7 Best Timing Lights (Incline and Inductive) – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

Best Timing Light

​A timing light is basically a device that is used to make sure the ignition timing on the engine is spot on so as to optimize on providing maximum engine power output.

Basically, it incorporates the use of a sensor, which detects the electrical pulses going to the spark plug on the first combustion chamber, and powers up a strobe light that matches these pulses.

This light is then pointed towards a mark on the harmonic balancer located on the front part of the engine to show the degree of timing as you make any adjustments by turning the distributor.  

Being quite a complex tool, it is important that you pick the best timing light so that it helps you make accurate adjustments without messing up your engine, and here are 7 of the best ones that you can get in the market.

7 Best Timing Lights – Reviews

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PRODUCT

​FEATURES

Innova 3551

1. Innova 3551 (Best Timing Light for the Money)

  • Affordable analog entry-level timing light that is available in 4 options.
  • Compatible with multiple ignition systems, with a test range of 0-9990 RPM.
  • Protective hand guard for safe 1-hand use.
Electronic Specialties ESI 130 Self-Powered

2. Electronic Specialties 130 (Best Automotive Timing Light)

  • Analog timing light with a test range of up to 14,000 RPM.
  • Self-powered and comes with a pair of D batteries.
  • Compatible with 2 and 4-cycle engines, and all kinds of ignition systems.
MSD Ignition 8992

3. MSD 8992 (Highly Accurate Timing Light)

  • Analog timing light with a test range of 0-8000 RPM.
  • Solid state circuitry with a silicon-controlled rectifier provides high accuracy.
  • Detachable pickup and leads.
Actron CP7529

4. Actron CP7529 (Best Digital Timing Light)

  • Digital timing light with an LED display showing the test range from 0-9999 RPM.
  • Microprocessor controlled circuitry for high accuracy.
  • Compatible with 2 and 4 cycle engines, as well as multiple ignition systems.
Electronic Specialties ESI 125

5. Electronic Specialties 125 (Professional Timing Light)

  • Digital timing light with a bright display for easy readout.
  • 0-9999 RPM test range.
  • Compatible with 12-volt electrical systems in 2 and 4 stroke engines.
Actron CP7527

6. Actron CP7527 (Good Timing Light)

  • Analog timing light with a durable ABS housing plus a super bright Xenon flash.
  • Heat resistant moldings over the battery clips.
  • Very sensitive all-metal inductive pickup.
Sierra International 18-9802

7. Sierra International 18-9802 (Self-powered Timing Light)

  • Self-powered analog timing light with a test range of up to 10000 RPM.
  • Requires 2 D-cell batteries to run.
  • Compatible with a wide variety of car electrical systems. 

PRODUCT

1. Innova 3551

(Best Timing Light for the Money)

Innova 3551
  • Affordable analog entry-level timing light that is available in 4 options.
  • Compatible with multiple ignition systems, with a test range of 0-9990 RPM.
  • Protective hand guard for safe 1-hand use.

2. Electronic Specialties 130 

(Best Automotive Timing Light)

Electronic Specialties ESI 130 Self-Powered
  • Analog timing light with a test range of up to 14,000 RPM.
  • Self-powered and comes with a pair of D batteries.
  • Compatible with 2 and 4-cycle engines, and all kinds of ignition systems.

3. MSD 8992 

(Highly Accurate Timing Light)

MSD Ignition 8992
  • Analog timing light with a test range of 0-8000 RPM.
  • Solid state circuitry with a silicon-controlled rectifier provides high accuracy.
  • Detachable pickup and leads. 

4. Actron CP7529

(Best Digital Timing Light)

Actron CP7529
  • Digital timing light with an LED display showing the test range from 0-9999 RPM.
  • Microprocessor controlled circuitry for high accuracy.
  • Compatible with 2 and 4 cycle engines, as well as multiple ignition systems.

5. Electronic Specialties 125

(Professional Timing Light)

Electronic Specialties ESI 125
  • Digital timing light with a bright display for easy readout.
  • 0-9999 RPM test range.
  • Compatible with 12-volt electrical systems in 2 and 4 stroke engines.

6. Actron CP7527

(Good Timing Light)

Actron CP7527
  • Analog timing light with a durable ABS housing plus a super bright Xenon flash.
    Heat resistant moldings over the battery clips.
  • Very sensitive all-metal inductive pickup.

7. Sierra International 18-9802

(Self-powered Timing Light)

Sierra International 18-9802
  • Self-powered analog timing light with a test range of up to 10000 RPM.
  • Requires 2 D-cell batteries to run.
  • Compatible with a wide variety of car electrical systems. 

1. Innova 3551 – Best Timing Light for the Money

Innova 3551
  • Display: Analog
  • Test Range: Up to 9990 RPM
  • Cover Material: ABS Plastic

There are 4 varieties of Innova timing lights, with the most basic model (3551) being an affordable entry-level unit that simply syncs the lighting with the input from the inductive sensor.

The 3555 is slightly more expensive but it features a direct reading advance dial, which adjusts from 0-60° so as to check for base, advance or retard timing. After this, comes the digital 3568, which features a split screen LCD display for showing the RPM and digital advance.

Innova’s Digital Pro (5568) is the most advanced unit in this lineup, displays a tachometer (249-9990 RPM) plus a digital advance (0-90°) just like in the 3568, but adds on the dwell (2-12 cylinders from 0-180 degrees) and voltage (10-16 volts DC) on its digital display.

Though quite costly, this Pro version also has a heavy-duty, shock-proof ABS plastic housing that is encased in a molded boot for additional protection against accidental drops.

All can work with DIS, electronic, conventional and computerized ignition systems, have detachable leads and inductive pickups, feature an adjustable barrel and a protective hand guard for single hand operation.

On the downside, only the high-end 5568 is capable of checking the timing in 2 cycle engines.

Pros:

  • Available in 4 models for the novice to the experienced user
  • Can work with different ignition systems
  • Detachable leads and pickups for easy storage
  • Adjustable swivel barrel for better aiming at the timing mark
  • Protective hand guard for safe one-hand operation

Cons:

  • Low-end models have limited features
  • Only the costly Pro model can be used on 2 cycle engines

2. Electronic Specialties 130 ​– Best Automotive Timing Light

Electronic Specialties ESI 130 Self-Powered
  • Display: Analog
  • Test Range: Up to 14000 RPM
  • Cover Material: N/A

This ESI 130 stands out as a top automotive timing light due to its wide RPM range, in which it is accurate up to at least 14,000 RPM.

Additionally, the unit can be used on both 2 and 4 cycle engines, as well as on all types of ignition systems, ranging from DIS, conventional, electronic and computerized types.

Being an analog timing light, the 130 does not have a digital display, but it has a very powerful flash that brightly lights up at all speeds to enable you to view the degree of timing easily on the rotating harmonic balancer as you rev up the engine.

Another desirable feature that this product has is that it is self-powered, requiring a pair of D batteries, which are included. This means that there’s no need for connecting it to the car’s battery, and no leads are included, which makes the package lighter and more compact.

Pros:

  • Wide RPM range, going up to 14,000 RPM
  • Can be used on both 2 and 4 cycle engines
  • Works with all types of ignition systems
  • Produces a bright flash in all speeds
  • Self-powered and comes with 2 D batteries

Cons:

  • Does not have a digital display
  • Cannot show the car battery voltage level since it is not connected

3. MSD 8992 – Highly Accurate Timing Light

MSD Ignition 8992
  • Display: Analog
  • Test Range: 0-8000 RPM
  • Cover Material: Plastic

MSD’s 8992 ignition timing light is quite an expensive product but it has the features to show for it.

For instance, it is made with a solid-state circuitry inside and utilizes a silicon-controlled rectifier to provide stable and accurate timing signals at a range of 0-8000 RPM. These signals are then converted to light via an intense strobe, which is easier to see even in broad daylight.

Other than this, the unit has a lightweight injection-molded construction that is tough and very durable.

More features include a detachable inductive pickup and leads for easy storage, and color-coded plus insulated battery clamps for safety.

Pros:

  • Solid state circuitry with silicon-controlled rectifier provides stable and accurate timing signals
  • Intensely bright probe that is visible in broad daylight
  • Lightweight, tough and durable injection molded construction
  • Detachable pickup and leads for easy storage
  • Safe color coded and insulated battery clamps

Cons:

  • Costly
  • Low RPM test range

4. Actron CP7529 – Best Digital Timing Light

Actron CP7529
  • Display: Digital
  • Test Range: 0-9999 RPM
  • Cover Material: ABS Plastic

For a digital timing light, the CP7529 from Actron stands out due to a number of reasons. For starters, it features a microprocessor-controlled circuitry that makes the readings displayed on its screen very accurate.

The unit is also highly compatible, with the capability to work with 2 and 4 cycle engines, and multiple car ignition systems, ranging from conventional, electronic and computerized types.

That said, a digital LED display is included for reading out the tachometer from 0-9999 RPM and also indicates the advance to 1/10.

Below this screen are a few control buttons for switching between 2 or 4 cycle options, switching between RPM or advance display, and scrolling up or down.

Other features include a linear xenon flash tube with focused Fresnel lens for providing sufficiently bright light, an all metal inductive pickup and a durable ABS plated housing that protects the internal circuitry from damage in case of an accidental drop.

On the downside, this CP7529 does not display the battery voltage reading and its leads plus inductive pickup are not detachable.

Pros:

  • Microprocessor controlled circuitry for accurate readings
  • Compatible with 2/4 cycle engines and multiple car ignition systems
  • Digital LED display for showing the RPM and advance
  • Bright linear xenon flash
  • Durable ABS plated housing

Cons:

  • Does not display battery voltage reading
  • Non-detachable leads and inductive pickup

5. Electronic Specialties 125 – Professional Timing Light

Electronic Specialties ESI 125
  • Display: Digital
  • Test Range: 0-9999 RPM
  • Cover Material: N/A

Digital timing lights are always slightly advanced and more professional than their analog counterparts and this ESI 125 is no different. It is actually designed for precise tuning and diagnostic work.

Though only compatible with 12-volt electrical systems, the unit has a 2 and 4 stroke tachometer, which measures the engine speed up to 9,999 RPM. However, it is only accurate up to 9,000 RPM and uses a brilliant xenon flash to light up the harmonic balancer marking at all speeds.

Other features include a detachable and replaceable cable set for easy storage and a bright display that reads out the RPM and degrees advance.

On the downside, the unit does not show the battery voltage even though it has a digital display.

Pros:

  • Designed for precise tuning and diagnostic work
  • 2-and-4 stroke tachometer
  • Brilliant Xenon flash
  • Detachable and replaceable cable set for easy storage
  • Bright display for easy readout even in the dark

Cons:

  • Only compatible with 12-volt electrical systems
  • Does not read out the battery voltage

6. Actron CP7527 – Good Timing Light

Actron CP7527
  • Display: Analog
  • Test Range: N/A
  • Cover Material: ABS Plastic

Actron’s CP7527 has a similar design to its CP7529 digital sibling, with a durable gray ABS plated housing that protects the internal circuitry from damage in case of accidental drops.

Also included is a super bright xenon flash, an all metal inductive pickup and compatibility with 2 cycle engines, as well as conventional, electronic and computerized ignition systems.

However, this one does not feature a digital display, instead, it has a simple on/off touch control and is designed for simple standard base timing. Also, its leads and inductive pickup are non detachable, which slightly complicates the storage process. 

Other features include a 12-volt DC power requirement and heat resistant moldings over the battery clips.

Pros:

  • Durable ABS plated housing
  • Super bright Xenon flash
  • Compatible with 2 cycle engines, as well as conventional, electronic and computerized ignition systems
  • Sensitive all metal inductive pickup
  • Heat resistant moldings over battery clips

Cons:

  • No digital display
  • Non-detachable leads and inductive pickup

7. Sierra International 18-9802 – ​Self-powered Timing Light

Sierra International 18-9802
  • Display: Analog
  • Test Range: Up to 10000 RPM
  • Cover Material: N/A

This is a relatively costly product from Sierra International but is also the top-rated timing light in this review, which shows it has some impressive features.

Though it lacks a digital display, the benefits you get is a self-powered timing light that requires 2 D-cell batteries and thus, is compatible with a wide variety of electrical systems in different cars. This also makes it very compact since battery clips are not included.

In all these types of systems, the unit is highly accurate up to 10,000 RPM, which means it is highly reliable.   

Pros:

  • Self-powered unit
  • Compatible with a wide variety of car electrical systems
  • Compact size because battery clips are not required
  • Highly accurate up to 10,000 RPM

Cons:

  • Relatively expensive
  • No digital display

How to Buy the Best Timing Light

How to Buy the Best Timing Light

1. Compatibility

For a timing light to be any useful, it must be compatible with your car. In considering this factor, there are three things to look at. These are:

Voltage

A timing light must be powered and most of them have battery clips that need to be hooked up to the car’s battery. However, just like other electronic devices, each unit is designed to handle a certain amount of voltage and this should match the car’s battery or the car’s electrical system.

This means that if the car runs on 12 volts and has a 12-volt battery, then you should buy a timing light that requires 12 volts.

Engine type

There are two main types of engines and these are 2 and 4 stroke engines. Most cars have 4 stroke engines but some motorcycles have 2 stroke engines.

A few advanced timing lights can be used to check the degree of timing in either type but others are specific to one engine type. It is best to buy the universally compatible light so as to avoid any issues, whether you are tuning your car or motorcycle.

Ignition system

Lastly is the ignition system. The best timing light should be compatible with all types, which include DIS, electronic, conventional and computerized ignition systems.

2. Type of Timing Light

Inline

Inline timing lights are more difficult to use because you have to remove the number 1 spark plug before use. However, they are cheaper and eliminate the risk of electrocution.

Inductive

This type comes with a sensor that is connected to the wire going to the first spark plug, and it picks up the electric pulse inside, converting this into a strobe light. Though costlier than inline timing lights, inductive units are better in design and accuracy and are highly recommended.

3. Display: Digital or Analog

Traditional timing lights use analog displays, which are simply gauges showing you the timing degree by shining light on the flywheel marks. Such displays are cheaper and reliable, but they require you to know how to properly read the timing gauge at both idle and total timing.

Digital display timers are better than their analog counterparts in many ways because they can perform extra functions, such as displaying tachometers, voltage readouts, etc. They are mostly used by professionals because they are easy to use.

4. Cover Material

There is a very high possibility of dropping a timing light while in use and for protection, it is recommended that you get a unit with tough outer cover materials.

This way, the electrical circuitry will be protected inside from any damages in case of these minor accidents.

5. Ability to Operate

For easy use, a timing light should be designed in such a way that it is easy to use and operate. Features to look for include, a microprocessor-controlled circuitry on the inside for high accuracy and multiple readout options (voltage, dwell, rpm) so that you get the most out of it.

Externally, it should have an ergonomic design, with features such as a protective hand guard for safety and an adjustable barrel for better aiming at the timing marks. Some of the best adjustable timing lights that give you such benefits include the Innova’s range listed above.

How to Use a Timing Light

Here’s a basic step-by-step guide on how to use timing lights.

1. Ensure the engine is off first to prevent any accidents.

2. Attach the clips to the battery terminals, with the red-colored clip going to the positive (+) terminal and black to the negative (-) terminal. If the timing light is self-powered, just fit in the required cell batteries and skip this step.

N.B: you must ensure that the timing light is compatible with the car battery’s voltage so as not to over or underpower it, which might burn its circuitry inside.

3. Attach the inductive pickup to the number one spark plug wire.

4. Start the car and let it idle.

5. Shine the strobe light to the timing number marks on the harmonic balancer (flywheel).

Working Mechanism: the inductive pickup detects when power is sent to the spark plug from the distributor and lights up the flash based on this pulse. On pointing the flash to the rotating timing marks, one of the numbers should appear steady and this shows the degree of timing.

Conclusion

If you have a gasoline powered car that was manufactured at least before the ’90s, then proper timing needs to be maintained, and for this, you need the best timing light, which you can choose from the ones listed above.

However, newer car engines feature electronic ignition timing, which eliminates this whole manual timing process.