Timing light

A timing light is a stroboscope
A stroboscope, also known as a strobe, is an instrument used to make a cyclically moving object appear to be slow-moving, or stationary. The principle is used for the study of rotating, reciprocating, oscillating or vibrating objects...

 used to dynamically set the ignition timing
Ignition timing
Ignition timing, in a spark ignition internal combustion engine , is the process of setting the angle relative to piston position and crankshaft angular velocity that a spark will occur in the combustion chamber near the end of the compression stroke...

 of an Otto cycle
Otto cycle
An Otto cycle is an idealized thermodynamic cycle which describes the functioning of a typical reciprocating piston engine, the thermodynamic cycle most commonly found in automobile engines....

 or similar internal combustion engine
Internal combustion engine
The internal combustion engine is an engine in which the combustion of a fuel occurs with an oxidizer in a combustion chamber. In an internal combustion engine, the expansion of the high-temperature and high -pressure gases produced by combustion apply direct force to some component of the engine...

 equipped with a distributor
A distributor is a device in the ignition system of an internal combustion engine that routes high voltage from the ignition coil to the spark plugs in the correct firing order. The first reliable battery operated ignition was developed by Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co. and introduced in the...

. Modern electronically controlled passenger vehicle engines require use of a scan tool to display ignition timing.

The timing light is connected to the ignition circuit and used to illuminate the timing mark
Timing mark
A timing mark is an indicator used for setting the timing of the ignition system of an engine, typically found on the crankshaft pulley or the flywheel, being the largest radius rotating at crankshaft speed and therefore the place where marks at one degree intervals will be farthest apart.On older...

s on the engine's crankshaft
The crankshaft, sometimes casually abbreviated to crank, is the part of an engine which translates reciprocating linear piston motion into rotation...

 pulley or flywheel
A flywheel is a rotating mechanical device that is used to store rotational energy. Flywheels have a significant moment of inertia, and thus resist changes in rotational speed. The amount of energy stored in a flywheel is proportional to the square of its rotational speed...

, with the engine running. The apparent position of the marks, frozen by the stroboscopic effect, indicates the current timing of the spark in relation to piston position. A reference pointer is attached to the flywheel housing or other fixed point, and an engraved scale gives the offset between the spark time and the top-dead-centre position of the piston in the cylinder. The distributor can be rotated slightly until the reference pointer aligns with the specified point on the timing scale. Fuel-injected engines, or engines with microprocessor controls may require special procedures to allow basic spark timing to be observed without control effects from the engine computer. On most automotive engines, the timing is set based on the #1 cylinder. In few cases an engine is timed off another cylinder, such as the International Harvester
International Harvester
International Harvester Company was a United States agricultural machinery, construction equipment, vehicle, commercial truck, and household and commercial products manufacturer. In 1902, J.P...

 V8 gas engines, which use #8, and the Isuzu
, is a Japanese car, commercial vehicle and heavy truck manufacturing company, headquartered in Tokyo. In 2005, Isuzu became the world's largest manufacturer of medium to heavy duty trucks. It has assembly and manufacturing plants in the Japanese city of Fujisawa, as well as in the prefectures...

 4Z series four-cylinder, which is timed off the #4 cylinder.

Simple timing lights may just contain a neon lamp
Neon lamp
A neon lamp is a miniature gas discharge lamp that typically contains neon gas at a low pressure in a glass capsule. Only a thin region adjacent to the electrodes glows in these lamps, which distinguishes them from the much longer and brighter neon tubes used for signage...

 operated by the energy provided by the ignition circuit. Timing lights using xenon strobe lamps electronically triggered by the spark provide brighter light, allowing use of the timing lamp under normal shop lighting or daylight conditions.

A timing light may be a self-contained instrument, but is sometimes combined with a voltmeter
A voltmeter is an instrument used for measuring electrical potential difference between two points in an electric circuit. Analog voltmeters move a pointer across a scale in proportion to the voltage of the circuit; digital voltmeters give a numerical display of voltage by use of an analog to...

Revolutions per minute
Revolutions per minute is a measure of the frequency of a rotation. It annotates the number of full rotations completed in one minute around a fixed axis...

 meter, and a dwell angle meter, or may be incorporated into a more comprehensive instrument such as an engine analyser. Self-contained units used to time automotive engines have an inductive
Electromagnetic induction
Electromagnetic induction is the production of an electric current across a conductor moving through a magnetic field. It underlies the operation of generators, transformers, induction motors, electric motors, synchronous motors, and solenoids....

 pickup that clamps around the proper spark plug
Spark plug
A spark plug is an electrical device that fits into the cylinder head of some internal combustion engines and ignites compressed fuels such as aerosol, gasoline, ethanol, and liquefied petroleum gas by means of an electric spark.Spark plugs have an insulated central electrode which is connected by...

 wire and serves as the trigger for the strobe. Power for the strobe comes directly from the vehicle's battery. Some older timing lights require the removal of the spark plug boot in order to attach a direct pickup between the wire's terminal and the centre conductor of the spark plug
Spark plug
A spark plug is an electrical device that fits into the cylinder head of some internal combustion engines and ignites compressed fuels such as aerosol, gasoline, ethanol, and liquefied petroleum gas by means of an electric spark.Spark plugs have an insulated central electrode which is connected by...

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