5 Best Timing Light Guns (to Check and Advance Ignition Timing)

There are lots of variations in the design of the best timing light. Some models have a full set of features that include the ability to advance or retard timing, while others are specifically made to test timing and nothing else. The trade off is that the more features you have, the costlier the unit will generally be.

For the models listed below, both simple and advanced timing lights are represented. If you like to keep things simple, go with a basic model, but if your budget allows, go with a more advanced model that can do more than simply check your engine timing.

While a good OBD2 scan tool is used to diagnose ignition related issues in modern vehicles with electronic ignitions, older vehicles with distributors will be around for a long time. So if that’s your daily driver or a project/hobby car, a timing light is a great tool to have.

Our 5 Favorite Timing Lights

 ProductFeaturesMax RPM
digital-timing-lightInnova 5568 ProCheck timing, tach, dwell, voltage, advance 0-90 degrees9,990
best-timing-light-2Innova 3555 AdvanceCheck timing, advance 0-60 degrees9,990
self-powered-timing-lightESI 130Check timing, battery powered14,000
top-inductive-timing-lightInnova 3551 InductiveCheck timing9,990
actron-timing-light-reviewActron CP7528Check timing, advance 0-60 degrees9,999

Timing Light Reviews

#1 – Innova 5568 Pro Timing Light

digital-timing-lightThe popular Innova 5568 is a professional quality timing light. In addition to checking ignition timing, you can also use the digital display to advance or retard timing from 0-90 degrees, and check tachometer, voltage, and dwell readings.

For convenience, the 5568 uses detachable cables, a definite advantage if you need to attach different cable styles, such as switching between ignition timing and voltage. You’ll be able to accurately test up to 9,990 RPM and switch between 2 and 4 cycle engines.

timing light reviews

The Innova 5568 works with most ignition systems including DIS, conventional, electronic and computer controlled systems but not MSD. Instead a cheap plastic connector, this model uses a metal clip to put around your spark plugs wires, which is a lot safer, but can get hot quickly.

The ergonomic design makes this Innova comfortable to hold, even at odd angles, and you can easily read the backlit display from almost any perspective. The included hard storage case works well to keep the unit protected when not in use.

The manual can be a little confusing at first, but most features are easy to figure out, and you will see why this unit is so popular after only one or two uses. Using a timing light is easy once you have the basics down.

The biggest complaint on the Innova 5568 is that is does not support Multiple Spark Discharge (MSD) ignition systems. This is a common problem with timing lights, and the MSD website specifically mentions a need for MSD specific timing lights in working with their products.

Watch the readings carefully when using the tachometer functions, as the 5568 does have a tendency to “slip” the RPM synchronization under certain circumstances.

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#2 – Innova 3555 Advance Timing Light

best-timing-light-2The Innova 3555 is a great choice for those who want something more than a basic model but don’t want to pay for the full option suite of a pro model.

The 3555 features an advanced direct reading dial capable of up to 60 degrees of adjustment while the rotating neck’s slim design allows for superior aim at the timing mark. You can use the 3555 to check base timing, advance or retard timing, and diagnose a no-spark condition.

It works with most foreign and domestic ignition systems and incorporates a patented skip circuitry test capable of 9,990 RPM, making this an excellent go-to tool for most vehicles.

While a delicate instrument, users report the 3555 is durable enough to handle a few small drops. The bright light makes measuring easy and the adjuster knob is smooth and accurate.

Some customers have found the lack of a trigger to be disappointing. The button works, but its automatic shutoff means less user control. Additionally, some owners have reported issues with the light’s accuracy, although this seems to be related to whether the leads are connected tightly enough.

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#3 – ESI 130 Self-Powered Timing Light

self-powered-timing-lightMade for portability and ease of use, the battery powered ESI 130 runs off of two D batteries. The value of this is apparent because it’s so simple to use. You don’t have to worry about a timing light that’s not compatible with some batteries (ie: 6v Volkswagens).

Perfect for a wide range of recreational and personal vehicles, this timer maintains its accuracy to an impressive 14,000 RPM. It’s compatible with all two or four cycle engines and its rugged protective sleeve can survive a blistering 1,200 degrees.

From the ample 4-foot cable to its high portability, this self-powered timing light is widely used at many mechanic schools in the country. It’s as simple as hooking up the induction wire to the #1 plug, aim, and shoot.

Despite its appearance, this light won’t function as a flashlight. It may also prove more difficult to see the mark in bright sunlight for some users, despite being quite bright.

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#4 – Innova 3551 Inductive Timing Light

top-inductive-timing-lightIf you only need a basic timing light gun, the Innova 3551 should be near the top of your list. The swivel head means you can get to areas that other lights require you to perform minor acrobatics for, and it has a light that is bright enough to read in full daylight.

It does not offer a lot of extra features, but will accurately check your timing up to 9,990 RPM and is priced right for the limited functionality. Just like its more advanced relative, the 5568 above, the 3551 plays along well with most ignition systems.

One simple feature that you won’t find in most timing lights is the convenient On/Off switch that allows you to use the gun without keeping a finger on the button.

The biggest complaint is that the shielded battery connectors are cheaply made, so you will have to be careful not to short it out, or use ordinary electric tape to reinforce the insulation. It is not made for commercial use, and may not stand up to a lot of rough handling.

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#5 – Actron CP7528 Advance Timing Light

actron-timing-light-reviewIf you’re a Do-It-Yourself type mechanic, the Actron CP7528 could very well be the best timing light for the money. It’s designed for you to use it with 6 and 12 volt systems, making it ideal for use with both cars and motorcycles.

Timing can be advanced from 0-60 degrees with the analog dial and the all-metal inductive pickup is preferred by most. The Xenon bulb is bright enough for you to use outside in full sunlight, a feature that is lacking in many of the timing lights on the market today.

The biggest complaint is that the CP7528 does not have a big variety of functions, and that can be an issue if you have several types of checks to perform. While cheaper than a digital model, many users wish they spent extra for the tach capabilities of the Innova 5568.

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Comments

  1. I bought one of these5568 thinking that it was near the best.
    I have now had 3 replacements and giving up on it.
    Still not able to use it. What a pain grrrr
    The degree function just does not work or is very erratic.
    20 degrees and the spot does not move as the light is not changing.
    All have had the same symptoms.
    I have a straight 6 with electronic ignition.
    Innova say it must be noise.
    I say it is a defective design
    Any ideas what I can do …??

    • Roger, sorry you had issues with the Innova. In my experience, they make some of the most reliable timing lights out there but of course, there’s always a possibility of a lemon. What’s strange is that you’re having the same issue after multiple replacements. I have heard of a report where some Innovas are more susceptible to electromagnetic interference. Have you tried using it on a different vehicle? I’m assuming you purchased new from Amazon?

  2. I’ve had two of the ACTRON CP7529 timing lights. The inductive pickup on both of my units failed and the parent company Bosch which handles their repairs won’t fix the unit. I would NOT recommend their products.

  3. So far the best of 2018 seems more like the duds of 2018 :). I guess thanks for the post and thanks to the commenters warnings of bad experiences.

    • I wouldn’t base the quality/reliability of Innova timing lights on a couple comments. This is by far the best brand in the biz. No product is going to have 100 out of 100 satisfied customers. Check out the reviews on Amazon, Walmart, Summit Racing, etc.

  4. It is very, very difficult to fine a quality timing light or dwell tachometer. The OTC timing lights are better but do NOT support magneto ignitions or MSD (crappy readings). The best shop instruments are from General Technology Corp, their GTC505 is a gem of an instrument. GTC does not see to have timing light, i would recommend OTC, MSD, or Ferret.

  5. I have just thrown out my 2nd OTC timing light. It gets very little use, and I really take care of my tools. It had lots of nice features, but reliability doesn’t seem to be one of them. The 3 year warranty had just expired. I’d used it maybe 10 times.

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