How to Set the Timing on Honda Cars

by Contributing Writer; Updated June 12, 2017

The Honda car distributor is driven by the end camshaft on the back side of the cylinder head. Over time the timing belt that connects the crankshaft and the camshaft will stretch and cause minor changes in the ignition timing that can rob the engine of power and fuel mileage. Set the timing in this car when performing a tune up to compensate for these small changes in ignition timing and restore lost power and fuel economy.

Under The Hood:

 How to Set the Timing on a 1999 Honda Civic 1.6L

Start the engine and allow it to warm up until the operating temperature is reached on the gauge in the instrument cluster. Turn the engine off.

Locate the blue timing adjustment connector under the passenger's side of the dash. There are two blue connectors. The one for the timing adjustment is the two-pin connector. Insert a jumper wire into the connector to connect the two terminals.

Attach the timing light's power cords to the battery terminals. Clip the magnetic pick-up from the timing light to the number one spark plug wire. Start the engine and check the timing by shining the light at the crankshaft pulley. The red notch in the pulley should line up with the pointer on the front of the timing cover above the pulley. This will set the timing at 18 degrees before top dead center.

Loosen the three 12-mm nuts that attach the distributor to the cylinder head. Rotate the distributor until the timing marks line up. Tighten the distributor nuts.

Turn off the engine and remove the jumper wire from the timing connector. Test drive the Honda to verify that it runs properly.

Items you will need

  • Timing light

  • Small jumper wire

  • 12-mm wrench

 How to Set the Timing on a 1989 Honda Accord

Start the engine and warm it up until the cooling fans come on to indicate it has reached operating temperature. Setting the timing before the engine has reached operating temperature will result in an error caused by the higher idle speed that the engine runs at when it is cold.

Turn the engine off. Attach the timing light power cables to the battery located in the front of the engine compartment on the passenger side of the 1989 Honda Accord. Clip the timing light's spark plug wire pickup around the spark plug wire closest to the driver side of the engine.

Short the timing connector min the Honda's engine compartment by pushing the ends of an unfolded paper clip into the two terminals in the connector. The timing connector in the 1989 Honda Accord is located on the main wiring harness that runs along the driver side of the engine compartment and is identified as a two wire connector with a yellow cover over it.

Start engine. Wait for the cooling fans to stop running and aim the timing light at the timing pointer on the plastic timing cover on the front of the engine. Observe timing timing marks on the crankshaft pulley located below the timing pointer.

Loosen two 12mm nuts that secure the distributor to the passenger side of the cylinder head. Rotate the distributor to set the timing to 18degrees +/- 2 BTDC (Before Top Dead Center) and retighten the distributor nuts. On the 1989 Honda Accord, 18 degrees is the middle mark (painted red) of the three marks on the crankshaft pulley. The 18 degree mark should be centered in the timing pointer.

Turn off engine and remove the paper clip from the timing connector and unclip the timing light from the battery and spark plug wire. Test drive the Honda to verify the engine runs properly.

Items you will need

  • Timing light

  • Paper clip

  • 12mm wrench

 How to Set the Timing on a '92 Honda Accord

Start the engine and allow it to run until normal operating temperature is reached on the temperature gauge. Turn off the engine. Locate the timing connector under the passenger side of the dash, behind the glove box. This is a small, blue, two-wire connector positioned next to the larger blue diagnostic test connector. Jumper the two wires in the connector together using the short piece of wire

Locate the timing marks on the front of the engine, on the driver side of the engine compartment in the Accord. A pointer is located on the timing cover, just above the crankshaft pulley, and there is a set of marks filed into the edge of the crankshaft pulley. Note that the white mark on the right is the top dead center, or TDC, mark, and the red mark on the left is the 15 degree BTDC mark. The mark we are concerned with is the red 15 degree BTDC mark.

Loosen the three 12-mm distributor hold-down bolts, that attach the distributor to the engine, slightly so that the distributor will turn with some effort. Attach the timing light battery clips to the battery. Attach the red clip to the positive battery terminal and the black clip to the negative terminal. Attach the number one cylinder pick-up on the test light to the number one spark plug wire. The number plug wire is the one closest to the timing cover.

Aim the timing light at the timing marks and pull the trigger. Turn the distributor slowly, while watching the timing marks, until the pointer on the timing cover lines up with the red 15-degree mark on the crank pulley. Tighten the distributor hold down bolts and recheck the timing to verify it didn't move when the distributor was tightened.

Turn off the engine, disconnect the timing light and timing connector jumper wire. Test drive to verify the engine performs properly.

Items you will need

  • Timing light

  • 12-mm wrench

  • Short piece of wire

 How to Set the Timing on a 1990 Honda Accord

Park your Accord where there's ample space to work on the engine. Power on the engine, but turn off all accessories, including the air conditioning, heater and radio.

Exit the car and chock the wheels. Put the transmission in neutral and apply the emergency brake. Return to the passenger cabin and bring the engine to an idle speed of about 700 rpm.

Exit the vehicle with the emergency brake firmly applied and open the hood.

Turn the fast idle speed mode of your engine on by turning on the idle speed control located by your engine.

Attach the timing light to the battery by placing the red clip on the positive terminal first and the black clip on the negative terminal second. Attach the timing light clamps to the No. 1 spark plug wire connected to the cylinder head. Shine the timing light on the pulley connected to the main crankshaft.

Check the timing mark on the pulley and compare it to the degree tab on the front of your engine to see what the current ignition timing is. It it reads 15 degrees before top dead center, you can end the project. If not, proceed to the next step.

Use your wrench to loosen the distributor lock-down bolt located at the base of the distributor housing, then disconnect the distributor vacuum hose from the distributor housing. Be careful not to disconnect any other vacuum hoses. Plug the distributor vacuum hose into the electronic spark computer.

Use your hand to rotate the distributor until the timing mark on the pulley falls to the ignition time you desire. Do not deviate too far from 15 degrees or you will risk damaging your engine.

Unplug the distributor vacuum hose from the electronic spark computer and reconnect it into the distributor housing. Tighten the lock-down bolt with your wrench and turn off the idle speed control. Remove the timing light components from the engine, close the hood, and put your transmission in park. Remove the wheel chocks.

Items you will need

  • Timing light

  • Wrench

  • Wheel Chocks

About the Author

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