LAST UPDATED: October 20, 2019
Best Timing Lights: Keep Your Engine Running Strong
These top timing lights will help your vehicle run more smoothly
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON October 20, 2019
When your car or truck engine is timed correctly, it operates at top efficiency and power. When it is not, it runs rough and inefficiently. We did the research to identify the most effective timing lights for cars and trucks. Read about them below before making a purchase so you’re sure to get the right one.
This professional, multi-function light has a slim, rotating barrel for easy access and better aim and a handle that helps protect against injury
- This digital light provides four readouts: tachometer, advance, dwell, and voltage
- Has a patented skip circuitry test up to 9,990 RPM
- Detachable 6-foot lead with inductive pickup
- Plastic storage case
- Unit may not last very long, and instructions are vague
- May be tricky to aim, and you may have to manipulate the settings for a motorcycle engine
A battery-powered light for two- and four-cycle engines and for use on all ignition systems. Accuracy up to 14,000 RPM.
- Light has a bright flash at all speeds
- Features a protective sleeve that withstands temperatures up to 1,200-degrees Fahrenheit
- 4-foot lead length
- Batteries included
- Does not have a tach readout
- Light may not pick up erratic signals
Micro-processor controlled. Bright Xenon light. Housing made of durable ABS plastic. Advanced features.
- Use the light to check advance and engine RPM, set the initial timing, measure and check centrifugal advance and calculate vacuum advance
- LED display, RPM advance button, up and down buttons
- Thorough instructions in three languages
- Does not work on 6-volt cars
- Difficult to replace the bulb
- Light may not last long
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Benefits of a Timing Light
- Better performance. When your engine is timed correctly, you get better performance from it. It runs smoother and provides more power.
- Improved fuel economy. A properly timed engine provides more miles per gallon than an engine that is not timed properly.
- Engine longevity. An engine that is timed properly will last longer because it runs smoother and more efficiently.
Types of Timing Lights
Standard Timing Light
Called inductive timing lights, these devices have a non-adjustable Xenon light and you use them to time two-cycle as well as four-cycle motors. Another handy feature many of these lights have is buttons (or sometimes a knob) that allow you to advance the light to show the timing at various RPMs. Some of the better inductive timing lights also have a tachometer built in to monitor RPMs and a dwell meter that allows you to monitor the amount of time the system is charging the coil.
If your battery and leads are not in the engine compartment (think race cars or other exotic vehicles), you can buy a timing light that is battery-powered. This means you can time your engine without having the battery in the immediate vicinity from which you need to draw power to power the light. A battery-powered timing light also has one less wire to deal with when you’re trying to do the job.
If you have a vehicle with a multiple spark distribution system (MSD), you will need a timing light that can time this type of system. A standard timing light gets “confused” if it picks out more than one spark, making it impossible to time the engine. If you have a vehicle that has an MSD, make sure the timing light you select is MSD-compatible.
Since 1999, Innova Electronic Corporation has been manufacturing test and diagnostic equipment for the automotive industry. The people in the company research, develop, and design the company’s products at Innova headquarters in Irvine, Calif. Products include the Innova 3320 Auto-Ranging Digital Multimeter and the Innova 3150f Pro OBD2 Scanner/Car Code Reader.
Electronic Specialties is a leading maker of automotive testing equipment. The company designs and makes items for Snap-on, Matco, Mac Tools, and other tool distributors. It was founded in 1967 and is headquartered in Genoa City, Wis. Check out the 190 Relay Buddy Automotive Relay Tester and 328 EZ Tach Plus.
Maso is an East Indian company founded in 1979. Its headquarters is in Mumbai, India. The company makes accessories and parts for motor vehicles and engines such as the Maso Engine Timing Light and Maso Car Remote Central Locking Kit.
Timing Light Pricing
- $25-$70. These are basic inductive timing lights. They feature Xenon lights and plastic housings. A few are battery-powered.
- $70-$100. These lights have tach, advance, and dwell indicators with adjustment buttons. Many feature metal housings.
- $100-240. You will find lights for timing vehicles with MSD ignition in this range. Some do not require a 12-volt hookup (they use batteries) and some include a carrying case.
This is probably the number one issue for those who use timing lights. There is nothing more frustrating than working on your vehicle when you don’t have enough light to see the timing mark. Fortunately, almost all timing lights today have Xenon flash tubes. This light is brighter than incandescent-produced light and if the bulb wears out, it is replaceable.
You can (almost always) be assured of the timing light’s operational accuracy because the light is simply transferring information from your vehicle to the light. But the accuracy of the tach, dwell, voltage, and other readings is important. Check the reviews and questions and answers on the light you’re considering buying to see if users have commented on the accuracy of the readings.
This includes housing, whether it’s plastic or metal. Plastic doesn’t rust but metal may simply be more attractive. The durability of the leads is something to check. Check if other purchasers have reported cracked or frayed leads or connectors that break or fall apart. You can also check the reviews for the durability and longevity of the bulb and the light itself. Bulbs may wear out and can be replaced but if customers report that the timing light stopped working after a short time, maybe it’s not your best choice.
- Voltage. Most cars that require timing are 12-volt systems. But some of the older ones, like the Ford Model T or early VW Beetles, have 6-volt electrical systems. Make sure the timing light you’re buying will work for your vehicle’s electrical system.
- Metal or Plastic Material. Many quality timing lights have solid ABS plastic housings. Some feature metal housings. Both plastic and metal are durable materials but some people prefer one over the other for attractiveness and/or color.
- Tach/Dwell/Voltage. We mentioned timing lights with the ability to monitor and regulate these readings. You will pay more for a light that has this but you don't need to include it if, for example, you already have a tachometer or dwell meter.
Best Timing Lights Reviews & Recommendations 2021
This professional-grade timing light has four readouts: voltage, advance, dwell, and RPM (tachometer). It is digitally controlled and features a patented “skip circuitry” test, up to 9,990 RPM. The light has a molded boot to protect against fan blades and the durable housing is shock-proof. The long, six-foot leads are detachable. This timing light comes with a handy molded-plastic case for storage and protection.
However, with this timing light, you may have to manipulate the settings when timing a motorcycle engine. Some users report that the light didn’t last very long. Others report that the instructions could be clearer.
You can time your engine with this light even if the battery is not accessible. That’s because it operates on batteries. So if the vehicle’s battery is located in the rear end, it’s no problem. Just attach the lead to the No.1 cylinder spark plug wire and away you go!
You can use this timing light on two- and four-cycle engines and all types of ignition systems. The light is accurate up to 14,000 RPMs. Lead length is four feet and the protective sleeve can withstand temperatures of 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Two D cell batteries are required (included).
Be aware that this light does not have a tach readout. It also may not pick up erratic signals.
This timing light has a micro-processor controlled circuitry for accuracy and longevity. The mode indicator lights give you information about RPM, advance, centrifugal advance, and vacuum advance. You can use the light on all gas-powered vehicles that have electronic, conventional, computer-controlled, DIS (distributorless ignition system), and two-cycle ignition systems.
The LED tach display is digital and reads from 0-9,999 RPMs and the advance display reads to 0.10. The display also shows two- and four-cycle RPM/advance lights, and has up and down buttons. The Xenon bulb yields a brilliant light. The housing is tough ABS plastic and the heat-resistant over-molding on the battery clips allows for long service. The instructions that are included are in English, French, and Spanish.
However, DIYers and professional mechanics working on vehicles with 6-volt systems might want to look elsewhere because according to some reviews, this light does not work on those systems. Some users say the bulb is difficult to replace when it comes time to do that. Others report that the timing light might wear out too soon.
Another excellent choice from Actron, this inductive timing light is priced less but still delivers a strong value. It is designed for standard base timing with an on/off touch control. It works excellent with conventional, electronic, computer-controlled, DIS, and two-cycle ignition systems. It is heat-resistant to ensure a long life. It comes with an instruction booklet for those not mechanically-minded. It also has a one-year warranty for any manufacturing defects, giving you some added peace of mind when purchasing.
It is very lightweight, weighing just above one pound. Actron is well-known for its array of automotive products, making it an excellent go-to source for your car’s needs. Of course, this is not compatible with all types of cars, so be sure to double-check prior to purchase.
Unfortunately, Actron does not provide any easy resource list, so it will require some research. The light is not as bright as you would hope, but it works well and dependably for a great price.
This timing light from MSD is top-quality for a top price. With a simple red design, MSD boasts that it is extremely accurate and tough. Its light is bright enough to be easily visible during the daylight, and it is detachable for storage. It weighs just under 2 pounds, so it is easy to handle. The customer service from MSD is very good and they are responsive to questions or concerns. That would be expected given that this light is specifically made to work with the MSD box. So if that is what you have, this is likely the best product for you.
This timing light from MSD is definitely more expensive than its competitors. The higher price does not really equate to a better quality. But MSD ignition lights are not the easiest to come by, which may be the reason for the higher price tag. It is worth noting that this is an analog timing light, not a digital. So if that is what you prefer, you will need to look elsewhere. Otherwise, there is really nothing that makes this stand out against its competitors. There are no special features or safety features. It is a simple and straightforward timing light.
- If your car is older and has a distributor, you can save money by timing the engine yourself. If it doesn’t and it has computerized controls, take it to a repair shop.
- Think about the space where you will be timing the motor in the engine compartment in your car or truck. This will affect the type and size of the timing light you need.
- You can find the timing specifications for your car or truck on the Vehicle Emission Control Information Label, which is located somewhere under the hood or on a fender well. The service manual should also contain this information.
Q: When do I need a timing light?
If your car or truck engine begins to shudder and thump, it could mean the timing is off and you need to re-time the engine. Older cars are more prone to timing problems; newer cars have computerized systems that can adjust timing automatically.
Q: What does it mean to adjust the timing?
Gas- and diesel-powered cars and trucks have spark plugs that ignite the fuel in the cylinders, which drives the vehicle. The spark plug must fire at the correct time and in the right sequence for the motor to operate properly. You use a timing light to determine if the sequence and timing of the spark plugs is wrong and to correct it if it is.
Q: How do I choose a timing light?
Think about the factors involved. What type of engine are you timing—auto, diesel, gas, motorcycle? Is it a two- or four-cycle engine? Is it a domestic or foreign car or truck? Do you want the full capability of a light, such as rpm readout, voltage, advance, and dwell, or do you just need a basic light? Research and choose a timing light that fits your needs.
The INNOVA Pro-Timing Light with Tool Case is a professional, multi-function light that will help you diagnose and remedy most timing problems.
The ESI 130 Self-Powered Timing Light is a bright light perfect for fixing timing issues, especially where the light needs to supply its own power.