GM 4.3L V-6 Distributor
Installation Procedure
Oh Noooooo.....My Truck Won't Run!!
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The gear on the bottom of the shaft is driven by the engine. It spins the rotor, which delivers the juice that provides
the sparks that make the engine run. Only problem is, engines only run if sparks come at the exact right moments.
The distributor is critical here, because it “distributes” spark at those right moments. If the gear at the bottom of the
shaft is misaligned by a tooth or two, the rotor’s timing will be off and the engine won’t run (or at least not very well).

If you were wise enough to seek help before attempting this task, you were probably told that before you remove the
distributor, you should make a mark on the distributor housing where the metal tip on the rotor is pointing. That way,
when you reinstall the distributor, you simply line up the metal tip with the mark you made on the distributor housing,
and all will be good when you start up the engine. This assumes, of course, that you don’t “disturb” the engine,
meaning that the engine does not turn over at all while you’re working on whatever it is you’re doing that required you
to take out the distributor in the first place.

I never bother with this, mainly because I can never seem to get those marks to line up properly no matter what I do
(or don’t do). Instead, when it's time to reinstall the distributor, I follow these steps:

Step #1: Remove the spark plug from the #1 cylinder
This plug is on the driver’s side, furthest forward toward the front of the vehicle. For easier access, you’ll want to
remove the air cleaner and the box on which it sits.

Step #2: Move the piston in the #1 cylinder to Top Dead Center (TDC)
Here’s where you’ll need either a third hand, or a little ingenuity. You've removed the spark plug on the #1 cylinder
because you need to move the piston in that cylinder to top dead center (TDC). To do this, you must turn over the
engine by hand, and listen (and feel) for air being expelled from the spark plug hole. When you don’t hear or feel any
more air coming out of the hole, the piston is at TDC.

To turn over the engine by hand, the Chilton manual says to turn the engine’s largest pulley with a socket and
wrench. This is too hard….seriously, forget about it (trust me). It’s much easier to put a 24mm socket on the
alternator pulley bolt and turn it
clockwise (don't try this counterclockwise....trust me again, please). But this won’t
work unless you add tension against the serpentine belt, because on its own, the belt usually isn't tight enough to
turn the main drive pulley. The belt will just slide over the pulley and the engine won’t turn over.

If you have someone to help, have him or her attach a 3/8” socket wrench to the square hole on the belt tensioner.  
With the socket wrench set to turn clockwise (tighten), have your helper pull up on the wrench and give that belt a
little more tension. Now, when you turn the alternator pulley bolt clockwise, the serpentine belt should drive all pulleys
and the engine will turn over.

While you’re using your left hand to turn over the engine with the alternator pulley, stick the fattest finger on your
right hand over the spark plug hole on the #1 cylinder. As the engine turns, eventually you’ll feel pressure against
your finger and air will expel from the cylinder. Then, the pressure will suddenly go away, which means the piston has
reached TDC. I usually turn over the engine a few times so I can get a feel for when the air stops coming out of the
cylinder. You want to be as close as you can to TDC.

If you don’t have a helper to add tension to the serpentine belt, get yourself a 4” length of metal or PVC pipe (1.5-2.0
inch diameter). Slide it over the socket wrench that you've attached to the 3/8” square hole on the belt tensioner.
Position the handle of the wrench so that it’s higher than the battery tray (while providing a decent amount of tension
to the belt). Then slide the pipe back and let it rest on top of the edge of the battery tray. When you let go, the socket
wrench, with its “extender” pipe, should stay put and keep the belt well tensioned. IMPORTANT: if you’re using a
metal pipe as your wrench extender, disconnect the negative battery terminal. If the metal pipe makes contact with
the positive battery terminal (which it probably will), watch out…it will be quite a light show.
Step 4: Reinstall the distributor
Once you've found top dead center, you’re ready to reinstall the distributor. This step is where it gets interesting.
Your goal is to have the metal tip on the rotor pointing at the “6” mark on the side of the distributor housing. There is
also an “8” mark on the distributor housing, but that is for 8-cylinder engines. The “6” is what you want. Because the
shaft gears are curved (sort of like a worm gear), the rotor will rotate slightly as the distributor shaft seats itself. So
when you start dropping the shaft into the hole, you’ll need to position the metal tip of the rotor at approximately the  
“6:00” position on the distributor housing. As the shaft gear seats itself, the rotor will turn clockwise to the “7:00”
position (approximately) where the “6” is stamped into the distributor housing. With the shaft gear fully seated, the
metal tip of the rotor needs to be pointed pretty close to the “6”.
At TDC, that mark will align with a similar notch on the engine block. Depending on how dirty your engine is, the
engine block mark may be difficult to see. Of course, if you’re like the guy in the video and your harmonic balancer is
screwed, this won’t help you find TDC. The picture above shows the timing marks.
If the shaft isn’t seated all the way down, the metal bracket that secures the rotor shaft won’t be flush against the
engine. This means the drive gear inside the engine isn't properly aligned with the distributor gear. If this happens,
stick a long flat-blade screwdriver down the distributor shaft hole and try to locate the drive gear. It’s about 7 or 8
inches down inside the hole. You won’t be able to see it…this it totally by feel. Once you locate the slot on the gear,
use the screwdriver to turn the gear. If you’re good, you can look at the end of the distributor shaft and eyeball the
angle that the drive gear needs to be aligned, so that the distributor gear will match up correctly. I usually just turn
the drive gear a quarter-turn at a time until I get the right angle and the distributor bracket is flush with the engine.

From there, reassemble everything and you should be good to go. Here are a couple more tips and suggestions:

  • The distributor cap, for reasons probably understood only by GM engineers, uses a “6-4-2” cylinder order on
    the passenger side (6 being closest to the cab; 2 closest to the front bumper) and a “5-1-3” order on the
    driver's side.  The “5-1-3” is not the order of the cylinders on the driver’s side of the engine. As you probably
    already figured out, the “1” is furthest to the front of the engine. The distributor cap implies that cylinder “3” is
    furthest to the front, but that is not correct. If you’re using a Chilton manual, circa 1998, they didn't get this
    correct in their illustrations. It shows the cylinder order as “5-1-3” in one of its diagrams.
  • If you’re really confused at how to stick a screwdriver down a blind hole and somehow understand what you’re
    feeling for, get a mechanic’s mirror and a flashlight. With the mirror angled properly, you’ll see down the hole.
So...you've found yourself having to do a job under the hood that required taking out the distributor. Maybe it's your
first time, and (like me) you dropped the distributor back into its hole, buttoned it all up and were shocked --
SHOCKED! -- that the engine would not start. Maybe it was then that you decided to pull out the Chilton manual and
found there is a procedure which must be followed in order for that engine to spring back to life. This is a description
of that procedure, with a few helpful tips and suggestions.

Here is what the distributor looks like, with its cap removed:
Step #3: Confirm that the #1 cylinder is at TDC
If you’re still not sure if the #1 cylinder is at TDC, there are timing marks on the harmonic balancer and engine block,
which will line up. What’s a harmonic balancer? Well, get underneath your truck and take a look. Here’s a video that
shows the harmonic balancer and its timing mark:

Harmonic Balancer & Timing Mark Video
Here's how I get a little more tension out of the drive belt.