97 Vortec Distributor Install Procedure

97 Chevy K1500 with 5.0L - 305 V8.

The truck will crank but no start. I have fuel pressure, I have spark, but apparently not at the right time… I poured a little fuel in the TB and it runs for a few seconds and I get P1345.

Long story short this is due to me pulling the distributor without marking its previous location. I tried to stab it in at least 6-7 times using this procedure http://www.truckmodcentral.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6014 and I must be missing something.

As detailed as those instructions are, I still seem to be installing the distributor a tooth or more off it seems, as it will not even start. I know that once I get it to run I need to have a scan tool to get the cam retard within + or - 2 of zero. But I can’t get the damn distributor in the right way!!!

I am 100% confident that this is related to pulling the distributor install. I had pulled the plenum to replace the fuel presssure regulator and the upper intake seal kit came with a new distributor gasket, I looked at it the old one and it was torn a little, so I replaced it. But i got in a hurry and did not mark the location…


You may have to reach down the hole with a long screwdriver, and then slighty rotate the oil pump driveshaft so it lines up with the bottom of the distributor in order to get the distributor to drop in at the right position.


Set the engine to TDC. To find TDC, remove the spark plug for the number 1 cylinder, place a finger over the spark plug hole and rotate the engine until you feel air pumping out. Continue turning the crank until you line up the timing mark to TDC. On the distributor, there is a marker cast into the base where the distributor cap sits. It will be a triangle-shaped marker pointing to the rotor. The rotor needs to line up on this mark when the distributor is fully seated. As the distributor is placed into position, the rotor will turn slightly as the gears mesh. Note how much it turns when you pull it, then give the rotor the same amount of play when you re-install. Once the mark lines up with the rotor, it should be set.

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I have done this job on my 97 chevy. I think what you are doing wrong is you have 180 out. Make sure you on the right marks and do as Tester said and it will start. By the way was your distributor gear in good shape? I had to replace mine. It was wore real bad but the cam gear was like new.

Performing this task takes practice to get right, and if you have not done it previously, it can be incredibly frustrating. Tester’s suggestion for using a long screwdriver to align the oil pump driveshaft is spot-on and will help alleviate some of this frustration, that is, if you can find a screwdriver long enough. I never have managed to find one long enough to do this. The alternative is to drop the distributor repeatedly, moving from gear to gear on the camshaft, intermittently going back to the correct gear which will orient the rotor with the #1 tower on the cap (remember, cylinder one is at TDC to do this). Eventually, everything will line up and the distributor will fall fully into place. I use this method every time and it usually takes less than three minutes to get the distributor to fall into place, but I have done it dozens of times, so it will probably take you longer. Oldbodyman makes a good point about inspecting the distributor drive gear. It is intentionally made softer than the camshaft gear (so the camshaft gear won’t wear out) and does occasionally need to be replaced.

The distributor will usually not drop fully into position until the engine is cranked to rotate the distributor shaft into alignment with the oil pump extension slot. I usually install the distributor hold down and run the bolt down until it makes contact and then crank the engine and immediately shut it off, continue running the bolt down until it is snug and then timing it with a light. But I gotta say, Busted Knuckles instructions are more understandable than most manuals.

But it runs if you prime it with a little fuel?? HHMmmmmmm…

I have heard of people getting the distributor to fall into place by bumping the key, but have always avoided using this method due to the possibility of damaging the distributor. The possibility of causing damage by doing this is probably slight, but I have never wanted to try it, nor have any of the hardcore Chevy guys I grew up around. They taught me the method I describe above, and that is the way I have always done it. A few minutes of “drop, lift, turn” is worth the peace of mind to me seeing that everything lines up on its own without forcing anything.

Lucky for me I guess. But I sold automotive test equipment for a few years and learned to time engines on test stands. We were expected to get a distributor dropped and the timing set in less than a minute. No one ever broke a distributor or drive gear. But for the record, there was a remote start switch connected to the engine and everything is very accessible on a test stand. A Winsor Ford could be timed in a few seconds.

Thanks so much for the replies! Busted Knuckles, you addressed my main concern. The fact that as you lower the distributor down it rotates causes the most frustration.

“As the distributor is placed into position, the rotor will turn slightly as the gears mesh. Note how much it turns when you pull it, then give the rotor the same amount of play when you re-install. Once the mark lines up with the rotor, it should be set.”

Perfect instructions I have been looking for, don’t know why I couldn’t figure that out!!!

I’ll post when I get it going. I can definitely see this being one of those things that is easy once you have have done it correctly a few times.

It’s a LOT easier if you bring the engine to TDC and note the rotor position BEFORE you pull the distributor…Then, you can just drop it back in the way you found it…

The thing is that the gears on the distributor & camshaft are helical. As the gear on the distributor shaft engages the gear on the camshaft, it slides down the gear teeth and the rotor turns. To align it back where it was (or to a specific spot), one needs to first determine how much it’ll turn and back the rotor up by that much when installing.

I am working on a 1998 5.7l vortec in a tahoe. My problem is… i can not get my rotor to line up on the proper 8cyl tab. Im either on one side or the other. Needless to say this is not properly timed. My question is this… can i cheat the cam one way or the other so that distributer gear and cam properly mesh in line with the tab? If not what would be the solution to this? Thanks in advance for your time!!

Do this and you’ll throw the valve timing off.
You should be able to adjust the ignition timing on the distributor. Perhaps one of the videos in the attached link can help.