Because ignition systems have become low maintenance in the past 20 years, we don’t check them until we get a misfire and a "Check Engine" light. The fact remains, car maintenance still should include ignition systems. And spark plugs still need to be changed periodically. When it’s time to replace ignition components, opt for the best high-performance ignition parts you can find, meaning coils, ignition wires and platinum tip spark plugs.
Original equipment grade is your best approach or high-end aftermarket parts like MSD. The reason: precision ignition operation means power. A misfire or lackluster light off means lost power, wasted fuel and increased tailpipe emissions. A potent spark from a high-energy ignition system does make a difference in power no matter how small. The lesson here is it all adds up to significant total gains in horsepower.
Ignition timing is also a power dynamic you should play with carefully because too much of it can damage your engine. With conventional distributor ignition systems, set total timing at 2500 rpm beginning your efforts at 32 degrees BTDC (Before Top-Dead Center) with a road test or dyno pull. Then, move timing one degree at a time – 33, 34, 35 and so on along with road/dyno testing. Never take total timing beyond 36 degrees BTDC.
Some tuners go to 38, 40, and even 42 degrees BTDC, which is foolish. Anything beyond 36 degrees BTDC total represents risks due to detonation. If you have a sudden lean condition coupled with early timing, you can have engine failure in a nanosecond at wide-open throttle. Ignition timing with electronic engine control calls for a professional who knows how to dial in both ignition and fuel maps to where you get power without doing engine damage.