Toyota Camry and Avalon 1997-2000

Ignition Timing



Ignition timing is the measurement (in degrees) of crankshaft position at the instant the spark plug fires. In most cases the ignition timing is adjusted by loosening the distributor locking device and turning the distributor in the engine.

It takes a fraction of a second for the spark from the plug to completely ignite the mixture in the cylinder. Because of this, the spark plug must fire before the piston reaches TDC (top dead center, the highest point in its travel), if the mixture is to be completely ignited as the piston passes TDC. This measurement is given in degrees (of crankshaft rotation) before the piston reaches top dead center (BTDC). If the ignition timing setting for your engine is 10° BTDC, this means that the spark plug must fire at a time when the piston for that cylinder is 10° before top dead center of its compression stroke. However, this only holds true while your engine is at idle speed.

As you accelerate from idle, the speed of your engine (rpm) increases. The increase in rpm means that the pistons are now traveling up and down much faster. Because of this, the spark plugs will have to fire even sooner if the mixture is to be completely ignited as the piston passes TDC. To accomplish this, the distributor incorporates means to advance the timing of the spark as the engine speed increases.

The distributor in your Toyota has an Electronic Spark Advance (ESA) and is controlled by a microcomputer.

In addition, some distributors have a vacuum retard mechanism which is contained in the same housing on the side of the distributor as the vacuum advance. The function of this mechanism is to retard the timing of the ignition spark under certain engine conditions. This causes more complete burning of the air/fuel mixture in the cylinder and consequently lowers exhaust emissions.

Because these mechanisms change ignition timing, it is necessary to disconnect and plug the one or two vacuum lines from the distributor when setting the basic ignition timing, if the distributor is equipped with a vacuum advancer.

If the ignition timing is set too far advanced (BTDC), the ignition and expansion of the air/fuel mixture in the cylinder will try to force the piston down while it is still traveling upward. This causes engine ping, a sound which resembles marbles being dropped into an empty tin can. If the ignition timing is too far retarded (after, or ATDC), the piston will have already started down on the power stroke when the air/fuel mixture ignites and expands. This will cause the piston to be forced down only a portion of its travel. This results in poor engine performance and lack of power.

Ignition timing adjustment is checked with a timing light. This instrument is connected to the number one (No. 1) spark plug of the engine. The timing light flashes every time an electrical current is sent from the distributor through the No. 1 spark plug wire to the spark plug. The crankshaft pulley and the front cover of the engine are marked with a timing pointer and a timing scale.

When the timing pointer is aligned with the 0 mark on the timing scale, the piston in the No. 1 cylinder is at TDC of it compression stroke. With the engine running, and the timing light aimed at the timing pointer and timing scale, the stroboscopic (periodic) flashes from the timing light will allow you to check the ignition timing setting of the engine. The timing light flashes every time the spark plug in the No. 1 cylinder of the engine fires. Since the flash from the timing light makes the crankshaft pulley seem to stand still for a moment, you will be able to read the exact position of the piston in the No. 1 cylinder on the timing scale on the front of the engine.

If you're buying a timing light, make sure the unit you select is rated for electronic or solid-state ignitions. Generally, these lights have two wires which connect to the battery with alligator clips and a third wire which connects to the No. 1 plug wire. The best lights have an inductive pick-up on the third wire; this allows you to simply clip the small box over the wire. Older lights may require the removal of the plug wire and the installation of an in-line adapter. Since the spark plugs in the twin-cam engines are in deep wells, rigging the adapter can be difficult. Buy quality the first time and the tool will give lasting results and ease of use.

5S-FE Engine

The ignition timing is not adjustable on these engines.

This service procedure is for checking base ignition timing. Refer to underhood emission sticker for any additional service procedure steps and/or specifications.

  1. Warm the engine to normal operating temperature. Turn off all electrical accessories. Do not attempt to check timing specification or idle speed on a cold engine.
  3. Connect a tachometer (as shown in the illustrations) and check the engine idle speed to be sure it is within the specification given in the Tune-Up Specifications chart or underhood emission sticker.
  5. Remove the cap on the diagnostic check connector. Using a small jumper wire or Special Service Tool SST 09843-18020, connect the terminals TE1 and E1 together.
  7. If the timing marks are difficult to see, shut the engine OFF and use a dab of paint or chalk to make them more visible.
  9. Connect a timing light according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  11. Start the engine and use the timing light to observe the timing marks. With the jumper wire in the check connector the timing should be to specifications (refer to underhood emission sticker as necessary) with the engine fully warmed up (at correct idle speed) and the transmission in correct position.

Click image to see an enlarged view

Fig. Aim the timing light at the mark-1986-96 models

  1. Disconnect the jumper wire or Special Service Tool (SST) at the diagnostic check connector.

This jumper will be used repeatedly during diagnostics in later sections. Take the time to make a proper jumper with correct terminals or probes. It's a valuable special tool for very low cost.

  1. Refer to the underhood emission sticker for timing specification and any additional service procedure steps. If necessary, repeat the timing adjustment procedure.
  3. Shut the engine OFF and disconnect all test equipment. Road test the vehicle for proper operation.

1MZ-FE Engine

The ignition timing is not adjustable on these engines.