Checking Your Car's Headlights - Mick's Tips

By: Mick McCrudden

mick mick

When was the last time you checked your lights?

One of the things that doesn’t happen today is the old man isn’t teaching the kids how to check their headlights. It’s not always easy to do on your own, but there are ways. What my grandad did with me was to say, "Young fella, when you’re out at night and pull up at the servo or shopping centre, put you’re lights on and check in the mirror for the red glow reflecting off any nearby surface. Same for the brake lights."

For the headlights, his advice was find a wall and park about five metres (okay, he said 15 feet…) back and check where they’re pointing on low and high beam. Funnily enough, one of the biggest causes of headlights with poor aim is a quick repair. The car goes in to get a bent panel straightened out and no-one thinks to check whether the lights were set up. The lights come out when the wing gets fixed and they never ever – not as long as part of my body has a hole in it – think to re-aim the headlights.

Okay, so when you’re pointing at the wall, it can help to grab a bit of tape and put two crosses level with the lamps and at the same width. On low the beams should dip down and to the left very slightly. On high, they should be dead centre. You might be surprised how often you check this and the car turns out to be cross-eyed.

For a modern car the adjustment is often a knob behind the housing, on older toys it’s often a Phillips head screw reached from the front.

A big difference you’ll notice between older and modern lights is the front lens. On the old car, it has moulded ridges to direct the beam. In a new car, the lens is clear and the direction is provided by the reflector.

The biggest problem we have with modern headlights is pollution. You’ll notice the plastic lens eventually tends to go opaque. What we do for our customers is a good old cut and polish. Normally that will last about six months and you need to do it again. It’s a lot cheaper than a new headlamp.

If you’re considering updating the lamps on your old car, there are a lot of options. One of the more elaborate is LED, which can be done in lots of cases and generally involves a fair bit of work. I’m a bit of a skeptic about doing this for the time being.

An easier option is to make sure you’re running good quality halogen globes and consider upgrading the wattage. In a lot of cases you can bump from the standard 55 watts to nearly double that. It may require some heavier wiring and a relay.

I just recently converted my old 1976 Jag over to halogens and have no regrets at all.

Even without the wattage upgrade, keep in mind there’s a big difference in lighting between the old quartz iodine lamps – you still see them getting around – and updated H4 globes. It’s night and day. So do that, at least.

Look after your lights – it’s always nice to see where you’re going at night…


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