How to Advance or Retard Ignition Timing

Ignition timing is crucial to the performance and longevity of your vehicle’s engine. The engine must have the correct timing so that the air and fuel mixture detonates at precisely the right time. If the ignition timing has too much advance, the air and fuel mixture will detonate prematurely, and your engine will ping and knock, which will eventually damage your engine. On the other hand, if the timing has too much retard, engine performance and fuel mileage will suffer. Knowing how to advance or retard your timing is important to reach a happy medium.

Step 1

Park the vehicle on a level surface and apply the parking brake. Open the hood.

Step 2

Locate the distributor, which will be near the top of the engine at either the front of back of the engine block.

Step 3

Loosen the distributor mounting bolt located at the base of the distributor, turning an adjustable wrench in a counterclockwise direction.

Step 4

Turn the distributor in a counterclockwise direction to advance the ignition timing. Do not over-adjust the distributor, as even a slight movement will yield a significant change in the ignition timing.

Step 5

Turn the distributor in a clockwise direction to retard the timing.

Step 6

Tighten the distributor holding bolt in a clockwise direction with an adjustable wrench. Close the hood.

Road test the vehicle to see if the desired results have been achieved. Fine tune your adjustments by repeating the above procedures.


Check your vehicle owner’s manual or repair manual for the correct ignition timing setting for your engine. The ignition timing can be checked with a timing light. Disconnect the rubber hose from the vacuum advance on the distributor and plug it with a screw or golf tee. Follow the directions for your timing light and connect it to the vehicle’s battery and the number one spark plug. Start the engine and aim the timing light at the timing marks on the engine crankshaft pulley. Adjust the timing by using the above procedures until the correct timing is achieved, then unplug the rubber hose and push it back onto the vacuum advance. Disconnect the timing light and close the hood.  

If you use your vehicle for racing or off-road purposes, advance your timing just until the engine starts to ping, then retard the timing a few degrees. Test the vehicle using conditions as close as possible to the vehicle’s intended use. Make adjustments to the timing as necessary.

Items you will need

    Adjustable wrench