Among obvious signs that your headlights aren’t properly aimed are oncoming drivers flashing their lights at you because your lights are blinding them, or the road ahead is brightly illuminated for only 20 feet or so, meaning the headlights are aimed too low.

headlightSuspension 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 vehicles 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 oncoming drivers. This should give you a good idea of whether the lights 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. The light beams should be roughly the same height.

Vehicles have an adjustment screw or bolt on the headlight assembly for adjusting headlight height, and some also have one 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 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 at no cost.