How to Set your Old Distributor Points

by Don Bowman

Setting the points on the older type distributors was critical to their performance. The points charge the coil between firing of the individual cylinders. Setting the points amounts to adjusting the amount of time the points are open. The larger the gap, the shorter the time the coil is charged and conversely, the closer the gap the longer it is charged. The time the points are closed is referred to as dwell. A dwell meter is needed to fine-tune the dwell because setting the points by hand only is usually not very accurate. Too much dwell and the points will burn. To little dwell will not allow a good coil charge and result in a weak spark.

Pull the coil wire out of the coil secondary tower. Remove the distributor cap using a screwdriver. Install the remote starter switch by connecting one of the two leads to the small S terminal on the starter solenoid and the other on the positive terminal on the battery.

Place the transmission in neutral if the vehicle has a manual transmission. Set the initial point gap. Watch the point-rubbing block where the points ride on the distributor cam. Bump the engine over with the remote starter in short bumps until the rubbing block is dead on top of a cam lobe.

Measure the gap between the two sets of points using an 0.018-inch feeler gauge. The feeler gauge should slide between the points with a small amount of friction. If the feeler gauge does not fit between the points or is too sloppy the points must be set. There are two types of points differing only in the way they are adjusted. One type has an obvious screw with a hole in its head made for an Allen wrench and the other has no such screw. This type needs to be adjusted using a screwdriver to loosen a screw in its base enough to spread or close the points followed by tightening the screw. This type has a slot in the base that allows it to be adjusted.

Insert the Allen wrench in the first type of points and turn the wrench clockwise to close the points and counterclockwise to open. Do this while inserting the feeler gauge until you feel a slight drag.

Connect the dwell meter by connecting the black wire lead to the negative terminal on the coil and the red lead to the positive terminal on the battery. Watch the dwell meter scale for your engine: four-, six- or eight-cylinder. If the engine is a four-cylinder the dwell should be 40-45 degrees. A six-cylinder should be 30-35-degrees, and a V-8 should be 23-28 degrees. Crank the engine over with the remote starter and watch the dwell. Adjust the points as previously described to bring them within limits. To reduce the dwell open the points and close them for more dwell.

Remove the remote starter switch and the dwell meter. Install the distributor cap and tighten with the screwdriver. Plug the coil wire into the coil secondary tower.

Items you will need

About the Author

Don Bowman has been writing for various websites and several online magazines since 2008. He has owned an auto service facility since 1982 and has over 45 years of technical experience as a master ASE tech. Bowman has a business degree from Pennsylvania State University and was an officer in the U.S. Army (aircraft maintenance officer, pilot, six Air Medal awards, two tours Vietnam).