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A. Penland
A. Penland, Ford Senior Master Technician, ASE
Category: Ford
Satisfied Customers: 6393
Experience:  ASE Master Certified, ASE Advanced Gasoline Engine Performance
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Ford Mustang My 1989 2.3 liter mustang needed a new timing

Customer Question

My 1989 2.3 liter mustang needed a new timing belt. All of the timing marks on the 3 sprockets are lined up as described by Chilton, yet with a gas pedal to the floor, I get 1,000 RPM, then when I let up on the gas pedal, it dies. WHAT IS THE MORE PRECISE METHOD OF SETTING THE TIMING PROPERLY, INSTEAD OF RELYING UPON THE "EYE BALLING" OF TIMING MARKS DESCRIBED IN CHILTON? THANKS!
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Ford
Expert:  A. Penland replied 5 years ago.

Hello and thanks for using Just Answer.I will try my best to help you with your question.


It sounds like the timing marks are off. Below are the Ford shop manual directions for replacing the timing belt.


It is for the 1992 2.3L, but the engine is still the same. Also make sure your distributor is in time also.

Customer: replied 5 years ago.
All of the sprocket timing marks appear to be aligned perfectly, the #1 piston is at TDC, the rotor is right at the # 1 firing position. On the camshaft, there are three timing "tabs" on the engine, not one. The service mgr at my local Ford dealership says the camshaft timing marker is to be aligned up to the middle timing "tab" on the engine. He told me that the early 2.3's had three tabs, but later it was changed to only one tab for timing purposes. Would a timing light help me determine if the firing point for #1 is right or not? I rotate the engine by hand and the timing marks on all the sprockets seem to stay lined up right.
Expert:  A. Penland replied 5 years ago.

How did the engine run before you replaced the timing belt?


All the 2.3L use the same timing mark. The ones with the distributors and the ones without were the same.


Make sure the keyway on the camshaft pulley is straight up vertical and the distributor rotor is on cylinder #1 when you install the timing belt.

Customer: replied 5 years ago.
The engine is a rebuild, purchased from a local parts house who ordered it from a professional engine rebuild business out east somewhere. It is not the original motor for this car. Prior to the belt failure, the car ran great...always started and very dependable. Tight engine, does not burn or drop oil.

The local Ford dealership service mgr said that there were two different types of timing marks on the 2.3 liter engine cam shaft, (to align the uppermost sprocket with), depending on the year the engine was built. The earlier engines, he says, had THREE tabs that resemble timing marks for the camshaft sprocket to potentially align up with, and the engines built later had just one. Mine has the three. So far, it is a crap shoot as to WHICH ONE of the three marks the timing mark on the uppermost sprocket should align up to. The Ford dealership service mgr. told me to align the camshaft sprocket timing mark with the middle tab, which I did. The engine struggled to start, then ran at 1000 or so RPM then died out when I let up on the gas pedal. A former engine rebuilder in the town where I live said I should use the timing mark on the far right which I did this morning and it didn't start at all.

This is what I did this morning: The distributer rotor was at #1 cylinder firing position. Crank shaft mark was lined up properly, according to the Chilton repair guide. The #1 cylinder piston was at top position. I have a clear visual on, and painstakingly aligned, all the timing marks on all the sprockets, and still meet with an engine that is not starting.

Is there a definitive answer for which one of the three "timing marks" on the engine the valve train sprocket should be aligned up with? This seems to be the only place where I haven't followed directions to the letter(?) For a small job, that should be relatively simple, this is frustrating.
Expert:  A. Penland replied 5 years ago.

I cannot locate anything on the earlier engine timing marks for the cam gear. The Ford online manuals only go back to 1992. And it is only showing one pointer.


How many miles are on this rebuilt engine before the belt broke?

The belt should last at least 60,000.

Expert:  A. Penland replied 5 years ago.
I just got finished talking with one of my buddies here who use to race mini stocks and he ran the 2.3L Ford engine in his car. He told me to tell you to mark the distributor and remove it. Check the gear at the bottom of the distributor. See if you can tap the roll pin out that holds the gear onto the shaft with a hammer and small punch. If the pin moves out the other side when you use a punch, then tap it back in. If the pin does not push through, then the pin has sheared off because the oil pump has locked up causing it to break. And you will have to replace the oil pump in the engine. When this happens, the distributor will not line up properly and the engine will not run or start.