the engine until it reaches normal operating temperature. Turn off the engine.

Find the timing marker bolted to the timing chain cover on the passenger's side of the engine, just above the harmonic balancer. Slowly rotate the engine clockwise using a ratchet socket on the large bolt in the center of the crankshaft. Rotate the engine until you can see the numbers "12-9-6-3-0-3" stamped on the harmonic balancer. The numbers 12 through 3 represent the timing marks "Before Top Dead Center." This is the area on the balancer were you will set the timing. Wipe the balancer with a shop rag and paint the numbers with some white-out to make them easier to see.

Use a wrench to loosen the distributor hold-down bolt. Loosen it only enough so that you can barely turn the distributor. If the bolt is too loose the distributor will turn by itself when you start the engine.

Disconnect the vacuum advance hose from the distributor. Plug the hose with the end of a pencil.

Attach an inductive timing light to the engine by clipping the inductive lead over the number one spark plug wire. The number one spark plug wire is the first one on the passenger side of the engine. Clip the red lead to the positive battery terminal. Clip the black lead to the negative battery terminal.

Look for a decal in the engine compartment that gives the timing specification in degrees before top dead center. If no decal is present, you will need to find the timing value for your specific gear and make of Ford. A common setting for the Ford 390 is 6° before top dead center.

Start the engine and shine the timing light down at the timing marker. The flashing timing light will make the numbers on the balancer appear to be stationary. If the number on the balancer that is aligned with the marker is not within specification, turn the distributor until the proper number is lined up with the timing marker.

Tighten the distributor hold-down bolt. Recheck the timing to make sure it hasn't changed. Turn off the engine. Remove the timing light. Reconnect the vacuum advance line to the distributor.

Items you will need

  • Ratchet and socket set

  • Shop rags

  • White-out

  • Wrench set

  • Pencil

  • Inductive timing light

 How to Set the Timing on a Slant Six

Run the engine until it reaches operating temperature. Park the vehicle on a level, paved surface and set the parking brake. Turn off the engine.

Find the timing tab on the driver's side of the timing chain cover. It has numbers stamped in it that read -- in a clockwise direction -- "Before 15-10-5-0-5-10 After." Your specific tab may have different numbers but they will all read from "Before" to "After."

Look for the timing notch in the crankshaft pulley. If you can't see it, bump the starter a couple of times to move the pulley, and then turn the key off. When you can see the notch, rub some chalk into it to make it more visible when you shine the timing light on it.

Remove the rubber hose from the vacuum distributor vacuum advance and plug it with the tip of a pencil. If your engine is 1982 or later and has an EGR valve, remove the rubber hose from it and plug it with a pencil.

Use a wrench to loosen the distributor hold-down bolt. Loosen it just enough so that when you try to turn the distributor it is hard to turn. Otherwise, it will turn by itself when you start the engine.

Hook up the timing light to the engine with the spark plug pick-up clipped over the No. 1 spark plug wire, which is the first wire at the front of the engine. The power wires are clipped to the battery. The red lead goes on the positive "+" terminal. The black one on the negative "-" terminal.

Make sure the timing light wires are clear of the fan, belts, and pulleys. Start the engine and aim the timing light at the timing tab. You will see the notch in the pulley appear to float next to a number on the timing tab. Turn the distributor to make the notch line up with the timing value specific to your engine. This information is usually on a sticker by the radiator support. A typical setting for 1982 and later engines is 12 degrees before top-dead-center. 1960's engines are set at top-dead-center. Its very important to find the specific setting for your year engine.

Turn off the engine. Tighten the distributor hold-down bolt. Unplug the vacuum hose and hook it back up to the distributor. Unplug the EGR hose -- if equipped -- and hook it back up to the EGR valve. Disconnect the timing light.

Items you will need

  • Shop rags

  • Chalk

  • Pencil

  • Wrench set

  • Timing light

 How to Set the Timing on a Mitsubishi Galant Car

Look above the freewheel to find the timing check hole cover. Using a flat head screwdriver, remove the timing check hole cover so you can see inside. Attach the ignition wire of your timing light to the number one spark plug, the farthest to the right on top of the engine.

Start the car and allow the engine to idle until it reaches operating temperature. This will normally take ten to fifteen minutes.

Point the timing light through the timing check hole and watch the timing mark in reference to the center line of the timing light. If the timing mark appears too fast (too far to the left of the center line) the distributor should be adjusted clockwise. If the timing mark appears too slow (too far to the right of the center line) the distributor should be adjusted counter-clockwise.

Turn off the engine, loosen the distributor mounting bolts and twist the distributor in whichever direction you need in order to correct the engine timing. Tighten the bolts, start the engine and check the timing again through the timing check hole.

If the timing mark lines up properly with the center line of the timing light, turn off the engine and remove the timing light from the ignition wire. Your Mitsubishi Galant is now perfectly timed. If not, make any necessary adjustments to the distributor until the mark and center line are in sync.

Items you will need

  • Timing light

  • Basic wrench sett

 How Do I Set the Timing on a 4.5 Liter 1990 Cadillac Coupe Deville?

Park the Cadillac and put on the parking brake. Open the hood and locate the number one spark plug wire, which is the furthest forward on the drivers side on the engine. Attach the clamp from the timing light to the number one spark plug wire.

Start the engine. Locate the timing marks on the engine, which are both on the crankshaft pulley and on a bracket next to the pulley. Shine the timing light where the mark on the pulley intersects with the mark on the bracket. Look at the number on the bracket at that intersection, and note the current timing. Turn off the engine.

Cut the 10-gauge wire to approximately four inches. Strip 1/2-inch off both ends of the wire using the wire strippers. Open the driver door and locate the ALDL connector, which is the plug underneath the steering column used for diagnosis. Insert one end of the wire into the top right port on the plug, and the other end into the port just to the left of the top right port.

Start the engine. Loosen the distributor hold-down clamp with an open-end wrench. Shine the timing light onto the pulley and turn the distributor slowly until the timing is adjusted to the amount you want. Tighten the distributor hold down clamp with an open-end wrench and remove the wire from the ALDL connector.

Items you will need

  • Timing light

  • 10-gauge wire

  • Wire cutters

  • Wire strippers

  • Open-end wrench set

 How to Set the Timing on a Jeep Wrangler

Set the parking brake and start the engine of the Jeep Wrangler. Let the engine warm up to its normal operating temperature. Maintain the appropriate idle speed, which will depend on your transmission. For a manual transmission, the idle speed is 680 rpm; for an automatic transmission, the idle speed is about 600 rpm.

Open the hood of the Jeep Wrangler and disconnect the vacuum advance hose from the distributor with your hand. Seal off the hose using a vacuum plug. Disconnect the electrical connector from the CEC system switch assembly, located on the top of the valve cover.

Locate the engine timing marks. The timing marks are found on the top of the engine, on the crankshaft pulley or the vibration damper. Use chalk to mark the groove on the pulley or damper and the point on the scale that corresponds to the correct engine timing as per the Vehicle Emission Control label.

Connect the timing light. The power leads on the timing light should be connected to the battery terminals and the pickup lead connects to the #1 cylinder spark plug.

Point the light at the chalk mark on the pulley/damper and check the timing. The mark will appear stationary relative to the timing scale. If it is aligned with the mark on the scale, the engine timing is correct. If it is not aligned, the timing needs adjustment.

Adjust the engine timing if necessary. Using the distributor wrench, loosen the hold-down bolt on the distributor housing and slowly turn the distributor until the marks are aligned. Re-tighten the bolt and recheck the timing. If the marks are aligned, turn off the engine and reconnect the vacuum advance hose and CEC electrical connector. If the marks are not aligned, repeat this step, making incremental adjustments until the marks are properly aligned.

Items you will need

  • Vacuum plugs

  • Chalk

  • Timing light

  • Distributor wrench

 How to Set the Timing on a 1989 Corvette

Apply the parking brake and place wheel chocks in front of the front wheels. Start the engine, and run it at idle until the engine warms and normal idle speed is reached. Turn off the engine.

Disconnect the Electronic Spark Timing (EST) connector located on the wiring harness. In the Corvette, this is a single wire connector, with a tan and black wire, that is taped to the wiring harness between the brake master cylinder and the driver side valve cover.

Attach the timing light power cord to the battery terminals and the inductive pickup to the number one spark plug wire. The number one spark plug wire in the Corvette is the front wire on the driver side of the engine.

Start the engine and place the transmission in neutral (manual transmissions) or drive (automatic transmissions). Aim the timing light at the timing tab on the front of the timing cover just above the harmonic balancer. Loosen the distributor bolt at the base of the distributor and rotate the distributor to adjust the timing to 6 degrees. The timing mark will line up with the notch in the tab marked "6" when this is done correctly.

Tighten the distributor and turn the engine off. Reconnect the EST connector. Disconnect the negative battery cable, using an 8 mm wrench, for five minutes. Reconnect the cable and test drive the Corvette.

Items you will need

  • Timing light

  • Paper clip

  • Distributor wrench

 How to Set the Timing on a 1991 Toyota Camry

Start the vehicle and let it get to normal operating temperature.

Pop the hood of your 1991 Camry. Connect a tachometer test probe to the distributor terminal connector located on top of the distributor.

Use a small service wire to connect terminals "TE1" and "E1" on the check connector.

Run the engine between 1,000 and 1,400 RPM for 10 seconds then let it return to idle. The idle RPM should be approximately 700 RPM.

Attach the timing light to the vehicle by connecting the black clip to the negative terminal on the car battery and the red clip to the positive terminal.

Connect the timing wire to a spark plug wire for cylinder #1, the one closest to the belts and pulleys on the front of the vehicle.

Use the timing light by pressing the trigger and aiming at the timing mark chart on the engine to make sure that the timing mark on the timing cover is aligned with the mark on the crankshaft pulley. Ignition timing at idle should be at 10 degrees Below Top Dead Center (BTDC).

Rotate the distributor housing and tighten the distributor bolt using a wrench of the appropriate size and recheck the timing if it is not 10 degrees BTDC.

Remove the service wire and check the idle advance timing. This should be between 13 and 22 degrees BTDC at idle. Make any adjustments with the distributor bolt if necessary.

Disconnect the timing light and service wire when the ignition timing is set to the desired specifications.

Items you will need

  • Timing light

  • Tachometer

  • Service wire

  • Wrench

About the Author

This article was written by the It Still Runs team, copy edited and fact checked through a multi-point auditing system, in efforts to ensure our readers only receive the best information. To submit your questions or ideas, or to simply learn more about It Still Runs, contact us.