How Do I Know My Headlights Are Aimed Properly?

CARS.COM — It may not seem obvious at first, but the adjustment on your headlights might be all wrong. How do you know for sure? Among obvious signs that your headlamps aren’t properly aimed are oncoming drivers flashing their lights at you because your lights are blinding them even without your high beams turned on, or the road ahead is brightly illuminated for only 20 feet or so, meaning the headlights are aimed too low.

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Suspension problems or a heavy cargo load can change your vehicle’s ride height and shift one or both headlights subtly. A collision or hitting a road hazard also can move a light assembly and misalign your lights.

One way to tell if headlights are correctly aimed is to park the vehicle on a level surface and shine the headlights on a garage door or wall 25 feet ahead (some cars may require a different distance). The top of the low beam shining on the wall should be at or slightly below the height of the center of the headlight lens for most vehicles. You should expect the light pattern to be higher on the right side (passenger side) to illuminate road signs and lower on the driver’s side to prevent blinding other drivers. This should give you a good idea of whether the beams on both sides are aimed correctly.

Another method is to pull the vehicle within 5 feet of the wall and then use masking tape to mark the vertical and horizontal centers of the light beams on the wall. Move the vehicle back 25 feet. With the aid of the tape line, the light beams should be roughly the same height vertically and horizontally.

Vehicles have an adjustment screw or bolt on the headlight assembly for adjusting headlight height, and some also have a screw for horizontal aim. Some vehicles also have a bubble level to help with adjustments.

On some vehicles, you might have little or no space to reach the adjusters without removing parts, such as the battery. Additionally, to get an accurate reading, the vehicle should be on truly level ground, the ride height shouldn’t be affected by damaged suspension parts, flat tires or cargo, and the vehicle needs to be perpendicular to the surface on which you’re shining the headlights.

Many vehicle owner’s manuals give little or no guidance on headlight aiming. When in doubt, ask a repair shop to check. If a vehicle is still covered by the basic warranty, a dealership may check the headlight aim and align it at no cost.

For a visual on all of the above, check out the video below.

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