How to Adjust Your Car's Headlights

Stephen Fogel
March 27, 2019

Correctly adjusted headlights are a key safety advantage. The better you can see when it gets dark, the more time you have to plan for whatever lies ahead. 

But if your headlights are not properly oriented, they can cause some major problems. If they're aimed too high, they could blind oncoming drivers; too low or off to the sides, and you won’t be able to see the road in front of you.

Learning how to adjust your headlights is a useful skill for a driver to have. 


Why do you need to adjust your headlights?

New cars have their headlights adjusted properly before they leave the factory. But a lot can happen during the life of the average vehicle, and there are many reasons why the headlights might shift. Here are a few:

  • Routinely carrying heavy loads or towing a trailer
  • Worn out rear springs or shock absorbers
  • Minor accidents
  • A new headlight assembly or headlight bulb
  • The car is old or has lots of miles on it — things loosen up over time

While a mechanic is fully capable of taking care of this procedure, you also may be able to do it yourself.  

Before you start, here’s what to do to get your car ready:

  • Fill the gas tank
  • Check and adjust your tires to the correct pressures
  • Remove any heavy objects from the trunk that don’t need to be there
  • Push down on each corner of the car a few times to level the suspension

» MORE: How to clear up foggy headlights

The easy way (if you drive a Honda or Acura)

Some vehicles, including most Hondas and Acuras, have bubble levels built into each of their headlight housings. Vertical headlight adjustment bubble levels are common in these cars, while many also have a similar system for horizontal headlight adjustment. 

If you have a vehicle with these levels, all you have to do is adjust each of them until the bubble is centered within the marks. Check your owner’s manual for the details.  

The other way to adjust your headlights

With just a few commonly available items, you can quickly adjust your headlights. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A measuring tape at least 25 feet long
  • A roll of dark-colored masking or duct tape
  • A Phillips-head screwdriver or appropriate tool for making adjustments
  • A light-colored wall or garage door that is at least 4 feet wider than your vehicle, with at least 40 feet of smooth, level surface in front of it
  • Someone to sit in the driver’s seat while you do this

This procedure is best done when it’s dark out, and when there are no other lights shining on the wall or garage door you are using to adjust your headlights. 

Step 1: Drive your car as close to the wall as you can. Turn on the low beams. Get out and have your helper sit in the driver’s seat. Now observe the light patterns that each of your low beams is projecting on the wall. Using your tape, mark the vertical and horizontal center of each low-beam light pattern. When you are done, you should have two tape crosses on the wall.

Step 2: Use your tape measure to measure a 25-foot distance away from the wall. Mark this point with a piece of tape that is the width of your car. Make sure that the tape lines up squarely with the marks on the wall. Now back your car up until the front of it lines up with the tape you put down at the 25-foot distance.

Step 3: After having your helper get back into the driver’s seat, raise your hood and find the adjustment mechanisms on your headlights. Typically, there will be two screws close to each light fixture, one for up-and-down adjustment and one for side-to-side. Block the light from one headlight (using a towel or coat) while you adjust the other. Using your Phillips screwdriver or other tool, adjust each of your headlights until the center of each low beam hits the cross you made on the wall.

This is a generalized process that should work for most vehicles, most of the time. Check your owner’s manual for recommendations. 

Additionally, some headlight adjustment mechanisms may be placed where you’ll have a hard time accessing them. In this case, have a mechanic adjust the lights as needed.

Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.

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