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Old 06-10-2011, 10:06 PM   #1 (permalink)
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How to advance ignition timing on a '98 Civic for ecomodders

I read about advancing timing and talked about it with a retired diy dragster friend. Convinced it is worth a try, I researched it online, read the Honda service manual for my 1998 Civic, did the adjustment, and came up with this approach for a mechanically inexperienced ecomodder (like myself). The only thing that makes this post special to "ecomodders" is the fact ecomodders often have gauges that monitor the car's ECU (computer). My gauge gave confusingly factory ignition timing readings after the mod, so included here is how I resolved that confusion. Therefore, you'll be saved some hassle if you read all the way through this post before you attempt anything.

If I have made mistakes please correct me and I will edit this post so it is correct. Thanks to "cbaber" for this correction. I have edited the steps below.

Tools:
A ratchet
A socket extender (preferably a flexing or knuckle joint extender)
12mm socket
A timing light/gun
(see pic 1)
... you'll also need a metal paper clip (not in pic):



Optionally, you might also like work gloves to protect against hot parts.

1) Warm the engine up until the fan comes and the engine runs at normal idle speed. (BTW, if you have installed an alternator cut-off switch, it seems to affect idle speed, so have the alt "on" when you want to set back to *stock* timing.)

2) While the car starts warming up, "jump" the ECU by inserting the paperclip into the 2P (meaning "two-pin") connector. You'll find the connector under the passenger side of the dashboard. It will have brown and possibly white wires running into it. It may be housed in a green rubber/plastic thing, see pic:



3) Remove the blue 2P connector from the green holder and jump it, see pic: If your check engine light comes on as a result of this procedure you have done it right. If the check engine light does not come on you have probably inserted the paperclip incorrectly. Do it again. This has to be correct because the ECU will undo any changes you make if you don't jump it.

4) After the car has fully warmed up to the point where the fan comes on, leave it running. You are ready to begin checking and adjusting the timing. Attach the timing light to the battery (red cable to positive and black cable to negative). Also attach the rectangular end to the number one spark plug wire. On Hondas the #1 is closest to the crank, on the driver's side of the engine. If your light has an arrow on its rectangular ended cable, attach it to the spark plug wire with the arrow pointing to the spark plugs. (see two following pics):





5) Loosen the distributor. There are three bolts that will take your 12mm socket. Loosen them just enough to put some play into the distributor, so it can twist forward and backward (see pic):



For reference, here is a pic from the Honda Service Manual showing which way is "advance" and which way it "retard."



7) Turn on the light. If it creates a strobe effect, it is working, detecting each spark through the spark plug wire.

8) Find the timing belt pulley on the right side of the engine block. It is the largest pulley of the three or four you'll see. Find the small "V" shaped marker tab protruding from the block just above the pulley. Now find the thorn-shaped marker below it and find a way to see the thorn straight down through the V. The marker tabs are awkwardly placed beneath an engine mount on my car. Be patient. Clean the marks with carb cleaner, if you have it, to make them easier to read (see pic, but notice that I could not get a good angle for flash that would show the lower "thorn" tab too):



For further reference, here is the pic from the Honda Service Manual:



9) Your patience may really be tested as you try to read the timing off the pulley because of the awkward placement. Keep trying angles. Point the light down at the pulley and the marker tabs. Small color-coded lines on the pulley will occasionally flicker through the lighted area as the pulley turns (if yours are hard to see clearly, stop the engine and spray them with some carb cleaner so the colors become brighter). There is a group of three close together and then a single white mark out on its own. The lone mark is for Top Dead Center. You are interested in the three that are clustered together. Factory timing will be in place when the red line in the middle of the three lines up with the tabs (it is about 12* BTDC on the 1998 Civic). You want to line-up to the mark to the left of factory (the marker nearest the front of the car). That is about a 2* advanced. Use carb cleaner and patience to improve the readability of the lines.

10) Advance the timing by taping the distributor TOWARD the passenger compartment. Moving it toward the front bumper will RETARD timing. Check the results with the timing light. You will know you have done it correctly when you line up your vision so you can see the thorn through the V and through the strobe of the timing light see the left mark lined up with it as it flickers through the lighted area. This was a pain given the awkward placement and dirt on the marks.

11) When you have your result carefully tighten the distributor. If you have loosened the distributor too much it might move and mess up the timing adjustment when you try to tighten it back down.

12) Take the paper clip out of the ECU port.

13) Check to see that your timing is where you want it ON THE PULLEY and not on your aftermarket gauge. My Ultra Gauge continued to show stock timing even after I have changed it because it continues to go off the ECU's assumptions. BTW, that's another reason not to greedily advance timing much: the ECU will increasingly be operating upon assumed parameters that you have deliberately made wrong).

Done.

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See my my car's mod thread and my electric bicycle's thread for ongoing projects. I will rebuild Black and Green over decades as parts die, until it becomes a different car of roughly the same shape. My fuel economy goal is 55+ mpg while averaging posted speed limits. See my Honda manual transmission specs post too.


Last edited by California98Civic; 07-24-2012 at 04:39 PM..
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Old 06-10-2011, 10:47 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Thanks, man. I had been pondering getting some Lindertech injectors and getting the car tuned. Anybody have any input / thoughts about knife-edge tuning with flow-matched injectors?

Thanks for posting a guide for our generation of Honda.

JMac
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Old 06-11-2011, 04:43 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JMac View Post
Thanks for posting a guide for our generation of Honda.
You're welcome. I also posted a link to the entire official service manual (free): 96-98 Civic service manual free online

If you don't already have it, you might want to download and save on your computer. Heck, even if you have it, the PDF is convenient sometimes.
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See my my car's mod thread and my electric bicycle's thread for ongoing projects. I will rebuild Black and Green over decades as parts die, until it becomes a different car of roughly the same shape. My fuel economy goal is 55+ mpg while averaging posted speed limits. See my Honda manual transmission specs post too.

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Old 06-18-2011, 04:10 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Nice work. Can you not put the pictures under each step?
- Aaron
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Old 06-18-2011, 12:04 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheIVJackal View Post
Nice work. Can you not put the pictures under each step?
- Aaron
Good suggestion. I figured out the simple steps for that.. did it... here it is.
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See my my car's mod thread and my electric bicycle's thread for ongoing projects. I will rebuild Black and Green over decades as parts die, until it becomes a different car of roughly the same shape. My fuel economy goal is 55+ mpg while averaging posted speed limits. See my Honda manual transmission specs post too.

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Old 12-13-2011, 04:02 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Bump. I edited, added to, and clarified the original post here because I had to re-adjust my timing. I hope it helps folks...
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Old 12-13-2011, 07:50 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by California98Civic View Post
If your check engine light comes on as a result of this procedure you have done it right. If the check engine light does not come on you have probably inserted the paperclip incorrectly. Do it again. This has to be correct because the ECU will undo any changes you make if you don't jump it.
Actually, the notion of the ECU undoing your changes is a myth, it couldn't possibly, it doesn't even know you have made any! The reason the car must be put in test engine mode is that it fixes the timing to a certain value, in normal mode the timing might be all over the place, making it impossible to adjust meaningfully with a light.

Quote:
13) Check to see that your timing is where you want it ON THE PULLEY and not on your aftermarket gauge. My Ultra Gauge continued to show stock timing even after I have changed it because it continues to go off the ECU's assumptions.
See?
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Old 12-13-2011, 08:30 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jakobnev View Post
Actually, the notion of the ECU undoing your changes is a myth, it couldn't possibly, it doesn't even know you have made any! The reason the car must be put in test engine mode is that it fixes the timing to a certain value, in normal mode the timing might be all over the place, making it impossible to adjust meaningfully with a light.



See?
Well, all I can tell you is what I experienced: if I reset the timing without jumping the ECU, the computer switched it back. If I recall properly, I just about watched the pulley move back to stock timing. But when I jumped the ECU before adjusting the timing, the Ultra Gauge showed still showed no change in timing at warm idle (12* BTDC), but the pulley showed the advance and it stayed advanced. I originally did this process back in May or June, so my memory of the ECU's adjustments might be flawed, but that's what I recall. It was quite frustrating until I figured out the importance of the jump.
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See my my car's mod thread and my electric bicycle's thread for ongoing projects. I will rebuild Black and Green over decades as parts die, until it becomes a different car of roughly the same shape. My fuel economy goal is 55+ mpg while averaging posted speed limits. See my Honda manual transmission specs post too.

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Old 12-13-2011, 10:27 PM   #9 (permalink)
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knock sensor ?

if the system does not have a knock sensor
switch it back to the recommended
Base Ignition timing value or you will find degraded performance increased emissions and
engine damage

peak combustion pressure must happen right about 14 degrees after
TDC at all loads and engine speeds except
DFCO and idle

you just changed your peak combustion pressure timing by the amount you changed your base ignition timing by
bad idea , there is no benefit for doing this .

and for the others
who are considering setting their base ignition timing properly
understand that
the system will not go to base timing if
the closed throttle switch is not closed

so if there is a TPS problem in your system
do not adjust your base ignition timing
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Old 12-14-2011, 12:19 AM   #10 (permalink)
Cyborg ECU
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mwebb View Post
if the system does not have a knock sensor
switch it back to the recommended
Base Ignition timing value or you will find degraded performance increased emissions and
engine damage

peak combustion pressure must happen right about 14 degrees after
TDC at all loads and engine speeds except
DFCO and idle

you just changed your peak combustion pressure timing by the amount you changed your base ignition timing by
bad idea , there is no benefit for doing this .

and for the others
who are considering setting their base ignition timing properly
understand that
the system will not go to base timing if
the closed throttle switch is not closed

so if there is a TPS problem in your system
do not adjust your base ignition timing
Thanks for the caution. I appreciate it. It's important that people think carefully about whether they do anything to their ignition timing. But I'm not sure the situation is quite as simple as you are representing. I talked about this with guys who were experienced in it, and I read about it. I saw no reason to believe that two degrees is an automatic engine damaging move. But I have seen plausible discussions too that advancing timing will affect the torque curve by bringing it very modestly down the RPM scale. Even modestly more low-end torque is good for the P&G hypermiling technique in which I accelerate between 1700-2200 RPMs. It is one of a group of small things I do to produce the results I have. My DX does not have a knock sensor. But I have driven it for ten years, and I know thoroughly the sound and conditions under which it has occurred. I almost never hear it, and my 2* timing advance changed nothing about the ping/knock events (or lack of 'em).

Here's an interesting link for anyone wanting more detail about advancing the timing and torque and other issues: What Happens When the Timing Is Advanced

Regards,
james

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See my my car's mod thread and my electric bicycle's thread for ongoing projects. I will rebuild Black and Green over decades as parts die, until it becomes a different car of roughly the same shape. My fuel economy goal is 55+ mpg while averaging posted speed limits. See my Honda manual transmission specs post too.


Last edited by California98Civic; 12-14-2011 at 12:35 AM..
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