See Your Cars Diagnostics More Clearly With Automotive Timing Lights

Timing lights are diagnostic tools used to observe ignition timing in vehicles with distributors and are available as self-contained units or as a part of a more comprehensive engine analytical tool. The light can be a stroboscope that may use a simple neon lamp or a xenon strobe lamp that provides brighter light and better use in daylight or in shop lighting. The light is powered by the vehicle it is being used to test.

How does a timing light work?

Inductive timing lights, when connected properly to the cars engine and battery, detect the electricity every time the plug fires, and every time the plug fires, the timing light shoots a beam of light. By aiming this strobe light in the proper place, usually the crankshaft pulley, you will be able to read the degree markings on it, which are indicative of where the crankshaft is in its rotation and the respective pistons. Knowing this allows adjustments to be made via manipulation of the distributor cap to make the spark plugs fire before or after the piston has reached the top dead center, depending on the malfunction or issue that needs to be fixed.

Features available on timing lights
  • The standard timing lights come with a xenon light tube that is able to read timing when the vehicle engine is at idle. It should be able to read both two-cycle and four-cycle engines.
  • Adjustment knobs that allow for the timing to be read at different RPMs are available on some models.
  • Adjustment knobs coupled with a tachometer allow for more precise timing measurement at different RPMs.
  • Units with a dwell meter measure for how long the coil is being charged and allow for prevention of pitting or burning due to an accurately set point gap.
How do timing lights help multiple spark distribution systems (MSD)?

Typically, the distributor only provides a single spark for an ignition sequence, but in MSD systems, there are a series of them disbursed at a specific timing. To properly measure this sequence, the timing light must be able to show the beginning of the sequence. Not every timing light is compatible with MSD systems, so be sure to check that the one you want can meet these requirements before purchasing.

What brand manufacturers offer automotive timing lights?

Automotive timing lights come in three styles: inductive, digital, and self-powered. They all serve the same purpose but offer different RPM ranges, ability to operate a multi-spark system and offer features such as timing manual advance, a dwell meter, and the possible option to work on four-cylinder, six-cylinder, or eight-cylinder engines. Brands that offer these timing lights include:

  • Craftsman
  • Innova
  • Actron
  • Equus
  • Matco Tools
  • Sunpro
  • Delphi
  • Electronic Specialties