There are many reasons to feel the need to adjust your headlights – the most important one being if your low-beams are aimed at the level of where your brights should be, so it appears as if a slice of daylight is projected out in front of you. Although this seems nice and you might be pleased, you may notice oncoming drivers possessing the following behavior out of nowhere, lately:
- Driving erratically in your direction
- Flashing and holding their high-beams
- Shouting obscenities
- Flipping you the bird
- In the worst case scenario, a head on collision (don’t risk it!)
Do my headlights need adjusting?
It's common to witness other driver’s annoyed by misadjusted headlights, which in turn annoys you too by having every other driver flash their high-beams at you. If this is the case, and you’re sure that you don’t have your brights turned on, then your lights more than likely need an adjustment.
What did I do to make my headlights go out of adjustment?
This isn’t always a question of whether you did anything wrong to misalign your headlights. There are many possibilities and scenarios that can bring your headlights to an unwanted level. Some of these are mentioned as follows:
- You recently got into a front-end collision, even if the collision is minor
- You’ve hit some heavy potholes or have gone off-roading
- You’ve installed aftermarket headlight housings or bulbs (yes, just swapping bulbs may cause the headlights to become misaligned)
- You’ve recently removed or replaced the fender
- You’ve installed a lift or leveling kit on your truck, or increased the tire size
- You’re towing something or your car or truck is carrying excess weight in the trunk/bed
- You’ve just plain owned the vehicle for a long time (5+ years)
Tools we recommend using when adjusting headlights
- Haynes manual
- Trim tool to remove push fasteners/paneling to access headlight adjustment screws (if necessary)
- Long-ish screwdriver (medium size Phillip’s head)
- Blue painters’ tape
- Measuring tape capable of measuring at least 25 feet
- A piece of cardboard to block the headlight(s) where necessary
- A garage door or blank wall (give 25 feet of space between your car and garage/wall)
Steps to Adjust Your Headlights
Consult your Haynes manual or owner’s manual, if available.The Haynes book will give you more detailed instructions for your model on how to properly adjust your headlights, with helpful illustrations. Keep in mind that not every model vehicle allows you to adjust your headlights manually. Some luxury vehicles, for example, contain sensors for automatic headlight adjustment – this means no manual adjustment screws. Starting off, park your car near the garage with all the necessary tools. You’ll want to get familiar with the locations of the vertical adjustment screws and where to insert the screwdriver for adjustment, so go ahead and pop open the hood. As a helpful hint, the Haynes book will also show you the location of the adjustment screws for your specific model. Some may be harder to find than others- for example, it is common for there to be paneling above the radiator support to be removed to access the adjusters. Most cars only have vertical (up and down) adjusters, but some have another screw on each side for horizontal adjustment (side to side). There may also be adjustment screws for the high-beam bulbs - they are adjusted in the same fashion.
With the car parked near the wall or garage (about a foot away) and the low-beam headlights on, apply masking tape vertically to the wall to indicate the center of the car, then apply tape horizontally, at the same level (up and down) as the beam shooting out of the headlight lens, to indicate a reference point for adjustment. It’s helpful to use a construction level to make sure you’re applying the tape in true vertical and horizontal fashion. Also make sure the ground on which the car is parked on is relatively level (avoid curved driveways), the gas tank is about half-full, and that the car is not carrying weight in abnormal areas. If all of this stands true, reverse your car 25 feet from the wall, keeping the headlights as even as possible to the center tape line. Measure with the tape measurer to be sure you’re at 25ft.
With the car at the right length from the wall and tape applied, you should now be set to turn your adjustment screws to bring your headlights to the correct level. Starting with the left headlight (in reference to a bird’s-eye view with the vehicle), use a screwdriver to turn the adjuster clockwise or counterclockwise, until the high-intensity part of the beam is about 2 inches below the horizontal tape. Now do this with the opposite headlight, but adjust this beam about a half-inch higher (to illuminate road signs, pedestrians, etc.). It is normal for the right side low-beam to be adjusted slightly higher than the left.
If your car has side to side (horizontal) adjustment screws, you can adjust them at this point in reference to the vertically applied tape – make sure they are even and shine relatively straight ahead. If your car has high-beam adjusters, go ahead and flip on the high-beams and adjust the beams as evenly as possible – The high intensity beam zone should be in the direct center of where the horizontal tape is applied.
With the headlights now fine-tuned, it’s now time to rip off the tape, close the hood and shut your car off so you can stop blinding your neighbors (adjust responsibly). Don’t forget to turn off your lights overnight, and we hope this guide helps you stay safe on the road as well as see clearer at night without compromising the vision of others on the road!