How does a timing light work?

Author's Note

With systems on cars becoming more and more computerized, black boxed, and generally unserviceable by the typical home-garage mechanic, old school auto repair subjects such as "timing" and "timing lights" seem ever more quaint. Still, lots of drivers maintain "older" cars that use a distributor ignition system.

I rank understanding how a timing light works right up there with knowing how to drive stick shift. You may never have to do either (or never have the opportunity, as I see it). Both are skills that might come in handy some day, but most people who aren't car crazy will likely get along just fine without them. But that isn't the point. For car people, it's more than just nostalgia. It's about that visceral sense of connection a person feels when a car becomes not just a conveyance, but an extension of one's self.

Related Articles


  • "Timing Light. Owner's Manual (Model 3551)." (May 5, 2012)
  • EricTheCarGuy. "How to Set Ignition Timing, Acura Integra." May 16, 2010. (May 3, 2012)
  • "Automotive Timing Light - Xenon (Model 03343)." (May 1, 2012)
  • Markiewicz, Bob. "Using a Timing Light." (May 1, 2012)
  • Sclar, Deanna. "Auto Repair for Dummies." Hungry Minds. New York. 1999.

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