How to adjust a car headlight?

How do you adjust your car headlights so that you can see the road more clearly? When you are driving in the dark, aligning your car headlights is especially important. If one headlight is facing upwards and the other is pointing towards the side of the road, you can’t get a good view of the road ahead of you and this could be dangerous. However, with the right tools and know-how, vehicle manufacturers make it quite simple to adjust headlights by yourself. The following steps will help you through this important safety feature.

When exactly do headlights need adjustment?

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If oncoming drivers are perpetually flashing their lights from high to low beam at you, they are most likely trying to tell you that your headlights are misaligned and are shining right into their eyes. This is a cause of temporary blindness for them which could lead to an accident.There could be two possibilities at this point. Either you have your high beams constantly on, or your low beams are aligned upwards and are flashing oncoming drivers. If you are driving down the road and can’t see more than thirty feet ahead of you, your headlights are too low. If all you can see is the sky and the tops of oncoming cars and trees, your headlights are too high.

Is it easy for headlights to go out of adjustment?

There are a couple of reasons that cause your headlights to go out of correct alignment and shine in the wrong direction. If the vehicle has recently been in a frontal collision, there is a good chance that the headlights have gone out of alignment. Driving over rough roads, potholes, speed breakers or general off roading can make headlights go out of alignment. If you notice that the headlights are pointing in the wrong direction, have them adjusted as soon as possible.

These are the tools and materials you will need to bring your headlights back into correct alignment:

The vehicle’s owner’s manual, a screwdriver, measuring tape, masking tape, dark board to block the light and a wall with 25 feet of space in front of it. Headlight adjustment steps:

  • Check the owner’s manual –

Some models don’t allow for headlight adjustment. The owner’s manual will tell you if your vehicle allows for headlight adjustment. The owner’s manual is also helpful to indicate the location of adjustment screws. Some vehicle models have levelling bubbles similar to a carpenter’s levelling bubble to help line up the headlight and get it balanced. The owner’s manual will also indicate the type and location of the adjustment screws.

  • Find a level ground to park the car –

Park the car on a level piece of land so that you can shine the headlights on a vertical wall. All four tires should be properly inflated for the car to be completely balanced. The fuel tank should be full and there shouldn’t be any load in the trunk. Make sure that the suspension is in good order, so push on all four corners of the vehicle to level out the suspension. Now, turn the headlights on.

  • Make a center axis –

It is best to do this next step at dawn or dusk. Position the car about 6 feet from the wall. Turn the headlights on and keep them on low beam. Make use of the masking tape to mark out the horizontal and vertical axes as it shines on the wall. The tape should make a cross on the wall.

  • Measure the difference between the headlights –

Use the measuring tape to see if the headlights have the same level. If they are not on the same level, note the difference. Some vehicles have crosshairs within the headlight to find the center axis easily. The vehicle’s owner’s manual will further elaborate on this.

  • Reverse the car away from the wall –

Back the car up to a distance as specified in the vehicle’s manual. This will approximately be 25 feet. Make sure the surface is level, and reverse the car so that the front wheels are exactly 25 feet away from the wall. Turn the headlights on and make a note of where the brightest part of the headlight hits the tape marks on the wall. Adjust the headlights – take off the bezel or ring of the headlight cover, and keep the parts in a safe place. Keep the screwdriver and a piece of cardboard ready. Observe the location of the horizontal and vertical adjuster screws. Having someone help you from inside the car makes things easier.

  • Adjust the vertical axis –

From the front view of the car, have someone turn the headlights off. Then, put the dark piece of cardboard over one headlight, and have the person inside the car turn the headlights on. Use the adjusting screw to raise or lower the height of the headlights by turning the screw clockwise or anticlockwise. While making the adjustment, ensure that the brightest part of the headlight focuses on or just below the vertical axis centreline that was taped on the wall.

  • Adjust the horizontal axis –

Adjust the screws clockwise to focus the headlight inwards and counter clockwise to focus the headlight outwards. The headlight should focus just to the right of the centerline tape on the wall. Then, block the adjusted headlight with the piece of cardboard and follow the same steps to adjust the other headlight on its vertical and horizontal axis. Fine tune the headlight focus – keep adjusting the vertical and horizontal axis until the headlight beam lines up with the taped markings on the wall. Once you feel that the headlights have been properly adjusted, take the car for a small road test, and check the headlight focus points. If they need further adjustments, repeat the above instructions.

Check your local and manufacturer’s specifications

Some areas and states have various specifications for headlight adjustments, so check if your headlights are in compliance with the law. Also check your owner’s manual or online to ensure that the headlights are in compliance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

What is the distance headlights should shine on a low beam?

According to highway traffic administration, the distance focused by low beam headlights should be about 160 feet. Modern LED and HID headlights may perform even better than this, but keep in mind that if the headlight focuses too far ahead, there is a good chance that it is an inconvenience to oncoming drivers by temporarily blinding them.

How far should headlights shine on high beam?

High headlight beams are designed to shine a little bit further than low beams. The average distance is around 300 to 400 feet. Some headlight high beams may have different focus lengths depending on if they are LEDs or regular bulbs.

How high should headlights focus?

When the vehicle is 25 feet away from the wall used for alignment, make use of a tape measure to calculate the distance from the ground to the center of the light beam. Then measure the distance from the ground to the center of the headlight unit. The focus of the headlight beam should be around the same height as the headlight unit, or even a bit lower.

Some modern vehicles have a headlight level built in that can be accessed while driving. The driver can visually observe the headlight level without getting out of the car.

What can you do with dim headlights?

If your headlight beam is too dim there could be a number of reasons for it. The bulb may be failing and will require a repair or replacement. It could also be that the battery or alternator is not producing enough voltage and they are not delivering the right amount of power to each headlight.

Perhaps the headlight lens is just cloudy or tarnished. Over time, the plastic used in the headlight lens gets worn out and becomes yellow or cloudy looking. A simple headlight restoration kit will be helpful in getting the headlight lens looking like new. Even expensive cars with modern headlights will eventually need the headlight beams adjusted. Not only is it a safety issue, because seeing the road ahead of you is important. It can become a safety issue for oncoming traffic as well. A misaligned headlight can shine right into the driver’s eyes.


Over the passage of time, rough roads, bangs and bumps can knock your headlights out of alignment. With low light conditions, like when driving at night, is when you can really tell the difference between a correctly adjusted headlight beam and one that is out of focus.

Correctly aimed headlights let you drive safely. The headlight adjustment steps outlined in this article are fairly easy and can be done at home. Since all vehicle’s are different, you must always refer to the owner’s manual for advice on how to adjust the headlights correctly. Also, headlight adjustment for high beams may be separate from low beam adjustment. The same process used for low beams can also be used for high beams.

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