How to: properly set Honda ignition timing

How to: properly set Honda ignition timing

Most people now days that call themselves “car enthusiasts” don’t know the first thing about actual maintenance of their car/motor. They could care less about longevity of engines, or whether or not its going to make reliable power. Ever since I have been into cars I have always performed maintenance frequently. Oil changes every 1000 miles, valve adjustments, ignition timing, coolant flush, and trans oil changes every 3000k miles ( or in the case of my race car after every track weekend ). How can you expect your car to take the abuse you give it if these key items aren’t maintained. Its the same thing as an athlete, they eat well, take supplements, soak in epsom salts, get massages, and stay limber. they can’t ask their body to give them 100% if they aren’t maintaining it. same is said for your car, routine maintenance is key to a reliable/powerful car.

When i first did my D16y8 swap into my EK there wasn’t a charcoal canister plug on the wiring harness i was running. This would cause a CEL every so often, simply because the ECU wasn’t getting a reading for the EVAP system. This was a little annoying but I was able to find a cheat to make it not go on. As long as you wouldn’t decelerate for more than 8 sec with out any throttle modulation ( no foot on gas at all ). So say if I was coming up to a red light I would just do a little heel toe action to barley blip a little on the throttle just so that the ECU was reading a TPS change, and it would cause a CEL. This was still some what annoying because I was doing so much while slowing down. The solution was to get an ECU jumper harness to convert OBD2-a to OBD1 this was so I could run a P28 ECU and there was no EVAP sensor and I wouldn’t throw a CEL no matter how long I decelerated with out throttle input.

The P28 ECU is quite a bit different than the P2P OBD2-a sohc vtec ECU that I was previously using. The redline of the P28 is 7200 rpm while the P2P is 6800 rpm. The vtec switch over is 4800rpm while the P2P is 5600 rpm. Naturally the whole fuel map and ignition was going to be different. This was causing my car to fall flat on its face at an unexciting 5500-6000 rpm. I knew that ignition timing can alter your cars high and low end power, so I decided to do a “how to” adjust ignition timing article. This is going to be the same for any D series and I’m pretty sure any B series. F/H/K series do it a little differently, maybe one day we can do a how to for those.

Step 1: Move your race car out of the garage, and pull the daily in.


Step 2: Bring your car up to normal operating temperature. Make sure its not on the cold map, usually I wait until the fan cycles completely then turn off and remove key.


Step 3: You are going to locate your ECU on the passenger side of the footwell, pull off the plastic cover and find the Blue two wire jumper plug. It might also be stored in the green rubber “plug” that is just a holder so the jumper won’t make noise or rattle. If your car is relatively stock then it will most likely still be in this rubber holder. If the car has had multiple motors or ECU’s then most likely it’s just hanging around down there, you might have to dig around since a previous owner might have hid the jumper plug. Trust me it’s there somewhere!


You can see the rubber green plug directly above the blue two wire jumper. The two wire is also what you would use to “jump” to read your CEL codes.


Next you are going to make a jumper wire either like I did, or bend a paperclip. Then insert into the two wire jumper plug.


Make sure the wire is securely inserted, you don’t want it to fall out while you are doing the timing. The reason you are jumping this plug is so the ECU will run on the base map. If you don’t do this and continue to adjust the timing the ECU will try to make its own adjustments while you are trying to adjust your timing.  (note jumping the plug will cause your CEL to come on but that’s normal, and that’s how you know the ECU is running on the base timing map) the CEL should stay on the whole time while you are adjusting the timing. It will go away when you remove the jumper wire.

Step 4: get out your timing light and properly hook it up.


Run the power wires to the positive and negative terminals on your battery.


Then attach the Hall effect magnetic clip to the cylinder #1 spark plug wire


Step 5: locate the timing marks on the crank pulley ( driver side of the engine bay )


You can see in this picture there is a Pointer mark on the timing belt cover,sort of like a gun sight. You are going to want to look directly straight down from above. You are going to be lining up the three group of score marks with  the pointer. the red one in the center is the one you want to be lining up with. _DSC4848

Note the picture does not show them lined up, it’s just how the crank pulley stopped when I shut the car off.  There is one lonely mark on the pulley a little off to the right, that one is for lining up TDC when doing a timing belt, cams, water pump, or any other time the timing belt has to come off. There is also a mark (s) on the cam gear (s) depending if you are SOHC or DOHC. this is how you make sure the engine is TDC (top dead center) before starting it. if the arrows on the cam gear and the TDC mark don’t line up properly don’t even try to start your car. You can end up smashing valves into pistons, and this whole article is irrelevant for you since you need to have the mechanical timing correct in order to properly set the ignition timing.  You are only concerned with the group of three marks. the red “middle one is the one you want to line up with the pointer. the one towards the left or “front” of the car is going to be 2* advanced and the mark to the right or “rear” of the car is going to be 2* retarded. you can make small adjustments in power delivery of your car by adjusting or retarding the timing. Too much can have detrimental results so be careful.

Step 6: loosen the three 12mm bolts holding the distributor tight. You just want them to be loose enough so you can rotate the distributor, you should have some resistance when trying to rotate it. These will need to stay loose while the car is running so you can make the adjustments.


Step 7: Now assuming that your mechanical timing is correct you are now going to start the car and your timing light should be working and reading RPM’s. Make sure your car hasn’t been off long enough to cool back down. You’re going to adjust your idle speed usually its 750 rpm but to be sure look up the specs for your specific application.  There is a flat head screw on top of your throttle body to adjust the idle.


make sure you are looking up the settings for your specific motor.


get your idle set properly, as you can see mine was set too low


Step 8: You are going to shine the light from the timing light straight down form the top of the engine, the timing light will act as a strobe light and make the pulley look like it momentarily stops. you want to line up the red “middle” mark with the pointer on the timing belt cover. You are going to rotate the distributor clockwise to retard and counter clockwise to advance. it doesn’t take much to move the timing a few degrees so be careful.


as you can see I’m holding the light timing light with one hand and rotating the distributor with the other. Once its lined up you are going to tighten only one of the distributor bolts then look back at the pulley to make sure it has not changed timing. If it’s all good tighten then other two bolts of the distributor.


 Now you’re all done. Remove the jumper wire, put the cover back over the ECU, check distributor bolts (3), and make sure you haven’t left any tools in the engine bay or windshield cowl.


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