How To Adjust Headlights with DIY Steps

Get your lights pointed straight!

Time Needed: 30 minutes to one hour, Difficulty: Beginner, Cost: $0-$150 depending on tool collection

The ease of installing aftermarket headlights is awesome. In today’s day and age, you can set up virtually any vehicle with lighting that seems to shine with the power of the sun. What’s not awesome is jumping behind the wheel only to find that your car now has “crazy eyes” that illuminates seemingly everything except the road in front of you.

Don’t panic. There’s nothing wrong with your lights. Nor did you do anything wrong. You just need to spend a little time adjusting them. But you certainly go on driving around like that if you don’t want to blind other drivers.

The good news is that you don’t need to be an expert to adjust your headlights. Nor do you have to do it on your own. You’ve got Car Bibles’ limitless knowledge to guide you.

The Safety Brief

Adjusting your headlights seems like a harmless task, but there are still safety risks to consider. For any job, safety glasses and protective gloves are always a good idea. But adjusting your headlights does place you between a wall and your vehicle. 

No amount of PPE is going to stop your car from turning you into a tube of toothpaste. So, you’ll want to make sure to use your brain. Kill the engine any time you step in front of the vehicle, make sure it’s in Park, and it won’t hurt to engage the parking brake either.  

How To Adjust Headlights with DIY Steps
Hank O’Hop

The Tools & Parts You Need

All vehicles are different and adjusting the headlights varies by vehicle. So, you’ll want to refer to your vehicle’s owner’s-manual to determine what procedure and tools you will need. Homework sucks, but it is necessary.

That said, most vehicles only require a screwdriver or Socket set, a tape measure, and painter’s tape. The other two essential tools are a wall with at least 25 feet of level ground in front of it or however much distance your vehicle calls for.

You will also need a tire pressure gauge, half a tank of gas, and you will definitely want to phone in your nearest body double—you probably shouldn’t call them a tool.

Before you begin, you want to make sure your headlights are clean and working order before we get going. Go ahead and deal with any blemishes on the lenses and swap out any dull or inadequate bulbs, as these will interfere with the clarity of your beam pattern. Also, if you are using LED lights, make sure that they are, in fact, the best match for your application, as that can also be a significant factor as to why the beams of your headlights are out of whack.

The How-To Adjust Your Headlights

How To Adjust Headlights with DIY Steps

Here’s how to do it.

Prepare the Vehicle

To adjust your headlights properly, you want to make sure it’s set up to replicate normal driving conditions. You need to make sure it’s bearing the exact weight it usually does with half a tank of gas, the gear you keep in it, and preferably someone who matches your body weight in the driver’s seat. Also, make sure that the tire pressure is to spec as all of these factors will affect ride height.

Jounce the Suspension

Once the vehicle is ready and you’re about to begin, take a second to “jounce” the suspension. Your goal here is to let the shocks and springs settle out to their natural ride height. It shouldn’t take more than a few quick downward pushes on the car’s front end to achieve this.

Measure the Lights

Identify the center of your headlight and measure its distance from the ground. Most modern vehicles feature a mark on the light to simplify this step. If your car doesn’t have a mark, measure to the center of the low-beam bulb.

Mark the Wall With Painters Tape

With painter’s tape, you will transfer your measurement to the wall. Remember that you want your vertical field to aim two inches lower than the light’s height on the vehicle so that you aren’t blinding oncoming drivers. Finding the horizontal field and marking it is made simple by parking at least 6 feet away from the wall, then marking the “hot spot” of the beam and another mark two inches to the right. Think of these marks as your targets for the following steps.

Back Away From the Wall

After making your marks, you can then back the vehicle away from the wall to the appropriate distance. Again, in most cases, 25 feet of room is suitable, but you will want to refer to your owners-manual as some makes call for the headlights to be aimed at different distances.

Adjust the Vertical Field

After backing away, you will notice that the beams position on the wall has shifted. You want to start by adjusting the vertical field so that the beam is aimed directly at the mark you made earlier.  Remember, this mark is 2-inches lower than the center of the headlight.

Adjust the Horizontal Field

Not all vehicles allow for adjustment of the horizontal field. If yours does, simply adjust the beam so that the “hot spot” is aimed at the mark you made to the right of the beam earlier. This step will direct the light away from oncoming traffic. 

Perform a Road Test

Now all that’s left is to hit the road and ensure you’re no longer dealing with crazy eyes. If you are, repeat the procedure. But chances are, you got it right the first time! 

The Questionnaire

Car Bibles answers all your burning questions!

Q: How High Should Your Headlights Be Aimed?

A: As a rule of thumb, you want to aim your headlights so that the beam is no higher than the side view mirror of oncoming cars. To achieve that, you generally want to direct the lights so that the center point, or “hot spot” of the beam pattern, hits a wall two inches below the headlight’s center.

Q: How Far Should Your Headlights Shine on Low Beam?

A: Low beam headlights should shine approximately 200 feet. That does seem far in respect to the aiming distance for headlights, but the idea is to prevent you from overdriving your headlights. The average stopping distance for vehicles traveling at 60 mph is about 200 feet. So, your low beams must be capable of illuminating anything within that range to give you enough time to stop.

Q: How Do You Adjust Your Left and Right Headlights?

A: Most vehicles only require one to use a screwdriver to make adjustments to the headlights. In some cases, a socket wrench may also get the job done. But even in those cases, the bolts typically feature a slotted head to allow you to use a screwdriver. Ultimately, how adjustments are made is specific to the vehicle, and you will need to research the system and your owner’s manual to find the exact procedure.

Video Tutorial on Adjusting Headlights

We get it. Adjusting headlights is easier to understand with visual aid instead of text. For that reason, we wanted to make sure we included a video that details the complete process. We feel that this video is one of the best at explaining how to adjust your headlights. Not only is the process shown in full, but it relates to the average vehicle. If you’re still scratching your head, definitely check it out!

Best Places To Buy Tools and Parts to Adjust Your Headlights?

Yep, adjusting your headlights is that easy. You’ll still need some good tools, though. And tools are everywhere. While that’s a blessing, it means you can easily wind up with more headaches than solutions. The GearWrench 20 Piece Master Screwdriver Set, JACO ElitePro Pressure Gauge, Stanley Tools FatMax Tape Measure, and FrogTape Multi-Surface Painter’s Tape are some of our favorite tools for this job and many others. All of which can be snagged on Amazon! 

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