Ignition timing is the measurement, in degrees of crankshaft rotation, of the point at which the spark plugs fire in each of the cylinders. It is measured in degrees before or after Top Dead Center (TDC) of the compression stroke.
Because it takes a fraction of a second for the spark plug to ignite the mixture in the cylinder, the spark plug must fire a little before the piston reaches TDC. Otherwise, the mixture will not be completely ignited as the piston passes TDC and the full power of the explosion will not be used by the engine.
The timing measurement is given in degrees of crankshaft rotation before the piston reaches TDC (BTDC). If the setting for the ignition timing is 8° BTDC, the spark plug must fire 8° before each piston reaches TDC. This only holds true, however, when the engine is at idle speed.
As the engine speed increases, the pistons go faster. The spark plugs have to ignite the fuel even sooner if it is to be completely ignited when the piston reaches TDC. To do this, the distributor has two means to advance the timing of the spark as the engine speed increases: a set of centrifugal weights within the distributor, and a vacuum diaphragm, mounted on the side of the distributor.
If the ignition is set too far advanced (BTDC), the ignition and expansion of the fuel in the cylinder will occur too soon and tend to force the piston down while it is still traveling up. This causes engine ping. If the ignition spark is set too far retarded, after TDC (ATDC), the piston will have already passed TDC and started on its way down when the fuel is ignited. This will cause the piston to be forced down for only a portion of its travel. This will result in poor engine performance and lack of power.
On the carbureted and the MPFI 1600 and 1800 engines, the ignition timing marks are located on the edge of the flywheel, at the rear of the engine. The marks mounted on the flywheel are visible through a port in the flywheel housing located just behind the dipstick. A plastic cover protects the port through which the flywheel-mounted marks are visible.
The ignition timing marks, on the turbocharged (1800) engine, are located on the front right-side near the crankshaft pulley.
The ignition timing marks, on the carbureted 1200 engine, are located on the crankshaft pulley at the front of the engine.
Timing marks consist of a scale of degrees on the flywheel and a pointer on the flywheel cover hole. The scale corresponds to the position of the flywheel and a pointer on the flywheel cover hole. The scale corresponds to the position of the piston in the number 1 cylinder. A stroboscopic (dynamic) timing light is used, which is hooked into the circuit of the No. 1 cylinder spark plug. Every time the spark plug fires, the timing light flashes. By aiming the timing light at the timing marks, the exact position of the piston within the cylinder can be read, since the stroboscopic flash makes the mark appear to be standing still. Proper timing is indicated when the pointer is aligned with the correct number on the scale.
There are three basic types of timing light available. The first is a simple neon bulb with two wire connections (one for the spark plug and one for the plug wire, connecting the light in series). This type of light is quite dim, and must be held closely to the marks to be seen, but it is inexpensive. The second type of light operates from the car battery. Two alligator clips connect to the battery terminals, while a third wire connects to the spark plug with an adapter. This type of light is more expensive, but the xenon bulb provides a nice bright flash which can even be seen in sunlight. The third type replaces the battery source with 110 volt house current. Some timing lights have other functions built into them, such as dwell meters, tachometers, or remote starting switches. These are convenient, in that they reduce the tangle of wires under the hood, but may duplicate the functions of tools you already have.
If your Subaru has electronic ignition, you should use a timing light with an inductive pickup. This pickup simply clamps onto the No. 1 plug wire, eliminating the adapter. It is not susceptible to crossfiring or false triggering, which may occur with a conventional light, due to the greater voltages produced by electronic ignition.
INSPECTION & ADJUSTMENT
- After cleaning the timing marks, connect a timing light to the ignition system following the manufacturer's instruction.
- If equipped with a carburetor, disconnect and plug the distributor vacuum advance line. If equipped with a turbocharger, disconnect the black (8-pole) electrical connector between the distributor and the knock control unit. On turbocharged engines, disconnect the pressure-vacuum line running from the throttle body to the distributor and plug it. If the engine has an octane selector, make sure it's set midway between A and R.
- Start the engine, allow it to reach normal operating temperature and aim the timing light at the timing marks on the flywheel or the crankshaft pulley. The correct timing mark should align with the timing mark indicator.
- If necessary to adjust the ignition timing, loosen the distributor hold-down bolt, then rotate the distributor clockwise to advance or counterclockwise to retard the timing.
- After adjustment, tighten the distributor bolt and recheck the ignition timing.
- Connect any removed vacuum or pressure lines.
- Recheck the engine idle speed and adjust if necessary.