If you’re driving at night, proper visibility is mandatory if you’re looking to illuminate the road ahead of you. In fact, your headlights’ visibility can make a huge difference between avoiding a collision and getting involved in a fatal accident. Now, one factor that leads to reduced visibility is misaligned headlights. So, in this short guide, we’ll discuss how to adjust headlights for safer drivability.
Correct headlight alignment is very important when driving at night. It helps you to illuminate the road ahead of you to make it easier to identify road signs. It also improves your reaction time in case an animal jumps on the road and also prevents you from blinding oncoming traffic.
Fortunately, adjusting your car’s headlights is not as hard as it sounds. This process is an easy fix that can be accomplished by almost anyone provided you follow the right procedure. So, in this guide, we’re going to discuss exactly how you’re supposed to adjust your headlights to improve your car’s drivability.
How to Aim & Adjust Headlights: Step by Step Guide
Signs of Misaligned Headlights
From what we’ve just mentioned, driving with misaligned headlights is quite unsafe especially when you’re driving under extreme weather conditions. That’s because such headlights can narrow down your visibility to almost zero making it hard to view the road.
Now, if you’re driving for the first time, identifying misaligned headlights can be very difficult. Thankfully, there are some obvious signs that can clearly tell when your headlights need some adjustments. Here are a few of them.
- If you notice most of the oncoming motorists are flashing their lights on you, then there’s a high possibility your headlights are faulty. Here, your headlights are directly pointing towards oncoming motorists causing you to blind them even when you’re using the low beam.
- Other times, you’ll notice the headlights are aiming straight to the ground causing a reflection that’s blinding you. In this case, the headlights are aiming too low towards the ground instead of straight towards the road.
- Sometimes the headlights can illuminate as close as 20 ft. away from you. This is another sign that your headlight bulbs are not positioned properly.
Why Do Headlights Become Misaligned?
So, in case you’ve noticed any of the three signs we’ve listed, then there’s a high chance your headlights are misaligned. But, what causes car headlights to get misaligned? Here are some repairable reasons that can be possible causes.
- Broken Components: Headlight units in most cars today comprise too many plastic parts. These components have delicate joints that make them too brittle to break. So, if you’re driving aggressively, the vibrations caused by the car’s movement can easily break these plastic components causing misaligned headlights.
- Damaged Head Lens: If your headlights use the old diffusion disc technology, then there’s a high chance of suffering this setback. The diffusion disk here is made from a grooved glass that allows the headlights to distribute light evenly. If this disc is scratched or cracked by road debris, the light projected will be impaired making it less sharp.
- Headlight Leveling System is Damaged: When your headlight’s leveling system is damaged, then the light beam will tend to move up and down without being focused on the road.
How to Aim & Align Headlights
Aligning your car’s headlights is a simple task that will take you around 30 to 60 minutes. The task doesn’t demand any professional knowledge. All you need is a set of tools to accomplish the job efficiently and, of course, you need to be an enthusiast DIYer.
So, without wasting any time, let’s get straight to our step-by-step guide on how to adjust your headlights.
Things You’ll Need
- Masking tape
- Tape measure
- A marker
- Socket set
- 25 ft. of space
- Step One: Level the Vehicle
The first step of aligning your headlights is to prepare your car by leveling it to reflect the exact driving conditions. To do that, you need to inspect the tires to ensure the pressure is at the manufacturer’s recommended levels. You also need to offload any heavy baggage or cargo from the car’s trunk.
Lastly, you need to have someone sit on the driver’s side to mimic the exact driver’s weight when aligning the headlights.
- Step Two: Position Your Car
Once you’ve set your car to mimic the exact driving condition, identify a flat level surface where you can park or position your car. This can be inside the garage or outside the driveway. Always make sure there’s a wall in front of you that’s at least 25 ft. away from the car.
Using the garage door is fine. However, most doors have textured surfaces that might distort the light making it difficult to align the headlights.
When you’re done, bounce the car several times to ensure the shocks are leveled. You can also measure the height of the headlights from the ground to ensure none of the shocks is sagging.
- Step Three: Turn the Headlights On
Now turn the headlights on without activating the high beams and the fog lights. With the normal light beam shining towards the wall, pick your masking tape and form two crosses on the wall. Make sure the crosses are exactly at the center of each headlight’s light beam.
Using a tape measure, measure the height of each light beam to check whether they’re level. In most cases, the height of the light beams should not exceed 3.5 ft. In case they do, then it means there’s a problem.
- Step Four: Reverse the Car
In this step, you’ll need to be very precise when reversing your car. Don’t estimate the distance whatsoever. Instead, mark the exact distance using a measuring tape, which in this case should be 25 ft. from the wall. When you’re done, turn off the car and the headlights and open the hood.
- Step Five: Adjust the Headlights
Now, before you begin, it’s a good idea that you consult your car’s manual for more details. You see, some cars will recommend a different adjusting distance such as 10 ft. for Toyota and 15 ft. for Pontiac GTO.
Once you’re certain about the distance, the next step is to locate the adjusting screws on your car’s headlights. In most cases, these screws are visible the moment you remove the trim ring from the headlights.
Sometimes, these screws might be completely hidden behind the headlight housing or deep in the engine compartment. So, to locate them easily without wasting a lot of your time, simply refer to the car’s manual. However, the best thing about the vertical and horizontal screws is that they’re clearly marked.
- Step Six: Adjust Each Headlight Separately
Now that you’ve located both the vertical and horizontal adjusting screws of each headlight, the next step is to adjust each headlight independently. To do this, you’ll need to have someone seat on the driver’s side to help switch the lamps on and off.
When working on one headlight, make sure that you block the other using a rag or an old sheet to avoid any interruption. When adjusting the headlights, use a screwdriver or a ratchet depending on whether you’re dealing with screws or bolts.
For vertical adjustment, turn the screw clockwise or counterclockwise to raise or lower the headlight. When adjusting the headlight, make sure the most intense part of the beam is slightly below the tapeline you marked on the wall. This means the lower part of the tapeline should be bright while the upper part should be dim.
When you’re done adjusting the first headlight, move on to the other headlight and repeat the same process. Note that your main objective is to illuminate the road but not to blind oncoming motorists.
Repeat the same process with the horizontal adjustment. Turn the screw to adjust each headlight slightly on the right side. However, if you’re driving on the left side of the road, then the headlights should be adjusted to the left.
- Step Seven: Inspect the Alignment
Once you’re done adjusting both headlights, remove the rags and old sheets from the lamps and turn the headlights on. Check the tapeline on the wall to ensure the vertical and horizontal alignment of each headlight is perfect.
- Step Eight: Perform a Test Drive
Now that you’re through with the adjusting process, the final step is to take your car out for a test drive. Testing your headlights after an alignment is very important as it helps you to identify any problems early enough.
So, to do this, make sure that you pick a non-threatening environment such as a parking lot or an empty driveway to avoid obstructing other motorists. In case more alignment is needed, then you can consider referring to your car’s manual or contact your nearest auto repair shop for professional guidance.
FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions
Which Headlight Settings Should I Use When Driving at Night?
Your car’s headlights have two settings, which are the high and low beam settings. In most cases, the low beam illuminates a distance of about 160 ft. while the high beam illuminates a distance of around 300 to 400 ft.
When driving on a properly lit road, you should use the low beam. The same applies to busy roads with heavy traffic and approaching pedestrians and cyclists. However, if you’re driving on an unlit road that has fewer cars approaching, then you’re free to use the high beam. However, in case you see an oncoming motorist, you should switch to a low beam to avoid blinding them.
How Far Should My Headlights Aim?
According to the NHTSA, the average distance your headlights are likely to illuminate when set at low beam is about 160 feet. Anything more than this can blind oncoming motorists, which can be dangerous. On the other hand, if you’re using the high beam, your headlights are likely to blast out light to a distance of about 300 to 400 ft.
How High Should My Headlights Aim?
Well, this will hugely depend on your car’s height. However, to determine the precise height, simply park your car about 25 ft. away from a wall. With the headlights on, pick a measuring tape and measure the height of the light beam from the center of the light to the ground. The figure you’ll record is the exact height of your headlights when driving.
As you can see, the process of adjusting your headlights is simple and straightforward. However, there’s a tricky part—not all cars are the same. Therefore, before you start the process, make sure that you consult your car’s manual to understand the dos and don’ts.
In case the headlight adjusting screws are located too far from the headlight unit, then you need to hire a professional mechanic to adjust the headlights for you. Also, if you adjust the headlights and later notice they’re too dim, then you need to get an expert mechanic to replace them for you.