How to Reset Camshaft Timing in a Vehicle

distributor in an engine with a gloved hand
  • 1-2 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-60
What You'll Need
Timing light
Work rags
Car manual

Camshaft timing in a vehicle refers to the vehicle’s engine timing. In your engine, the camshaft manages the intake and expelling of fuel and exhaust fumes. This is done through a number of cylinders. The intricate relationship between these cylinders and the precision with which the cylinder valves open and shut when operated by the camshaft is what is meant by camshaft timing.

The camshaft operates on a seemingly simple mechanism: as the camshaft rotates, the camshaft lobes exert pressure on the valves. This action opens the valves. Similarly, once the camshaft rotation releases the pressure applied on the valves, it allows the springs located on the valves to close them once again. Since camshaft timing impacts engine performance, it is essential that you keep an eye on it. The camshaft timing can be affected by wear and tear, so you may need to adjust and reset the camshaft timing in your vehicle. In case such a situation arises, the instructions below will help you through the process.

Step 1 - Prepare and Prop Up the hood

It will help you get things done smoothly if you prepare beforehand. Read through your car engine manual before you pop open the hood. This will help you locate the camshaft without much difficulty.

Step 2 - Determine the Timing Mark

The first step is to loosen the distributor in the car slightly with the help of a wrench. Once you’ve done this, you need to determine the timing mark. Make the mark with a piece of chalk on the harmonic balancer indicating TDC (top dead center).

Step 3 - Use a Timing Light

automotive timing light

Once the mark has been made, connect the car battery and the lead spark plug with the timing light. If you aren’t used to working on your car’s engine, please take the necessary precautions while proceeding. Once the connection is made, start the car. It is best to have someone else do this for you so that you can proceed with ease. As the vehicle starts, check the timing light on the harmonic balancer and the timing belt (and the timing mark on it).

Step 4 - Make the Adjustment

Now you can determine the camshaft timing by referencing the mark to the status of the first cylinder, i.e., the timing light will show the chalk mark when the cylinder is in position. What you need to keep an eye out for is that the first cylinder is at a position referred to as top dead center; it requires the piston to be steady at zero degrees on the rotation cycle. If it isn’t in this position, go ahead and manually adjust the timing by moving the distributor.

Step 5 - Tighten the Distributor

Now shut the car engine and tighten the distributor once again using the wrench. Be careful as to not disturb the recently reset camshaft timing as you tighten the distributor.