How to adjust the headlights: a simple step-by-step guide

How to adjust the headlights: a simple step-by-step guide

It is an undeniable fact that car headlights are critical for increasing and maintaining visibility when driving. However, if your car lights are not aimed in the right direction, they could actually make it more difficult for you and other road users to see. You should make sure that the angle is just right so that you don’t blind other drivers, and to prevent collisions.

The lights often need to be realigned after they have been replaced, but they can also be affected by simple things such as heavy loads, tyre pressure, minor collisions, and worn or damaged components. Even modern adaptive headlights require adjustment every once in a while. Thankfully, most car owners will only need to adjust one set of headlights, as adjusting the low beam headlights often resets the high beam lights.

Some vehicles also feature bubble levels or diaphragms to make this easier. This way, all you have to do is align the bubble or angle indicator with the markings. For vehicles that don’t have these alignment features, there are a few more steps to follow, which are outlined in the guide below. The adjustment process will vary depending on the make and model of the vehicle. It is therefore advisable to read through the manufacturer’s instructions in the vehicle owner’s manual before getting started. Different countries will also have different regulations regarding the cutoff lines for beams.

Signs of misaligned headlights

If other drivers are frequently flashing their lights at you when you are driving in the dark, it is probably because they are getting blinded by your lights or because there is a problem with the bulbs. If the headlights only illuminate 20 feet or less of the road ahead, they are aimed too low. If they are aimed towards the ground, this may also cause glare due to the reflection from the road, affecting the driver’s eyesight.

Tools & equipment

 Essentials list: 
  • A tape measure
  • Masking tape
  • A ratchet or screwdriver
  • A wall or garage door
  • At least 10m of driving space

How to adjust headlights

  1. Prepare the vehicle. The first step is to make sure that the tyre pressure is correct and your fuel tank should be half-full. Make sure to leave the items that you would normally carry inside your car where they are, including heavy tools and the spare tyre, as this weight may change the pitch of your vehicle, affecting the angle of the lightbeam.
    Adjust headlights: prepare the vehicle
  2. Jounce the suspension. To do this, you need to hold onto either the bumper support or radiator grille support and bounce the vehicle up and down a few times to ensure that it settles in the right position.
  3. Park the vehicle. Park it as close to the target wall/door as possible, facing it head on. It should also be parked on a level surface. Measure the distance between the headlights and the target. The distance should be the same on both sides.
  4. Turn on the low beams. Please note: If you are doing this in an outdoor setting, you will need to wait until it is dark enough for you to see the headlights clearly. The fog lights and high beams should remain switched off.
  5. Mark the centre lines. Using the tape mark about the centre line of the beams on the wall/door. To mark the horizontal centre line, place the first piece of tape directly above the top of the headlight pattern on the driver’s side and then do the same for the other headlight on the other side. Next, you will need to mark the vertical lines. Use the tape to mark the lines going down the centre of the lights.
  6. Back the vehicle up. You will then need to reverse approximately 8 metres (or 25 feet) away from the target surface in a straight line. You can measure this distance using the tape measure.
  7. Locate and access the adjustment screws. The location should be specified in the owner’s manual.
  8. Compare the beams with the markings and adjust the lights accordingly. For vertical adjustments, the top of the most intense point of the light beam should be below or in line with the horizontal centre line. You should refer to the vertical line when making horizontal adjustments. In countries with right-hand drive cars, such as the UK, the lights point towards the left, whereas left-hand drive lights point to the right. The direction is important as if the lights face the wrong way it could affect the oncoming traffic.

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