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1983 Toyota Tercel Distributor Change

My 1983 Tercel needs a new distributor. I’m fairly handy around cars, and have done a lot of maintenance myself, including changing alternators, etc. How difficult of a job is changing a distributor? My mechanic quoted me about $500 for him to do the job, but I can get the part for $200. But i don’t want to get in over my head either.


On that car it’s easy. The only critical things are to orient the distributor properly and don’t cross the wires. Use a manual and you’ll be fine. Review the procedure before you start.

Thanks. I ordered the manual a couple days ago, and am ordering the part right now. I’ll save some cash and do it myself.

Anybody else want to chime in?

One more thing: the timing will need to be adjusted. You could get a shop to set it or buy a simple timing light for about the same $$.

Will the car start and run without the timing done? So I can install the distributor and then drive it into the shop to have them set the timing?

If the timing is close, yes. One thing you can do is take a photograph of the position of the distributor and rotor position and install the new one as close as possible. The rotor is driven by the camshaft, and the relationship between the crankshaft and the camshaft will not change just from a distributor replacement, nor will the crankshaft position change from changing the distributor. Replicate the distributor and rotor position with the new one and you’ll have the timing close enough to start.

I strongly recommend the timing light that Circuitsmith mentioned. Setting ignition timing is very easy and you may as well finish the job while you’re under the hood. Besides, that eliminates the possibility of pinging during the drive to a shop from timing too advanced.

I have seen it happen.Guy rebuilds his engine,brings it to the shop to set timing, when engine doesnt run right shop is blamed for not setting timimg right.You pull your distributor you set your timing IMHO

Good idea, and you may be able to borrow/buy a used one cheap from an acquaintance with a newer car, now that computers take care of it in most cases.

Thanks, but that’s not what the question was. My shop has already agreed to set the timing if I want them to. You can leave that between my shop and I.