Timing Your VW Engine

Getting your VW timed in a non-stock world.

    Correct engine timing is crucial for getting top performance and life out of your engine.  For example, if engine timing is retarded too much, you will have a hard time getting it to idle, have pronounced "flat spots" during acceleration as well as never getting the most HP.  On the other hand, if timing is advanced too far, among other things, you'll experience "pre-detonation"; called knocking and pinging which makes your engine run hotter and in turn, can melt pistons and valves.  As you can see, it's important to get it right.

    I've noticed that timing specs listed in most repair manuals are listed by the YEAR / MODEL / TRANSMISSION TYPE.  This is well and good for a car which is totally stock and relatively "young", but now days, most A/C VWs are 25 - 40+ years old, on their 5th or 6th owner, most are NOT stock and ALL have some wear.  Just ask yourself these questions:  Are you running that "performance 009"??  How do you know the distributor that's in there is the one that came from the factory for your car??  Has your present motor been transplanted from a newer or older VW??  Is it from a bus or bug or _____???  See what I mean??  So using those parameters, I feel, is rather outdated.  

    So now you may ask, "HOW do I find out where my car should be timed??"  The answer is in the DISTRIBUTOR.  Bosch made literally over a hundred (100+) different distributors over the years for A/C VWs.  They all pretty much work similarly, BUT each one has slightly different advance curves from one another.  These special advance curves were tailored for each type of vehicle, emissions requirements of the day, gearing, vehicle weight, load and probably a host of other factors to get the top performance from the vehicle they were originally installed on.  That's why there's no true, "ONE SIZE FITS ALL" distributor (regardless of what retailers may tell you about that so-called, "PERFORMANCE 009").  This means you need to figure out exactly what distributor you have and then set your timing according to the distributor's specs.   Then tailor the timing for your vehicle through test driving.

    On the side of the distributors metal body, there is either an oval tag (early distributors) held on by 2 rivets with two (2) sets of numbers with one (1) long number preceded by a Bosch symbol, OR there are three (3) sets of numbers actually stamped into the body (late model distributors).  On the later, the two (2) bottom numbers preceded by either a small Bosch symbol or VW symbol are the most important when trying to identify the exact specs for your distributor.  

distr-number2.jpg (29405 bytes)                distr-number.jpg (17896 bytes)

You can copy down the "VW" part# and point your web browser to; www.oldvolkshome.com where they have compiled a huge database for distributors by the VW part#.  Each distributor listed has all the known info concerning advance/retard rates for a given RPM ranges as well as a list of replacement part numbers.  From there you can get the specs and find out exactly where your timing should be set.  

    Now that you know what your distributor's supposed to be giving you as far as spark advance & retard, you really should test your distributor to ensure it's working correctly and within prescribed specs.  Unless your distributor is fairly new, it could be giving you more or less advance than it's supposed to.  Click this link to find out how to test your distributor:

Test Your Distributor - A simple way to ensure your distributor is operating correctly.   

    By now you are ready to set your timing.  The links below will take you to separate procedures for accomplishing the same thing.  The one you use is up to you and kind of depends on whether you have access to a timing strobe and tach/dwell meter or not.  There are two basic methods you can use:

Static Timing - Timing the engine while it's not running.

Strobe Timing - Timing the engine while running; using a strobe light.


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Revised: August 28, 2003 .