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How to Aim and Align your Headlights Correctly

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Created on: 2017-04-07

Watch this video to learn how to aim your headlights. The expert mechanics at 1A Auto show you how to align your headlights if they're misaligned or uneven or if you recently replaced them.

  1. step 1 :Preparing the Vehicle
    • Check that all four tires are at their recommended air pressure
    • Have about a half tank of gas in the vehicle
    • Put any equipment you usually carry in the vehicle into the vehicle
    • Mark a vertical surface to aim your headlights at
    • Line up the center of the vehicle with the center of your aiming surface
    • Back your vehicle 25 feet straight back from the aiming surface
    • Turn your headlights on and check which are the high and low beam lights
    • Push down on the front of the vehicle to check that the suspension is at the proper ride height
  2. step 2 :Aiming the Headlights with an Aiming Board
    • Make a dot at the center of your low beam light with a dry erase marker
    • Measure from the ground to the center of the dot
    • Record this measurement
    • Locate your headlight adjusters
    • Turn on your headlights
    • Turn off any lights in your garage or wait for dark if working outside
    • Block one headlight at a time
    • Measure your light cutoffs on the aiming board
    • Compare these measurement to the measurement of the headlight dot
    • The driver side cutoff should be about four inches lower than the headlight dot
    • The passenger side cutoff should be about two inches lower than the headlight dot
    • Adjust the headlights, one at a time, as necessary
  3. step 3 :Aiming the Headlights without an Aiming Board
    • Make a dot at the center of your low beam light with a dry erase marker
    • Measure from the ground to the center of the dot
    • Record this measurement
    • Mark the center of your vehicle on a board with painter's tape
    • Put tape on the board in a vertical line, lined up with the dot on each headlight
    • Make a mark on the driver side tape four inches below the headlight dot measurement
    • Make a mark on the passenger side tape two inches below the headlight dot measurement
    • Place tape horizontally in line with those measurements
    • Block one headlight at a time
    • Adjust each headlight, one at a time, until the light cutoff is level with your horizontal tape

Tools needed

  • Measuring Tape

    Painter's Tape


    Marker / Writing Utensil

Hi, I'm Mike from 1A Auto. We've been selling auto parts for over 30 years. We're dedicated to delivering quality auto parts, expert customer service, fast and free shipping, all backed by our 100% satisfaction guarantee. Visit us at 1AAuto.com, your trusted source for quality auto parts.

In this video, we're going to be showing you a universal procedure for checking the aim on your vehicle’s headlights. Now this is not a specific or precise measurement for inspection purposes but more a way of making sure that you're new headlights are functioning and at the appropriate heights to get the best performance out of them. If you've replaced your headlights, the vehicle's been in a collision or you plan on carrying a lot more weight in the vehicle then you normally would, it may be necessary to adjust the aim of your headlights. I have a homemade headlight aiming board here but this process can easily be done on any flat surface with 25 feet of room from a vertical straight wall.

What we're going to do since we can move our headlight board fairly easily is this center line needs to line up with the center of the front of our vehicle. In this case, it's going to be the badge on the front of the car and I want to make sure that I'm straight and parallel to the nose of the vehicle. Some other good indications would be the body lines, license plate brackets, or a hood ornament centered in the hood. We'll now back our vehicle up in a straight line 25 feet to the front of the headlights.

It's important that you make sure all four of your tires are at the appropriate air pressures, your vehicle has about a half a tank of gas in it, and it should also have any loads that vehicle regularly carries such as tools, equipment, or any type of supplies that may weigh down any part of the vehicle.

Check the marking on your headlight. Ours is a DOT VOR which is a visibly aimable headlight as well as DOT VOL and DOT VO. Also depending on your vehicle and location you may have an ECE or E CODE headlamp. All of these are visually aimable in similar ways to the one we're going to show you. If your vehicle is older and does not have a US DOT marking on it, then it needs to be aimed with a mechanical aiming device. That's pretty hard to come by so your best bet is to do the best you can visually aiming it with a board to wall like we'll show you here.

If you're not familiar, turn your headlights on and check which are the high and low beams. On our vehicle the outside are the low beams and our inside are going to be the high beams.

After you've checked all your other things like your air pressure and the weight in the vehicle, you'll want to jounce your suspension and what we mean by that is grab a firm part, either the bumper or the radiator support here and rhythmically bounce it up and down a few times and allow the suspension to settle. This will make sure that it's at its appropriate ride height and isn't stuck in an odd position. It'll just set everything level into the proper ride height.

We have a little dot in our lens that you can see there. I just used a dry erase marker there to show you where it is. We're going to put a little dot over that. You don't need to do this but I feel it makes it a lot easier. Take a tape measure and measure from the ground to the center of that dot. On our vehicle it's just about 32 inches.

The next thing you'll want to locate is your headlight adjusters. Now these are going to be in different places on every vehicle but ours has a toothed wheel down here with a hex on it so we can adjust that with either a ratchet or putting a little screwdriver in there and clicking it clockwise or counterclockwise. You may also have horizontal adjustments but for our vehicle it's just these.

With our headlights on we've shut off the lights in our shop. If you're doing this outside you'll want to do it at night. This line here is our headlight cutoff. That's what we'll be using to adjust from. Above that is dark and below that is where the brightest portion of the headlight is. Now what we're going to want to do, and I'm just going to stand in front of it for this purpose, we now know where our right side cutoff is and from here it looks to be just about 27, 26 inches, which is low. We want to be generally two to four inches below the center line of our headlight. In our case 32 inches. We'd want to be somewhere in the 30 to 28 range.Our left one is actually right about at 32 so it's pretty much dead level and we want that to be actually a little bit lower than the right side so what I'm going to go for here is getting the left side to about 28 inches, 29 inches and I'm going to go right to the 30 mark on the right side so we'll have our left cutoff a little lower to prevent from blinding drivers on the other side of the road and our right side will be a little higher to still give us a good view ahead of us.

Block the headlight that you aren't aiming with a piece of cardboard. You could use a chair with a jacket over it, which is what we're going to do. We have our socket and ratchet on the adjuster. We're going to see which way moves the headlight. Right now I'm turning clockwise or to the right and the beam is going up. It's also very important: you don't want to lean too much of your weight onto the vehicle while you're doing this and you also don't want to push against the headlight in any way. Clockwise is bringing it up. We're going to rotate it counterclockwise until we get down to 28 inches and again, we're using a headlight aiming board but you can easily do this with a piece of tape and marking everything off. Our cutoff there is right at 28 inches. Just where I wanted it. I'll move our chair in front of the driver's headlight and you can see there that they are pretty much level at this point, which isn't a bad thing but just a couple of turns can get us a little more visibility and that's why we're here. I'll rotate this one clockwise up to 30 inches. That cutoff's right there so we're now two inches below the center axis of our headlight on the passenger side and four inches below on the driver side and that's what your headlights should look like.

If adjusting fog lights as well, you'll usually find something similar to this like our 2011 Camaro where it's a Philips head screw or possibly a hex bolt or just a little thumb screw or something you move with a flat blade screwdriver or pry tool. Really it's going to be very similar to the style of adjuster and procedure of adjusting a headlight on any vehicle.

Now we're going to show you a method you can use to aim your headlights assuming you don't have a headlight aiming board or access to one and can't justify making one just for aiming your headlights one time.

We already know the center line of our headlights are at 32 inches. I have my vehicle pulled up to the wall. We want to mark where the center of our vehicle is just as a reference. In this case I'll be using the badge on the front of the car. Mine's a little awkward because I have this beam here. You'll be using a flat board. There's my center mark. Now I'm going to go over in front of the axis dots in my headlights and I'm going to put it just about straight level with them. This doesn't have to go all the way down or all the way up. Just keep it right about inline with that headlight. I'm going straight to this axis as well. We'll now back our vehicle up 25 feet to the front of the headlights from our wall or in our case the back of our board.

I know the height of my headlight axis is 32 inches so I'm going to make a mark on my tape 32 inches up from the ground. Now I already know that I'm going to want to adjust my headlight four inches below this line on the driver's side. I'm going to make our 32 mark on the passenger side and on this side I know I want to be two inches below my axis. Just to make this a little easier to see at distance I'm going to take another piece of tape. I'm going to put my bottom edge flat with my 30 mark here so my cutoff is going to sit right here and putting the tape above that line makes it easier for me to see a difference if there's any lighting shining up there. Then we'll do the same thing with my 28 mark on the driver's side. Again, this isn't super precise but we're just doing this to make the vehicle safe to drive. Your local inspection station will have to do a precise measurement if your state does a headlight aim inspection.

Now we know roughly where our headlights are. You can sort of see the two cutoffs here but to make things easier I have a jacket on the back of a chair that I'll be using to block each headlight. My driver's side is a good ways higher than it should be and the passenger side is quite a bit too low. What we're going to do now is use the appropriate tool to adjust the headlight.

It's important that you don't put your weight onto the vehicle while you do this. I'm going to start clockwise, which brings my headlight up. That's good. That's the way we want to go. Counterclockwise would bring it down and I'm going to bring that cutoff line right to the bottom of my tape so it's light and the brightest part is just below the tape but the tape line is still dark. Slide the chair over to the passenger side and now I know counterclockwise should bring the driver's side headlight down. Bring that down. Same thing until my cutoff line. You can see the tape getting darker there. Right there my brightest point is at the bottom of the tape. You can see now that our passenger side is about two inches higher than the driver's side, which is exactly what we want. So our driver's side won't blind drivers coming the other way and our right side will still stay nice and far out so we can keep an eye on the side of the road for animals coming out of the woods or pedestrians on the sidewalk.

We performed this with a 2009 Nissan Rogue but the basics of this procedure are going to be the same on any vehicle. Your only major differences are going to be where that center axis of your headlight is, your specific state's inspection requirements for headlight height, and the exact location and tool you'll need for your adjusters, but what we've done here is gotten a nice new set of headlights aimed so we can drive safely and still get the best performance out of our product.

Thanks for watching. Visit us at 1AAuto.com for quality auto parts, fast and free shipping, and the best customer service in the industry.

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