Aiming Headlights

Do It Yourself Project Improves Night Vision

Headlight alignment is not something we think about much until it adversely affects our night driving. Poor nighttime visibility puts you at more risk for an accident than you may realize. The sooner you can spot potential trouble ahead, the more quickly you can react to potential highway dangers. Headlight alignment is also about keeping your light aimed to where you do not blind oncoming traffic, which creates another dangerous driving situation.

Though a lot of us think we cannot align our own headlights, it is something you can do yourself in a driveway or parking lot. If you are going to do it in a driveway, you need a level surface. If you are going to do it in a parking lot, you need total darkness and a level surface.

Sealed Beam vs Composite Headlights

Until the late 1980s, cars and trucks were generally equipped with sealed beam replaceable glass headlights either round or rectangular in shape. When Halogen headlights were introduced early in the 1980s, they looked like a sealed beam, but were a Halogen high-pressure lamp within a sealed beam lamp envelope. A stray stone cast on the highway would damage a sealed beam lamp where it would inflict minimal damage to the optics without blowing the Halogen lamp inside.

In the mid-1980s, vehicles sold new in North America started looking more like the rest of the world with composite headlights blended into the aerodynamic shape of automobile and truck front ends. Ford's Mustang SVO was among the first to have composite headlights in 1985 swiftly followed by countless others.

Over time, composite headlights become milky. There are headlight restoration kits out there where you can rub out composite headlights and make them like new.

Headlight Adjustment

Despite changes in lighting technology throughout the years, basic headlight adjustment has not changed much. Whether it is a sealed beam in a '65 Chevelle or a Lexan composite lamp in an '05 Mustang, basic principles are the same. Lamps adjust up and down or left and right with fine thread adjustment screws. In older applications you will find fine-thread Phillips head screws at 12 o'clock and either 9 or 3 o'clock depending upon side dampened by a spring on each. In newer composite headlight applications, expect to see Allen head fine-thread screws at 12, 9 and 3 o'clock that accomplish the same thing. Whether classic or late-model, lamps pitch up or down and right or left depending on what you want them to do.

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