How to Adjust Distributor Points

Some people say that the best way to adjust your distributor points is to buy an electronic ignition but we disagree.  A properly adjusted points setup can deliver a great spark and allow your engine to run at peak efficiency without having to spend a bundle on new distributor guts

There are two ways you can adjust your distributor points.  By setting the gap or by measuring your dwell.  In the video above, we show you how to measure the gap but we want to quickly cover dwell here also.

The dwell is the amount of time the points we show here with a gap between them are closed.  If you reduce the points gap they will ride closer to the shaft of the distributor and therefore be closed longer (more dwell).  If you open the gap the contacts on the points are touching for a shorter amount of time so you get less dwell.  The goal of these points is to close and power your ignition coil so it can “charge up” and be able to produce the 10s of thousands of volts your spark plug needs then open at just the right time to send that energy to the spark plug.

To set your distributor points by checking the dwell you need a dwell meter, a tool to adjust the points, and steady hands.  Setting the points by checking the dwell is much more accurate than setting the points gap but you have to do it while the engine is running and it can be very tricky.  Not to mention you need a dwell meter.

Adjusting your distributor points gap just requires the right set of feel gauges and some patience!

Tips for Adjusting your Distributor Points Gap

  • Check the contact surfaces for pitting or discoloration.  A new set of points is relatively inexpensive so it can be a good idea to replace them if they look worn.
  • While you’re here, it’s a good time to replace the distributor cap and rotor as well.
  • Make sure your points are at their maximum separation when you check the gap.  You do this by having a friend role the motor over by hand while you watch the points.  Be mindful of the distributor’s mechanical advance and make sure it doesn’t skew your measurements.
  • Make sure your ignition is off during this process to keep from getting electrocuted

As we mentioned earlier, the spark is discharged when your points open so adjusting the gap will change when the spark event occurs.  This means it’s important to check your ignition timing after you’ve adjusted your distributor points.

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Photo by Ethan Cull on Unsplash