Headlight Alignment

You are a conscientious vehicle owner.

  1. You get the oil and filter changed
  2. You do the scheduled maintenance
  3. You even check the tire pressure, sometimes

How many times have you checked whether your headlights are aligned?

I’ll bet if you’re like most of us, you probably didn’t realize that misaligned headlights are a potential concern. Check this out: every auto manufacture recommends a periodic headlight inspection to verify proper alignment. That is because misaligned headlights make it more difficult to see ahead, and they can also distract or even momentarily blind oncoming drivers. An alignment off of just one percent can affect your safety during nighttime driving.

They’re a big deal. What you need to know to align your headlights.

You should check your headlight alignment once a year. It may help to think about other maintenance chores you perform yearly, like snow-tire changes or spring cleaning, and simply add a headlight check to the list.

Note, if your vehicle ever sustains any kind of collision damage, it’s important to check the headlights right away. An impact of this magnitude will be enough to dislodge your headlights out of alignment, and most body shop will not take the time to make sure that the headlights are aimed correctly.

Before you attempt to level your headlights “Do It Yourself” style, it’s important to note that this is a quick and relatively inexpensive adjustment. So if DIY isn’t your specialty, heading to the shop will most likely be the more painless option.

How do I check my headlights?

Think about anything that might throw off the balance of your car and mess with the symmetry of the lights. Take appropriate measures by checking the tire pressure and removing heavy items from the rear of the vehicle. Don’t forget about passenger weight too. The trickiest part of the prep is finding an area with at least 25 feet of perfectly level ground – the majority of parking lots are slanted to allow for water drainage making them unsuitable areas for the repair.

Then, open the hood and determine whether your vehicle’s headlights have built-in “bubble levels” next to them – you know, like the ones carpenters use on the job. If they do, your job is almost complete; just adjust each level’s thumbwheel until the bubble’s centered, and that’s it.

If they don’t have levels, you’ve got more work to do.

Next, is determining what kind of tool you’ll need to adjust the headlights. Look for adjustment screws along the side of the headlight, and researching in the owner’s manual to make sure you’ve got the right screws. A Phillips-head screwdriver will typically do the job. Now, position your vehicle so that it’s parked with its front as close to a wall as possible on level ground, then mark the center of each headlight beam on the wall. Do it crosshairs-style with some kind of tape – one vertical strip, one horizontal strip. Then, back the car up straight so it’s about 25 feet away from the wall, and making sure you’re still on level ground like when you started.

Okay, this is what you are looking for?

You will notice two slanted beam fragments above the horizontal piece of tape, and that’s expected. What you’re really interested in is the horizontal blocks of light under those slanted fragments. Find the tops of the horizontal blocks – there should be one block on each side – and check to see if they are at the tape line or up to a few inches below it. If so, you’re in good shape, but if one or both are above the tape line, that means you’re blinding oncoming traffic and need to adjust the beam downward.

If one or both are more than a few inches below the tape line, you need to adjust the beam upward. You should also make sure that each beam is approximately centered on its crosshairs, though keep in mind that horizontal adjustments are rarely needed. Once you’ve got the beams directed where they should be, you’re all set.

Maybe that all sounds a little too complicated?

Well, there’s no shame in asking your technician to help you out! Most headlight adjustment should only take an experienced technician a few minutes to perform. To ensure accuracy, many places now use an optical aiming tool to adjust headlights. The setup is complex, and though that means your vehicle might be worked on for closer to an hour, it results in super accurate adjustment.

If you want to keep your hands clean, just have your technician check your lights the next time you’re at the shop. This is an easy bit of preventative maintenance that every one should adhere to.

This article is the intellectual property of Simmons BOSS CREATIONS. Any reuse of the contents must include the following attribution:

Marcus Simmons, ASE Certified
Phone: (248) 461-6977
Email: ceo@simmonsbosscreations.com