Best Timing Lights: Keep Your Engine Running Strong

These top timing lights will help your vehicle run more smoothly

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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. 

  • Best Overall
    INNOVA Pro-Timing Light with Tool Case
    Summary
    Summary
    This professional, multi-function light has a slim, rotating barrel for easy access and better aim and a handle that helps protect against injury.
    Pros
    Pros
    This digital light provides four readouts, tachometer, advance, dwell, and voltage. It has a patented skip circuitry test up to 9,990 rpm, a detachable 6-foot lead with inductive pickup, and a plastic storage case.
    Cons
    Cons
    The unit may not last very long, and instructions are vague. It may be tricky to aim, and you may have to manipulate the settings for a motorcycle engine.
  • Best Value
    ESI 130 Self-Powered Timing Light
    Summary
    Summary
    A battery-powered light for two- and four-cycle engines and for use on all ignition systems. Accuracy up to 14,000 rpm.
    Pros
    Pros
    The light has a bright flash at all speeds and features a protective sleeve that withstands temperatures up to 1,200-degrees Fahrenheit. 4-foot lead length. Batteries included.
    Cons
    Cons
    It does not have a tach readout. In addition, the light may not pick up erratic signals.
  • Honorable Mention
    Performance Tool Digital Advance Timing Light
    Summary
    Summary
    Good quality, well-made light for the price. Bright xenon flash and high-visibility LED display. Push-button control.
    Pros
    Pros
    Displays engine speed up to 9,000 rpm and ignition spark advance from 0 to 90 degrees. For use on two- and four-cycle motors. Works on 12-volt systems.
    Cons
    Cons
    Red continuity light may not work. Working too close to the exhaust manifold may melt the light’s plastic housing.

Tips

  • 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.

FAQs

Q: When do I need a timing light?

A: 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?

A: 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?

A: 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.

Final Thoughts

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.