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Video 101: How to Find Top Dead Center

If you’re relatively new to engine work and have ever pulled, or need to pull, the distributor or damper from your engine, finding Top Dead Center on piston #1 becomes an instant priority. Finding Top Dead Center is an essential skill for assembling and tuning engines, and is even a necessity for performing some engine diagnostic tests, such as a leakdown test.

Today, we go back to the basics—the basics of locating TDC on standard V8 engines.

Watch this Summit Racing Quick Flicks video and see how to find Top Dead Center with a standard socket, a piston stop tool and a marker pen. We’ve also included this guide to cylinder numbers/firing orders to help identify cylinder #1 in your engine.


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  1. please explain finding top dead center on a 4.3 liter chevy v-6 vortec engine with balance shaft 1998 vintage, And installing the distributor correctly to get the engine to fire off and run correctly???

    • OnAllCylinders says:

      Is the motor in a vehicle or on a stand? Partially assembled or not? We’d advise that you call the Summit tech line at 330-630-0240 and they’ll have a few more questions for you about the engine.

  2. Harlan Edwards says:

    I am 67 and have been a mechanic for my entire life. My dad asked me to retrieve a part from the inside of a jeep transmission when I was about 6 or 7 as I remember. My arm was skinny enough to reach around the main shaft to the bottom of the transmission to get the tool I believe

  3. “Finding Top Dead Center”-A component referenced in the video and in the text is ‘dampener’; it’s damper. Should also explain how to identify # 1 cylinder; not all are located at front left of block. Would be easier to rotate engine if all plugs were removed and not just the one on # 1 cylinder.

    • OnAllCylinders says:

      Hi Ken, thanks for checking us out–and your feedback. We have added a link from one of our earlier posts, which helps identify cylinder #1 on many V8s. Again, we appreciate your input.

  4. Please clarify. My stop points aren’t as close as yours in the video. I only have 4 degrees to adjust with my pointer, sum-164800 and 8″ damper 80005 professional products. Motor is bbc 496. First stop point is 15 degrees btdc, next point is 15 degrees atdc. In the video, you move the pointer to the halfway point between the two stops and call it tdc. I cannot do that with that big of span. Thanks.

  5. I suggest the piston stop tool is installed too far. Back it out a few turns. This will bring your marks closer together.

  6. Tried repeatedly to adjust the stop. Still couldn’t get closer than 12 degrees both ways. Anyway an equal division of the two stops is 0. Confirmed with a magnehelic gauge. I was off about 1.0 degree. I think I’m good now. Thanks a lot for the relpy. Great videos!

  7. It’s a DAMPER not DAMPENER, you guys are really losing credibility………

  8. David Steward says:

    I would worry about hitting a valve with the tool. I look for the cylinder to be on a compression stroke to begin with , then install the stop , then mark the damper at contact. Back piston slightly , remove tool , go past TDC , re install tool. Then turn backward until contact.
    I would be better off backing the rockers off so no valve action.
    I have wondered about in line valves (small block) vs canted valves (big block) and the safety of that method.

  9. Summit has decent tech tips. If anything else, they point you in the right direction. They can’t address every situation in a five minute clip. Most of the techs are fairly knowledgeable and if they don’t know the answer they will find it.

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