How to Set Timing on SBC Without Timing Light

Without a timing light, you can use your vehicle’s headlights to set the timing on an SBC engine. This installation assumes that you have already installed a distributor and wires in your engine. Follow the step-by-step instructions mentioned in this blog post to know how to set timing on sbc without timing light.

The first step is to locate the number one cylinder spark plug wire; this will be the wire going from coil to distributor or from coil to ignition module, depending on which type of system you’re using. Then connect it directly to battery voltage with some electrical tape.

The headlight should flash on for about four seconds when the car starts up before turning off again. If not, then check all connections and double-check that the number one of the cylinder spark plug wire is connected properly.

How to Set Timing on Sbc Without Timing Light

Tools and Supplies Required:

  • Mechanic’s Timing Light
  • Battery Charger
  • Socket Wrench with Extensions and a Universal Joint
  • Socket Head Cap Screws
  • Tape Measure or Ruler
  • Pencil and Paper for Notes/Record Keeping

Steps to Follow: How to Set Timing on SBC Without Timing Light 

Step 1:

First, remove the distributor cap and rotor, then unbolt the hold-down bolt that secures the distributor in place on the engine block. If there is no hold-down bolt, you can use an SBC universal joint and a socket wrench to remove the distributor.

Step 2:

Second, set your parking brake and chock the front wheels of the car. Put the transmission in neutral (manual) or park (automatic). If there is no parking brake, make sure that you block both your car’s front and back wheels.

Step 3:

Third, set the spark plug gap on all plugs to 0.30 inches (if you don’t know how to gap a spark plug, there are many online tutorials). Finally, slide the rubber boot over the new plugs’ threads before installing them to ensure no dirt or mud falls into the cylinders when you loosen and remove the distributor cap.

Step 4:

Fourth, ensure your car is pointing in a safe direction in case of an accident or if you release the brake pedal suddenly. This will require pulling the emergency brake on flat ground to get enough slack in the cable to rotate your car.

Step 5:

Fifth, loosen the distributor hold-down bolt or U-joint and rotate the distributor until N TDC (top-dead-center) is marked on the timing scale. If you do not have a timing light, use your car’s odometer to accurately read where the mark is on the timing scale.

Step 6:

Sixth, rotate the distributor until the rotor “points” at the mark on the distributor cap that is closest to the number one position on the distributor cap’s outer edge. You should have already labeled this position with a piece of tape so you can read it easily before rotating your distributor. If you did not label this position, you should do so before rotating the distributor.

Step 7:

Check Your Spark Plug Wires to Ensure That

Seventh, check your spark plug wires to ensure that they are all properly connected and that the rubber boots are securely attached to their respective spark plugs. If one or more of your wires is loose or has come off of its plug entirely, reconnect it to the plug and secure the boot tightly.

Step 8:

Eighth, hold the brake pedal down with your left foot (or block it if you don’t have a brake pedal), then use your right hand to slowly rotate the distributor until one of your sparks plugs fires. Start at N TDC on the timing scale and rotate the distributor clockwise until one of your sparks plugs fires.

You should be able to see which spark plug fired because it will glow slightly and emit a distinctive sound when it does so. Write down the number on your timing scale next to where you marked TDC.

Step 9:

Ninth, rotate the distributor another 1/4 turn clockwise. If you did not have a timing light and needed to find TDC again, do so at this time. Finally, rotate the distributor until your next spark plug fires and note down the number on your timing scale where it fired.

Repeat this step (rotate the distributor 1/4, turn clockwise, and check for a spark each time) until you have noted down the firing sequence of all 6 spark plugs.

Step 10:

Lastly, you will now refer back to your notes because you are looking for the engine’s firing order. On your first note, circle the number where your first spark plug fired.

Then, next to that circled number, make a column with six rows and write down the corresponding firing sequence numbers next to each row (this is where you will record what happens when you rotate the distributor one-quarter turn clockwise for each spark plug).

Remember that your ignition coil may fire two plugs at once, so you will have to make some allowances for this phenomenon.

What Are the Symptoms of Timing Off?

What Are the Symptoms of Timing Off

Symptoms of timing being off are hard to define because they can manifest themselves in many ways. It all depends on what you were trying to achieve with the engine when the timing was retarded or advanced. Here is a shortlist of things that could be affected by incorrect cam timing:

  1. The engine will run hotter than normal
  2. Reduced fuel economy
  3. Vehicle pulls to one side when braking or coasting in gear
  4. Vehicles front end shakes when applying brakes at high speeds
  5. Engine cutout switches on while driving, and the engine dies after a few seconds
  6. Reduced power from idle to about 1000 RPM
  7. The vehicle will not cross railroad tracks without stalling
  8. The vehicle will not start

Frequently Asked Questions

Which way do you turn distributor to advance timing on SBC?

To get your SBC timing ahead, reach out to your distributor. They’re the ones who help get products to retailers and customers, working with manufacturers to get products into the hands of retailers and consumers quickly.

What happens if the ignition timing is too advanced?

If the ignition timing is too advanced, it can cause a misfire. A misfire is when the engine does not fire at all. This can be dangerous because it can lead to a stall or collision.

Is Advance timing before or after TDC?

Advance timing before TDC will help you get a better fuel economy and reduce emissions. However, it may also cause premature wear on your engine.

Advance timing after TDC will result in higher fuel economy and reduced emissions, but it can also increase the risk of damage to your engine.

Do you disconnect vacuum advance when setting timing?

No, the vacuum advance should not be disconnected when setting the timing. Vacuum advance allows the engine to run at higher RPMs during startup to reduce noise and increase fuel efficiency.

Where can I find TDC in SBC?

The Texas Digital Corridor (TDC) is a designated area in Southwestern Bell Communications Company (SBC) that provides opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs to innovate, grow, and create jobs.

The TDC includes 13 counties in the Austin metropolitan area: Bastrop, Caldwell, Collin, Denton, Duval, Hays, Johnson, Kerrville, Lampasas, Lee Co., Liberty Hill, and San Antonio.


Setting the timing on an SBC without using your timing light can be tricky. That, or it’s just plain frustrating when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere and start pedaling away only to find yourself still waiting for the engine to warm up. 

If you’re not an expert on setting timing on SBC without timing light, this blog post may be helpful.

With a little bit of wiring, you can set your timing without using a timing light. If that sounds like something you would be interested in learning more about, then we recommend reading our article on setting the proper timing for SBC engines without a timing light.

Jennifer Branett
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