Friday, November 6, 2009

Beater How-To: Aiming Headlights

During the creation of Beaterblog and specifically the How-To section, we came to the conclusion that tutorials should not just include the steps necessary to complete the job, but the stuff-ups along the way as well. Let's be honest - things rarely go off without a hitch and maybe it will even provide more material. In this How-To, I'll explain an easy way to aim headlights but also how I managed to totally mess things up.

1. Start out just before dark by grabbing a couple beers, a yard stick, and some electric tape and set off to find a location such as a garage door, flat wall, or drive-in movie screen with a level approach for about 35-40 feet. This will be your chalkboard where the headlight aligning is done.

2. Next, turn the headlights on and pull the car up so that it is completely perpendicular to the working surface and about a 25 feet away from it. Drive slowly up to the surface while watching to see which beam stays in a more constant position - this will be the reference beam. Drive up until you are about a foot away.

3. Holding the yard stick up vertically to the garage door and in front of the most reliable beam, measure 2 inches down from the center of the beam. Run a piece of tape levelly and horizontally across the surface to the other side.

4. Place a piece of tape vertically across the horizontal line to mark the horizontal centerline of the beam.

5. Mark the wall at the center of the vehicle using a vertical piece of tape.

6. Measure horizontally from the tape marking the center of the car to the vertical tape marking the center of the reference beam. Transfer this measurement along the horizontal tape but in the other direction and place a piece of tape vertically across the horizontal tape. This gives you the ideal position of the other light.

7. Get back in the vehicle and back up 25 feet. Watch the direction that the beams move as the vehicle travels backwards. One of mine was looking dead flat and center at the reference point while the other one moved sheepishly down and to the right, like one of my middle school friend's mom's left eye.

8. The goal is to line both headlights up with the cross-hairs that you placed on the working surface, both vertically and horizontally. If you prefer to have the passenger side light aimed slightly to the ditch to spot deer, then just shoot for having the beam aimed a couple inches to the right of the tape.

9. Headlights are mounted typically with three mounting screws that are attached to the headlight with a ball and socket arrangement. Manipulate these screws to aim the headlights. Most likely, the job can not be done by only turning one or two of the screws as you may have to compensate for the change in height as you move the beam left or right.

10. The point where I went wrong is that I didn't check for interference before adjusting the screws, therefore popping my headlight out of the socket and breaking one or two of the adjusters. This was an incredibly dumb move since the whole reason why I had to replace thae lamp in the first place is because of an interference issue that caused breakage. Lesson learned.

11. Stay tuned for future How-To columns about how to fix these interference issues permanently. Most likely this will involve yet more beer, hydraulic equipment, and some very fundamental physics involving force and levers.

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