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The ignition timing helps in determining the point at which the air-fuel mixture in the engine's combustion chamber is ignited. The timing is measured in degrees before or after the piston reaches the top dead center (TDC). To get the optimal power for various engine speeds, the ignition timing should be altered, accordingly. If the ignition system is set to ignite the fuel exactly when the piston reaches the TDC, the ignition timing is said to be 0 degrees. If the ignition system is set to produce the spark before the piston reaches TDC, the ignition timing is said to be advanced.
Typically, the spark is fired 10-30 degrees before the piston reaches top dead center (TDC). The air-fuel mixture burns at the same rate, irrespective of the engine speed. The faster the engine runs, the more will be the ignition timing advance, to achieve maximum pressure at the same point in the engine cycle. The Engine Control Unit (ECU) dictates the advance needed at a given engine speed.
The right time to ignite the fuel is affected by various factors such as the engine displacement, octane rating of the fuel and the engine compression ratio. Improper ignition timing can cause several engine problems such as knocking or pinging, hard starting, overheating, increased fuel consumption and reduced power output.
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