How to re-aim headlights

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Properly aimed headlights make nighttime driving much safer, and the procedure takes less than 30 minutes. Image: Flickr / exfordy / CC-BY

Unless they go out, most of us do not even consider our headlights. Taking a few extra minutes to re-aim your headlights will help improve the safety of your night driving by leaps and bounds.

Get your tools together

Aiming your headlights, in nearly all vehicles, requires just a set of screwdrivers. One Phillips-head and one flat head screwdriver should be plenty. Masking tape can also be helpful, as can a measuring tape and a flashlight. You will also need a flat wall on a relatively level surface and at least a half-hour of time. It is best to schedule your time either when it is at least relatively dark outside or you have an enclosed garage or space to aim your headlights.

Measure out your space

First, pull the vehicle very close to the wall. Use tape or a physical marker of some kind on the wall and mark where the center of each headlight matches up to the wall. Then, back up and park your car about 25 feet away from the flat wall, and have someone sit in the driver’s seat to approximate the tilt a driver’s weight causes. Use tape or a mark of some kind to draw a line between the two center marks and put a mark where the center of the vehicle is. These lines create guides for where a driver actually sees the lights and makes adjustment easier.

[The Kennedy Mazda in Valparaiso, IN can adjust the headlights on your new or used car before you drive off the lot.]

Open the hood and find the headlight adjustment screws – usually these screws are right on the top of the headlight assembly, and stick out further than the rest of the assembly. Have the driver turn on the headlights, and see where on the wall the beams hit.

Align the headlights

Generally, at 25 feet, the highest intensity of the beam of your low-beam headlights should align slightly below center of the headlights on the vehicle. The two beams should come very close to one another, but not cross in the center. The headlights should provide even lighting for the distance, making it easy to see the road in front of you. High beams should be centered at the same height your headlights are centered, slightly to one side to help prevent blinding other drivers and highlight things such as roadsigns or pedestrians. Every vehicle has different factory specifications for headlights, so be sure to read your owner’s manual if you are not sure about the distances or aiming of your headlights.


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