How to Adjust Headlights

How to Adjust Your Headlights

Your headlights allow you to see the road clearly at all times. If you don’t adjust them properly, however, they can’t do their job. Improper headlight alignment can blind other drivers and make it harder for you to see.

You might need to fix your headlight alignment if:

  • You replaced your headlights
  • Your vehicle was in a collision
  • You’ll be carrying more weight than usual

Before you drive your vehicle at night, you should make sure the headlights are aimed properly. You can adjust them using this simple process and tools that you already have.

Tools and Materials You’ll Need

To adjust your headlights, you’ll need a ratchet or screwdriver that matches your vehicle’s headlight adjusters. Headlight adjusters are in different locations on every vehicle. You can check your owner’s manual to find them or look for the adjustment screws adjacent to or behind the headlight. Once you know what kind of screws your vehicle has, you’ll be able to choose an appropriate tool.

In addition to a ratchet or screwdriver, you’ll also need:

  • A measuring tape
  • A dry erase marker
  • Painter’s tape
  • A wall or flat surface
  • A piece of cardboard or jacket thick enough to block light
  • At least 25 feet of space

Steps to Aim Your Headlights

For you to properly align your headlights, your vehicle should be on level ground. You can adjust your headlights inside or outside using this step-by-step process:

  1. Prepare your vehicle: Make sure your tires are filled to the appropriate air pressure and that you have around a half tank of gas (the weight of the fuel will adjust the vehicle’s stance, and you’re more likely to have between 1/4 and 3/4 tank of gas than you are an empty or full tank). If you regularly carry around heavy equipment or supplies, place them in the vehicle as well.
  2. Find the headlight axis: With a dry erase marker, draw a small dot in the center of each headlight. This is the headlight axis. Make sure to mark the center of the regular lights, not the high beams.
  3. Park your vehicle: Park your vehicle right in front of a level wall or flat surface — this could be your garage wall, garage door or a wall in a parking lot. You should have enough room to back up 25 feet in a straight line from the spot.
  4. Jounce the suspension: Bounce the vehicle a few times on all four corners to allow the suspension to settle.
  5. Create a center guide: Using a piece of painter’s tape, put a vertical mark on the wall or garage door in line with the center of your vehicle. Don’t worry about precise measurements — this mark will just serve as a guide. A hood ornament or front license plate can be helpful for determining this.
  6. Mark the headlight axis on the wall: Place a vertical strip of painter’s tape on the wall in front of each headlight axis. The axis dot should line up with the center of the tape.
  7. Measure the height of the headlight axis: Using your measuring tape, measure from the ground to the headlight axis, using the dot as a guide.
  8. Mark the height of the headlight axis on the wall: Measure up the wall and make a mark on the tape at the height of the headlight axis.
  9. Find the headlight cutoff lines: On the driver’s side of the wall, measure four inches below the axis height you marked and draw another line. On the passenger’s side, draw a line two inches below the axis height. These marks will serve as cutoff points when you adjust your lights. The driver side mark is lower than the passenger side mark to reduce the glare seen by oncoming drivers.
  10. Mark the headlight cutoff lines: On each side of the wall, place a horizontal strip of painter’s tape above each cutoff line, making sure it’s level. The bottom of the tape should line up with the drawn cutoff line. This step makes it easier to see the cutoff from a distance.
  11. Back your vehicle up: You’re ready to adjust your lights now. Back your vehicle in a straight line away from the wall. The front of your headlights should be 25 feet from the aiming wall chart you’ve created.
  12. Turn on your lights: Turn off your garage lights or any other light source and turn on your vehicle’s headlights to compare their alignment to the guide. If you’re adjusting your headlights outside, you’ll need to do this work at night.
  13. Adjust your headlights: Use a piece of cardboard or a jacket to block one headlight. Then, use your ratchet or screwdriver to turn the other light’s vertical adjuster screws, being careful not to lean on the vehicle. Turn the screw clockwise or counterclockwise until the top of the light lines up with the bottom of your adjustment chart’s cutoff line. When the lights are aimed properly, everything above the horizontal tape will be dark. Repeat the process on the other side. If you notice that your lights are horizontally out of alignment, follow a similar process using the horizontal adjustment screws, to adjust them back to center.
  14. Check the alignment: Remove the cardboard or jacket from the covered headlight and check the finished alignment. The beam from the driver’s side headlight should sit a bit lower than the one from the passenger’s side. This setup gives you proper visibility without blinding other drivers.
  15. Test your lights: After you’ve set your headlight alignment, take your vehicle out for a test drive to make sure the lights provide proper visibility.

Headlight alignment chart diagram

Final Words on Headlight Adjustment

Correctly aimed headlights allow you to drive safely. This headlight adjustment method is easy enough for anyone to do at home. However, since all vehicles are different, you should check your owner’s manual before adjusting your headlights, since some manufacturers require different measurements. Also, remember that you may need to adjust your fog lights or high beams separately, depending on your vehicle. You can use the same adjustment process to aim these lights as well.

If you have questions about aligning your headlights, you can always contact the team at Raybuck. We’d be happy to provide additional tips for your vehicle’s make and model.