Ignition Timing Symptoms

Written by paul novak
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Ignition Timing Symptoms
When spark plugs produce a spark is controlled by ignition timing. (ICHIRO/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Ignition timing plays a critical role in the efficient operation of an automobile engine. In order for fuel to be properly burnt by the engine it must be ignited at the proper moment during the combustion cycle. If the ignition timing becomes out of sync, the fuel and air mixture will not be burnt properly. This can result in several symptoms that vary in severity and can effect everything from drivability to fuel economy.

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Pinging/Knocking

Pinging or knocking indicates that pre-ignition is taking place. Pre-ignition occurs when the fuel mixture in the engine's cylinder is ignited too soon and the piston has not completed its compression stroke. This causes the fuel and air mixture to ignite and push back against a piston as it is still trying to compress the fuel and air mixture. Timing that is too far advanced will ignite the fuel and air mixture too soon and will cause pre-ignition.

Hard Starting

In order for an engine to start and run properly the fuel and air mixture must be ignited within the cylinders at the proper time. If ignition timing is incorrect and causing the spark plugs to fire too soon or too late, the fuel and air mixture will not be ignited at the proper time which will cause the engine to become difficult to start.

Overheating

If ignition timing is too far advanced it will cause the fuel and air mixture to ignite too early in the combustion cycle. This can cause the amount of heat generated by the combustion process to increase and lead to overheating of the engine.

Low Power

If the ignition timing is too far retarded it will cause the spark plug to ignite the fuel and air mixture too late in the combustion cycle. This results in the fuel and air mixture not being fully burning and ignition taking place after the piston has already begun moving downwards in its cylinder on the power stroke of the combustion cycle. The end result is a loss of engine power.

Increased Fuel Consumption

Incorrect timing will cause the fuel and air mixture to ignite at the wrong time within the cylinders. This results in the fuel and air mixture not being completely burnt and a reduction in engine power. This poor combustion and reduced power causes the engine to use more fuel to produce enough power to propel the vehicle forward, which results in increased fuel consumption and reduced fuel economy.

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