How to Select the Right Timing Light for Your Car
Timing lights can help you in diagnosing common car problems—they can help you investigate engine issues and fuel problems. These simple additions to your tool box can make meeting the vehicle manufacturer’s specifications easier for expert DIYers, professional racers, and average drivers. The components are also used to fine tune the ignition system to ensure proper timing of the spark fires from your spark plugs and efficient engine operation. Here’s a list of what to consider when shopping for timing lights.
Timing lights can either be inline or inductive. Inline models are connected by unplugging the number 1 spark plug wire and plugging a connector inline, while inductive models have a built-in sensor clipped around the spark plug wire. Inline timing lights are usually cheaper than inductive timing lights, but they are not recommended by DIYers because they are often poorly designed and present danger of electrocution. Most experts choose inductive timing lights—though these cannot be used for engines with coil-on plug ignition.
Some brands you can consider when shopping for timing lights include Actron, MSD, Performance Tool, and Equus. Priced between $50 and $60, the Performance Tool timing light is the cheapest among the four. It can be used for gas engines, outdoor power equipment, motorcycles, snow mobiles, mowers, and tractors. On the other hand, MSD’s timing light is the most expensive one, priced at around $200 because it features a lightweight design and easy-to-view strobe.
Design and other features
Not all timing lights work on 4-, 6-, and 8-cylinder engines (and also on two-cycle engines), so make sure you know the specs of your engine before shopping. Make sure you check out the specs of the timing light and see if it suits your needs—timing lights differ in RPM range, function, and ability to operate in systems.
Most timing lights are gun-shaped with a finger trigger to operate the strobe. If you’re looking to spend extra, go with modern, microprocessor-controlled timing lights that allow you to check battery voltage, dwell, and RPMs. These offer more convenience for the mechanic—they are generally rectangular in shape and have a hinge midway, making them easier to use for automobiles with cramped engine compartments and transversely mounted engines.
Also, choose timing lights with self-powered designs because they require hanging down less number of wires into the engine, so you won’t have to worry about getting the wires into the fan or other rotating parts.
Lastly, avoid timing lights with metal covers. Metal conducts electricity and using it increases the chances of getting into an accident while checking the engine with the timing light.
How to Check the Engine Using a Timing Light
The timing light is an essential diagnostic tool for vehicles without computer-controlled ignition; it aids the mechanic in adjusting the ignition timing. Using it would ensure better fuel mileage and longer lifespan for your car—it also helps prevent electricity troubles and other forms of damage on the engine. In case you need to perform checks on your vehicle, here is a guide to help you out.
Difficulty level: Moderate
Tools that you’ll need:
- New timing light
- Combination wrench
- Duct tape
Step 1: Turn off the engine and remove the key from the ignition. Clean the battery terminals to ensure proper connection.
Step 2: Unplug the vacuum line from the distributor and cap it with the pencil tip. Do not let the pencil lead break; put the pencil on a safe and stable position.
Step 3: Hook the red wire alligator clip of the timing light to the positive battery terminal of the car. Get the black wire alligator clip of the timing light and clip it to the negative battery terminal. Attach the inductive pickup clamp, which is the largest clip with the thickest insulation, to the first spark plug wire. Be careful not to let the trigger clip touch anything other than the first spark plug wire. If you see an arrow on the clip, turn it on the specified direction.
Step 4: Rotate the lower crankshaft pulley and look for the timing marks. Refer to your owner’s manual to find out which timing degree to use. Disconnect the rubber hose from the vacuum advance and place a piece of duct tape to seal it.
Step 5: Turn on the engine. Take the timing light and aim it at the marks. Observe the timing marks; if it appears to be standing still and the pointer is directed towards the correct mark, it means you don’t need to adjust the timing of the ignition. If not, loosen the distributor clamp and grasp the vacuum advance while moving it back and forth.
Step 6: Rotate the distributor and aim the timing light back at the marks. Keep moving the distributor until the pointer is directed towards the proper degree point.
Step 7: Voila! Once the pointer goes to the right direction, you can re-tighten the fastener or clamp then turn off the engine and disconnect the timing light.