Ever been blinded by the light of a passing motorist at night — even by their low beams? Whether as a result of accident damage, a recent bulb change or vibrations over time, headlights can fall out of alignment, and this is not only a pain for other drivers but also a safety hazard if the lights fail to illuminate objects in the road in time for you to see them. Fortunately, knowing how to align headlights can help you assess and fix this problem yourself with just a few tools.
First, you want to make sure you’re parked on a level surface and that you have a flat surface to project onto, such as a wall or garage door. You’ll also need to check that your vehicle’s ride height is as it should be, which will require removing any heavy extra loads from the vehicle, having about half a tank of gas, ensuring proper tire pressure all around, giving the shocks a good jounce and ideally having the weight of the driver in the driver’s seat.
The only tools you should need are some tape, a dry erase marker, a screwdriver, a ratchet set and possibly a special adjustment tool. Some headlight assemblies have bubble levels and other useful tools built into them to tell you when your headlights are aligned. If you’re lucky enough to find such a tool under your hood (or in the owner’s manual), you can adjust accordingly using that device.
Step Into the Light
Start by parking close to the projection surface, about 3 feet away. Use a vertical piece of tape to mark for the center of the vehicle on the wall, and then use the marker to find the center point of the headlights — sometimes there will be a small indicator on the glass already.
Now measure how far from the ground the center point is for each headlight. On the wall directly across from the headlights, measure the same distance from the ground and mark it with a 1-2 foot horizontal piece of tape. If the lines for the left and right lights are at different heights, use the lower of the two measurements.
Next, measure how far out the actual center of the headlights is from the actual center of the car, and mark those measurements on the wall with another vertical line, forming two crosses on the wall with the existing horizontal tape.
Another Roller in the Night
Next, reverse the vehicle and keep the headlights square to the wall. The standard distance for adjustment is 25 feet, but it’s not the same for all manufacturers, so check your owner’s manual to confirm. Also, make sure you’re turning on your headlights, not your fog lights or high beams.
Locate the adjustment screws or bolts — some vehicles have only vertical, while some have both vertical and horizontal. Most vehicles don’t allow you to adjust high beams separately, and you may find it easier to cover one side at a time. Using these screws or bolts, adjust your headlights so that the top of the beam falls 2 inches below the horizontal markings and centers (if possible) on the two vertical markings.
With this done, your headlights should be back in alignment. Other drivers will appreciate you taking the time, and your headlights will be better able to do their job and keep you sure of the road ahead.
Check out all the exterior products available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to align headlights, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.