How To Set Ignition Timing On An Air Cooled VW

Setting the timing is step 5 in the tune up procedure. Ignition timing is dependent upon the rest of the ignition system being set up properly. Accurate timing cannot be achieved unless you have sufficient compression, correct valve clearance, correct ignition point gap, correct spark plug gaps and the engine is at normal operating temperature.

Here are three different methods that can be used to set your ignition timing:

These steps apply to all methods:Turn the engine using the crankshaft pulley nut until the rotor button (remove distributor cap so you can see the rotor button) is aligned with the groove in the distributor rim and the timing mark on the crankshaft pulley is aligned with the crankcase seem.

NOTE:

If your pulley has two timing marks the one on the right is 10 degrees BTC (before top dead center) and the one on the left is for 7.5 degrees BTC.

If your pulley has three notches they will be, from left to right, 5 deg. ATC, 7.5 deg BTC and 10 deg. BTC (See photo).

Crankshaft Pulley Timing Marks

Crankshaft Pulley Timing Marks

Air Cooled Volkswagen Ignition Timing Method Using A Test Light

12 Volt Test Light

12 Volt Test Light

You do not need an expensive timing light to adjust your ignition timing. For air cooled Volkswagen engines a simple test light consisting of a 12 volt lamp and two leads with alligator clamps is not only sufficient but recommended. You can easily make one yourself or you can buy one at an auto parts store.

Remove the vacuum hose from the distributor advance unit.

Loosen the clamp at the base of the distributor until you can turn the distributor with your hand.

Distributor Advance Unit

Distributor Advance Unit

Connect one lead of your test light to terminal 1 on the distributor and the other to a solid ground.

Turn the distributor body clockwise until the contacts of the ignition points are closed. Turn on the ignition switch but do not start the engine. Turn the distributor counterclockwise until the test light comes on (just as the contact points are opening) and tighten down the clamp.

Air Cooled Volkswagen Ignition Timing Method Using A Volt Meter

The steps for using a volt meter to set your ignition timing are the same as those for using a test lamp. Instead of watching for the test light to come on you will be watching for a voltage reading on the meter. When the contact points are closed the meter should show 0. When the points begin to open voltage will be indicated on the meter.

Air Cooled Volkswagen Ignition Timing Method Using A Timing Light

If you have a timing light you can use it to set your timing.

Use chalk or something similar to the timing mark on the crankshaft pulley to make it easier to see with the timing light.

Remove the vacuum hose from the distributor advance unit.

Loosen the clamp at the base of the distributor until you can turn the distributor with your hand.

Connect one lead of your test light to the number 1 spark plug wire on the distributor and the other to a solid ground.

Start the engine and aim the timing light at the top of the crankshaft pulley. Rotate the distributor body until the appropriate mark on the crankshaft pulley is aligned with the crankcase seam. Tighten down the distributor clamp.

NOTE: Be very careful of the belt and other moving parts when performing this procedure.

Written by David Slone, Copyright 2008 AirCooledVWLove.com

Vintage VW Training Film – Ignition Timing Part 1

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Vintage VW Training Film – Ignition Timing Part 2

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Vintage VW Training Film – Ignition Timing II

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Air Coole VW Love! tagged this post with: Read 13 articles by

How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive:
A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot

First published in 1969, this classic manual of automotive repair equips VW owners with the knowledge to handle every situation they will come across with any air-cooled Volkswagen built through 1978, including Bugs, Karmann Ghias, vans, and campers.

Easy to understand and fun to read information. For novice and veteran mechanics alike. Anecdotal descriptions, and clear language, this book takes the mystery out of diagnostic, maintenance, and repair procedures, and offers some chuckles along the way.

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45 Comments

  1. Jo says:

    I read this whole page searching for the setting and you call it THE APPROPRIATE SETTING………..
    WHAT A WASTE OF TIME

  2. admin says:

    Hello Jo

    Unfortunately all air cooled VWs do not use the same setting. Dont you have a book? Every car owner should have a manual. Thats where you will find make and model specific settings like that.

    I do understand your frustration however, perhaps I will add a list of every setting for every VW engine ever made, but that would be quite a task.

  3. steve green says:

    Very clear and concise directions, glad to have found you. will be back

  4. Matt says:

    Hi
    My 1974 1200 beetle just has the one notch on the crankshaft pully but has three marks on the engine. I guess these are timing marks too. How do I time correctly with the marks on the engine?
    Cheers

  5. mike says:

    I have a 1966 baja with a 1600 built to a 1641 with a bigger cam and a holley carb. i was wondering if the timimg is going to be set the same as a stock 1600?

  6. Mozza690 says:

    Top advise, many thanks -- just bought a project followed the advise above and it fired up dtraight away…….

  7. Kevin says:

    I was Trying to time a VW bus motor Im not sure what size I was told it was an 1800 it’s on a sandrail. The distributor poped out. how do I align the distributor with the cam. It is in two pieces the middle conection can only go one way but the other end has 13 teeth. Any ideas

  8. Clyde says:

    I didn’t know about the test light thing. I’m glad I stumbled across this site. Great work David. Some of these things are not only simple and unique but they WORK!!! Thank you.

  9. beetle boy says:

    thankyou soooo much for the advice. you are a life saver !

  10. Lindsey says:

    Is this true for all years of aircooled vws? I keep seeing thing that say this method may be used on only earlier modles (1968 or so and before) and that for example my 71 1600 ghia engine must use a different method.

  11. Brett says:

    I’m a bit confused, being an engineer I guess I’m more anal in instructions, using a volt meter or light.

    Connect one lead of your test light to terminal 1 on the distributor (is this going to the #1 plug, and if so do I pull the cable out? if I don’t my VW will start right up) and the other to a solid ground.

    Turn the distributor body clockwise until the contacts of the ignition points are closed. (how can I tell if I don’t remove the distrib cap?) Turn on the ignition switch but do not start the engine (my engine starts right up, should I pull the coil cable?). Turn the distributor counterclockwise until the test light comes on (just as the contact points are opening) and tighten down the clamp.

  12. VWNut says:

    Hi Brett -- Your VW will start up when you turn the key to the on position? Normally you have to turn it a bit farther to engage the starter motor and then let it ease back to the on position once it starts. Your engine should not start when you click the key over to on (in a VW or any other car). It doesn’t matter if the spark plug cable is attached or not but the distributor cap needs to be off so you can see the points and access the clamp.

  13. Brett says:

    Thanks VW nut, I think I got it. I’m verifying proper current path at the point of circuit interuption. Thanks a bunch, sounds too simple.

  14. big cyril says:

    hi vwnut
    i am looking for hints. got old engine ( had it for 18months) running a bit smokey, Type 1 -1600cc, with one notch on pulley. dwell is ok at 40 degrees but using my timing light i just can’t get it timed at 12oclcock (casesplit)
    I moved the distributor around and the sweetspot is about 8am-9am where the belt leaves the pulley.
    I pulled out all spark plugs replaced with new and ensured spark gets to each plug. I cleaned rotor and inside dist cap.

    could it be something mechanical like valves that stop me being able to time it at 12 oclock? I pulled off each rocker cover and saw all springs were moving and also squirting a bit of oil around. However I am not sure what is normal with valves etc
    thx BCyril

  15. Walt says:

    Great information but if this question is stupid please excuse, I know the firing order is 1432 but on the distributor where do these cables go and which cable is #1 #4 #3 #2 where is #1 on the distributor on a 72 bus looking at it from the rear?

  16. Anonymous says:

    have done the timing on my 72 beetle
    runs great but doesn’t want to stop when i turn off the ignition
    is this a timing issue?

  17. karl says:

    Hi
    I just bought a 72 super beetle that had a LOT of work done: new carb, rebuilt engine, new plugs & wires, etc. However it sat a winter w/o being started. Now i have “adjusted” timing & played with the Pilot Jet to get it running at all, it seems to run fine but idle increases when she gets warmed. My question refers to the handling of the pilot jet, if i close it all way in the car will not start, when i open it 1/2 turn car runs great but as i said the idle increases, also if i have the Pilot Jet opened it seems loose in the threads & i am concerned it will shake out, so i tape it in position. I have NOT touched Main Jet or any others. Car also appears to have electronic ignition instead of points. Assuming all other engine items are good, what is the sequence of steps involving the jets that one follows?
    Thanks
    kb

  18. karl says:

    To july 12 anonymous
    Re 72 running on: there is a gadget that screws into left side of carb called an electromagnetic shut-off valve that is supposed to cease the engine running when key is turned off, maybe it needs reolacement.

  19. mike says:

    wat is the firing order order on the destubuter caps

  20. bmuyco16 says:

    thanks keep up the good work
    love what your doing

  21. Stuart says:

    Supper, I’ve read this tune up information and make complete clear since to me. Just need to put into practice, VDub novice.

    my engine is a 1776 with twin webbers it runs like a dog just had bottom end rebuild, timing and valves i think.

  22. john hart says:

    Hi thx for all the tips,Im new at all this but having gr8 fun -What i would like to know is i gor a beetch buggy with a vw engine, is there anyway to tell by looking at it if its a 12/15/1600 engine?

  23. Bill says:

    If it has a dual port intake manifold, (either 2 separate carburetors, one on each side…or it uses a single carburetor wih with a 3 piece intake manifold (joined by rubber bots with clamps) and it is a stock engine….it is at least 1600.

    Both the 1200 and 1500 stock engines used a one piece intake manifold.

    Lots of later modifications occur on buggies tho!Bill

  24. Mike says:

    Walt,

    the fire order is right. he is how to tell which goes where.

    looking down at the distrib. right on the rim you will find a very small notch in the rim where the top of the distrib cap sits down upon. That little notch is where you put # 1. Mark on the bottom of the distrib case with a piece of chalk under where the rim notch is. Then put the distrib cap on and seat it on the base with no wires connected. Take #1 and you will find on on the top that lines up with the mark you made on the bottom of distrib that also lines up with the small notch on the rim. So now you have # 1, then just work clockwise 1,4,3,2.

    Hope that works

    Mike

  25. Mike says:

    Hi Guys,

    I have a dual port webber with flash arrestors. We just found it in the barn after 22yrs of not running. I think it is a 1970 -- 71 -- 72 ..maybe. The problem is that this distrib does not have a vacuum advance ! So how does it take care of advancing the timing and other chores ????? got any ideas on how to time this beast..???

    Mikey

  26. nate says:

    Mike- the distributor you have is a bosch 009 with centrifugal advance. you set the timing at 3000-3500 rpm to 28-32 degrees btdc and i believe the idle should sit somewhere around 5-7 atdc

  27. Anonymous says:

    my brother lossend the dis dont now how to set it back when it ran good two guys moved the spark plug wires around so im starting fresh can anyone help its a 1961 1200cc motor in a 61 glitter dune buggy any help please ok

  28. Jimmy says:

    I have a 1968 1776 dual port every thing is new battery,dist,starter,wires,plugs,and a swap kit for 12 volt alt.the car will not start it is like the battery is dead,i thought my gen was tore up is the reason i bought all this stuff but it continues to have the cranking problem.at first it would crank once and not again for a couple of days on the trickle charger but now it does not start at all,does any body have a suggestion

  29. ALETHA J says:

    I recently bought a 66 bug, 1500. Its stalling out when I come to a stop. Lots a power when Im running. Someone has suggested I attempt to set the points. Im scared I might really srew it up. Whats the worst that will happen, it just won’t start ??? or what ????
    ALETHA J.

  30. VWNut says:

    Setting the points on an air cooled VW is just a routine matter. If you want that bug to run well you MUST tune it up regularly, including points and valve clearances. So you need to learn how to do it yourself or find a good VW mechanic who can do it for you. I recommend that you do it yourself. It isnt too difficult once you get a little bit of experience with it.

    OH and congrats! I wish I had just recently bought a 66 bug myself! :)

  31. walt says:

    working on a 72 vw beetle, i have spark but it wont start, did full tune up and still wont start dont even get a back fire, timed and set points, noticed a wire on rt. rear side of carb that seems to go nowhere even threw a little bit of gas down carb and still nothing. cranks and everything is turning and all wires get spark, I’m lost if the fuel solenoid is bad will it prevent me from throwing little bit of fuel down carb into the intake tubes?

  32. bill crabtree says:

    i have a 1979 mini mark kit car i believe the motor is about a1969 1500 not sure though but it has a automatic air shifter which is a peice of crap wont shift but can hear air release the selenoid have to put it in gear start it an take off it starts in gear the booster by the tranny with the with the rod comming out has no resisent at all does this mean my diphram is busted in my booster and if so where could i buy one thanks for any help

  33. Dennis Humes says:

    Anyone know the timing set for 1914cc dual port vw performance engine

  34. James Ball says:

    just to say my vw just stoped today look on your site cleand point reset them and it worked thanks all for tips and help advice:-)

  35. j armchairpilot says:

    For all bugs running original spec. engines,
    I have to strongly advise the use of ORIGINAL German(i.e. Bosch)plugs,dizzy cap,rotor,points and condensor.
    Dont use cheap, crapola ,asian knock-offs.They cause poor performance and dont last.
    The 009 distrubutor is designed for constant hi-speed driving-at hi revs it perfoms great BUT
    in the real world its not great for everyday driving.
    That is the reason why VW original fitted Dual Vacuum Advance Distributor .It is not cheap-but it is well worth paying for a good Original Bosch dizzy.

  36. Jim Haley says:

    Just bought an old 1972 Transporter/Bus,,dual carbs.,1.7 ( I think),,and wondering how to set timing as this engine is way different from the Bug engine, do I just eyeball the rotor in the general direction of #1 or??? ole fart Jim

  37. Brandon says:

    I have recently purchased a 68 VW beetle with a “new” 1776cc engine. BUT, my left (drivers side) carb is leaking fuel at a rapid rate. Other symptoms include backfiring and almost no power in 4th gear. The air filter on left side is also saturated in fuel. Any advice? Also, looking for baja style running boards and have lug converters to make them 5 point lugs for changing wheel type. Willing trade for sell. If there are anymore website any can point me to i would be grateful.

    “Thank you fellow gear gear heads in advance”
    Brandon “DOC” White

  38. bob henderson says:

    i have a (am being told 73 1600 ) im not finding letters in front of the engine #s. how do i find the correct year?

  39. 70 beetle says:

    Hi there, what to do when the pulley doesn’t have any marks? What is the best way to determine top dead center? Tips?

  40. James Fulmer says:

    Is this correct? 1974 VW Thing (Firing Order -- Clockwise 1, 4, 3 and 2)
    FRONT
    Where is the location on engine? Driver Side 4 Passenger Side 2

    1 3
    REAR
    Location, Rear of engine. Distributor #1 at 5:00, clockwise #4, #3, #2

  41. eric says:

    I have a 1600 009 dist aftermarket pulley elect points with aj stamped on case what is the proper timeing setting at 5 degrees iidles great runs bad flat spots just wanns know the proper degrees to this motor I can static and have gun light thanks

  42. eric says:

    Also noted it has been carburated from fuel injected with elec fuel with a 31 pic 2 if it matters

  43. Dennis keya says:

    just to say my v w 1600 anyone know the engine timing please help

  44. Albert Peter Insua says:

    Hi Eric and Dennis I have had great success with my 1969 bug and I hope it passes to you.

    First Dennis ask your mechanic to teach you. My mechanic knows exactly what I have on the bug (I don’t) and adjusts everything accordingly, and my mechanic doesn’t explain much to me unless I ask (even though he is very polite). So have the Pro tell you and take good notes. We don’t know what you’ve got to work with. :)

    My distributor points were replaced with electronic points and my distributor is a 009. Now my mechanic is very nice but doesn’t wait on his tippy toes for me to think of questions, so while I think of the next cool question I watch dvd’s by Bug Me Videos. The videos explain vw fixes by a beautiful family of vw mechanics. The videos help me to identify the parts I’m looking at by name, that way I can start speaking the language of the bug, and start understanding what my mechanic is talking about. :)

    So, grab a test light and your mechanic and ask if you can get a lesson on how to use it. Since the cars we enjoy have many differences their isn’t one timing that will serve them all. The timing of your vw will be almost as unique as you. :)

    Okay, maybe not that unique, but because previous owners may have changed parts even your car owners manual may be out of date with all of your cars possible updates. I took the chance of using a test light with the car in idle while adjusting the distributor and tightening it down. I watched the Bug Me Videos and just followed their lead. All the how to’s were explained. And I watched and re-watched those videos till I got up enough nerve to take out the engine and smile as I passed it every morning for a week. Then I grabbed a timing light and had someone rev the engine between 3000-3500 while spotting the light gun at 28, and with my spark plug gap set at 28 I found myself cruising past that old mechanic shop. At least till the coil went bad or the spark plug wires busted or the distributor took a dump or the pulley nut loosend and the fan stopped cooling and the engine over heated and… We’ll just have fun with it and ask for more help than you think you need. I didn’t know how to use all that stuff and look at me now! :)

    Hey just so you know my bug p00ped out so I changed the spark plugs and found a bad wire on number 4. So, I changed the wires and can’t wait till morning to see if it will fire up. I hope so, but just in case I picked up a coil and it’s one of those other guys coils, it was the only one available last night, oh well. I think I’ll stop by Napa or the bug shop and get a Bosch for good luck. The bugs been running fine for two years now, so I think a few new parts are in order. Back and forth from San Diego to Los Angeles for a year and no break downs. Now my bug just sits and waits for me. What a pal :)

    Remember your mechanic knows your timing ask him how he times your car and if he doesn’t explain it get a new mechanic. If he tells you then start doing it over and over and drive and feel the difference. Then take it in at least every six months for a professional mechanics touch. Let him know what your doing in between tune ups. He’s there to help you keep your car running and will probably really enjoy your enthusiasm. :)

    My mechanic is my bugs other best friend. And if I can’t figure it out that’s what he’s there for. :) Bug Me Videos helped me, look them up. Albert

  45. June says:

    Hi, I’m a 64 year old girl and have been doing my own work for 35 years, or more. I finally got an old air cooled VW and it sure is nice to have plain old honest to gosh and true mechanics to do. Had an 84 westfalia which I loved. Sold it to get a bug and even though the one I bought had a lot of trouble, it truly is a labor of love fixing it up. It’s running beautifully after reworking stuff that was done wrong. The intentions were good, but they just didnt know how. I go to websites to check on how to’s just to make sure and it’s easy to do and a lot of fun. I go out driving just to drive and it’s so much fun. Thanks for your site, too. June

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