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Technical Headlight adjustment on hot rods with big n littles

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Roothawg, Oct 21, 2020.

  1. Roothawg
    Joined: Mar 14, 2001
    Posts: 22,509


    When I was a kid my dad always had me out in the driveway, marking the garage door with tape to get a focus for the headlights on the old cars.

    I was noticing the other night, that I couldn't see crap in the 35 at night. Mine has sealed beams, but I think they were pointing out in the bar ditch.

    The guys at the Ford barn are talking about making sure the car is level and using a carpenter level etc. That works for unmolested cars with standard wheels and tires all around, but what about big n littles? Cars with rake wouldn't work with that scenario, me thinks.

    Is there a number for measuring on the garage door X amount of feet away, so many feet up etc? I don't want folks shaking their fists at me, but I need to help the old man eyes out as much as possible.
    loudbang, Tim and -Brent- like this.
  2. Roothawg
    Joined: Mar 14, 2001
    Posts: 22,509


  3. Tim
    Joined: Mar 2, 2001
    Posts: 13,514

    from KCMO

    That laser is a great work around. A friend adjusted my head lights while he had it for some work years ago and it was a massive improvement.

    after having to work on one of the fenders I had to re adjust it and it’s never seemed as bright since. May have to go buy a laser and give it another go
    loudbang likes this.
  4. Roothawg
    Joined: Mar 14, 2001
    Posts: 22,509


    I've been reading reviews on laser levels for the last I am really confused.
    loudbang and Tim like this.

  5. Tim
    Joined: Mar 2, 2001
    Posts: 13,514

    from KCMO

    I bet.

    I’m trying to figure out where I’d find 20 foot of flat ish ground lol
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2020
    pitman, nochop, Johnny Gee and 4 others like this.
  6. Torana68
    Joined: Jan 28, 2008
    Posts: 1,320

    from Australia

    That’s how I do it, if you need a comparison mark the door/wall using a car with well adjusted lights first. Do it about one car length off the wall/door . As a gestimate your low beam should be around modern car tail light height when your 2 seconds back at 60. Your Low beam shouldn’t light up their rearview mirror at any time .
    pitman and 41rodderz like this.
  7. BJR
    Joined: Mar 11, 2005
    Posts: 7,473


    Most 40's and 50's factory shop manuals show how to adjust the headlights on the car that they cover with pictures and measurements.
    Roothawg likes this.
  8. squirrel
    Joined: Sep 23, 2004
    Posts: 50,950


    don't need no stinkin lasers for this. It's not rocket surgery. Just need to find a wall that's next to a level piece of ground, it does not need to be in your shop. And if you can't find such a wall, you can use yourself, just see where the light shines on you when you're right in front of the car, then walk away 20 feet and see if it's still in the same place, or a couple inches lower (this is with the lights on high beam, which should point almost exactly straight ahead)
  9. rockable
    Joined: Dec 21, 2009
    Posts: 3,791


    I know I have some OCD tendencies but I'm never going to go to those lengths to aim a pair of headlights. Just find you a wall to shine it on and use a tape measure. You can do it before you ever get the laser set up.
    Roothawg and guthriesmith like this.
  10. guthriesmith
    Joined: Aug 17, 2006
    Posts: 6,473

    1. H.A.M.B. Chapel

    Are you sure that it isn't that you are just getting old like the rest of us and can't see as well at night? :rolleyes:
    Atwater Mike, KevKo and Roothawg like this.
  11. Roothawg
    Joined: Mar 14, 2001
    Posts: 22,509


    That’s the way I usually do it, but figured someone might have a more accurate process, short of mounting lasers.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2020
    squirrel likes this.
  12. RMONTY
    Joined: Jan 7, 2016
    Posts: 2,299


    I live out in the middle of BFE. When I need to adjust headlights on a vehicle, I find a really dark back road and break out the screwdriver, Torx Driver, whatever it takes and start adjusting until I can see what I think I need to see. Then I go take a drive down the highway with oncoming traffic and see if I get high beam flashed by drivers. If not, all good. If they do flash me, I take them down just a bit until they stop bright lighting me. :D
  13. goldmountain
    Joined: Jun 12, 2016
    Posts: 3,478


  14. Model A Gomez
    Joined: Aug 26, 2006
    Posts: 1,525

    Model A Gomez

    I've adjusted motorcycle and old car headlights by measuring the center of the light and marking that height on a wall 25 feet away with good results. On my Model A's with flat headlight lens I make sure they are straight with a straight edge across them so they both aim ahead.
  15. jnaki
    Joined: Jan 1, 2015
    Posts: 6,859



    It may or may not be the same in Oklahoma, but here is a CAL DMV information note: The ruling for all cars has different provisions, but the reading is interesting. I was told in so many words that any headlight change/adjustment must be within the CAL DMV laws. DUH!
    upload_2020-10-22_10-5-32.png The ruling allows a pair of 7 inch single lights on either side. Or, a pair of 5 inch lights in a dual light situation. The 64-65 El Camino had a pair of 5 inch lights from the factory. The high beams were in the center two lights. They provided bright lights on the street, according to the law, but out in the pitch black So Cal desert dirt roads leading us to the pit/staging areas of those long distance Hare and Hound dirt bike races was like driving in…pitch dark.

    The stock high beams lit up the road, but the angle needed to be adjusted with the two bike and tools/spares in the back. The air shocks from the factory worked to and from the desert areas, but did not light up the pitch black roads for absolute clarity. Even if I adjusted the high beams only an inch up, it still did not give off enough light.

    The rule applies to normal street driving with all outside commercial lights and other headlights in the surrounding roadway. It did not account for a pitch black road in the middle of the Mojave desert, 100 miles away from any city center.

    My El Camino high beams were replaced with the latest (1965-66) high beam road lights in the stock configuration. (photo above) These lights lit up the whole area on the side of the car and so far into the distance that it was like driving in daylight. Since there was no one oncoming on those pitch black roads, we could use the lights to the glee of my tired eyes.


    But, the CHP inspector at a check point near our apartment noticed that the lights were a little different on the stock appearing El Camino. When he told me to turn them on, it made him turn his head away, instantly. Then he proceeded to tell me to get those replaced and how dangerous they were for city driving. I told him I never use the high beams except on those pitch black desert roads. He said to use those lights inside of auxiliary cannisters and put the stock ones back in place. It was an equipment ticket fix, not a moving violation. Done and done…until the next long distance desert race out near the Red Rock Area of the Mojave Desert.

    for your information from the California DMV code book:

    Lamps designed for a different vehicle can be used, but they must meet the requirement for the vehicle on which they are used. On vehicles 1968 and older, tail lamps must be visible at a minimum distance of 500 feet. Tail lamps on vehicles 1969 and newer must be visible at a minimum distance of 1000 feet.

    The BUREAU OF AUTOMOTIVE REPAIR HANDBOOK FOR LAMP ADJUSTING STATIONS Revised May 2015 Lamp 14 Headlamp (centerline) Nominal Aim Inspection limits Mounting Height Vertical Aim for Vertical Aim 22 to 36 Inches 0" Vertical 4" up, 4" down (56 to 90 cm) (10 cm up, 10 cm down) lamps must be mounted at the same angle to the roadway and the centerline of the vehicle as on the original vehicle.

    It is the technician s responsibility to know = applicable laws relating to lamp adjustment. Many relevant sections are located in the California Vehicle Code and the California Code of Regulations, Titles 13 and 16. This information is also located in the Laws and Regulations Handbook available free of charge from the Bureau of Automotive Repair. The Vehicle Code is also available on the Internet at and the Laws and Regulations may be found at

    Headlamp (centerline) Nominal Aim Inspection limits Mounting Height Vertical Aim for Vertical Aim 22 to 36 Inches 0" Vertical 4" up, 4" down (56 to 90 cm) (10 cm up, 10 cm down)
    CHAPTER 7 - CERTIFICATION OF LAMPS ON SPECIALLY CONSTRUCTED OR RECONSTRUCTED VEHICLES Department of Motor Vehicles Requirements. Specially constructed and reconstructed vehicles must be inspected and certified for compliance with lamp, brake, and emission control regulations before they can be registered. Inspection Procedures. To issue a lamp certificate, an adjuster BUREAU OF AUTOMOTIVE REPAIR HANDBOOK FOR LAMP ADJUSTING STATIONS Revised May 2015 Lamp 18 should inspect a vehicle as follows: a. Be sure that the vehicle is equipped with all required lighting devices (such as headlamps, taillamps, stoplamps, reflectors, license plate lamps, turn signals, backup lamps, etc.) in accordance with the Vehicle Code for the model year of the vehicle. Be sure that all devices are operating properly, are installed at the proper angle and height, and are correctly aimed, as applicable.

    DIVISION 12. EQUIPMENT OF VEHICLES [24000 - 28160]
    ( Division 12 enacted by Stats. 1959, Ch. 3. )
    CHAPTER 2. Lighting Equipment [24250 - 26106]
    Chapter 2 enacted by Stats. 1959, Ch. 3. )
    ARTICLE 2. Headlamps and Auxiliary Lamps [24400 - 24411]
    ( Article 2 enacted by Stats. 1959, Ch. 3. )

    (a) A motor vehicle, other than a motorcycle, shall be equipped with at least two headlamps, with at least one on each side of the front of the vehicle, and, except as to vehicles registered prior to January 1, 1930, they shall be located directly above or in advance of the front axle of the vehicle. The headlamps and every light source in any headlamp unit shall be located at a height of not more than 54 inches nor less than 22 inches.
    (b) A motor vehicle, other than a motorcycle, shall be operated during darkness, or inclement weather, or both, with at least two lighted headlamps that comply with subdivision (a).
    (c) As used in subdivision (b), “inclement weather” is a weather condition that is either of the following:

    (1) A condition that prevents a driver of a motor vehicle from clearly discerning a person or another motor vehicle on the highway from a distance of 1,000 feet.
    (2) A condition requiring the windshield wipers to be in continuous use due to rain, mist, snow, fog, or other precipitation or atmospheric moisture.

    Headlamps arranged to provide a single distribution of light not supplemented by auxiliary driving lamps are permitted on motor vehicles manufactured and sold prior to September 19, 1940, in lieu of multiple-beam road lighting equipment if the single distribution of light complies with the following requirements and limitations:

    (a) The headlamps shall be so aimed that when the vehicle is not loaded none of the high-intensity portion of the light shall at a distance of 25 feet ahead project higher than a level of five inches below the level of the center of the lamp from which it comes, and in no case higher than 42 inches above the level on which the vehicle stands at a distance of 75 feet ahead.

    (b) The intensity shall be sufficient to reveal persons and vehicles at a distance of at least 200 feet.

    Two 7" sealed beams comprise a complete headlamp system, while four 5" sealed beams are needed to have a complete system.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2020
  16. flatheadpete
    Joined: Oct 29, 2003
    Posts: 10,231

    from Burton, MI

    I just adjusted the lights on my daily last night. I replaced halogen with LED and they never seemed quite right. I adjusted them a bit, drove a bit...until they seemed right. Drove this morning in dark and rain...MUCH BETTER! My 45 yr old eyes dont like the dark in the rain. These seem to not 'glare' as much as my halogen bulbs did.
    Roothawg and -Brent- like this.
  17. Like everyone said dark stretch of road, adjust one beam, 20-25ft out and in the middle of the vehicle (the beams should not cross but come close to meeting). Then once the one beam is good, find a flat wall with a flat ground (I have a favorite strip mall liquor store back wall) and adjust the other side to the same height. Try to stand in the center of the car and duplicate the distance between the already adjusted headlight and you.

    If you really want to you can buy a good used headlight aimer kit (doesn't work on composite headlights too well). I should note this Hoppy kit only works on seal beams (uses the 3 tabs on the lens) and with adapters for composite, but they still have tabs.

    Or the really spendy optical unit, which simulates 25ft and can do old headlights (pre sealed beam):

    Unless you get the older Hoppy kit REAL cheap, the wall method is fine.

    I used to do the California Certification that Jnaki is referring to.......I sold my optical aimer when I stopped doing them.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2020
    Automotive Stud and Roothawg like this.
  18. scrap metal 48
    Joined: Sep 6, 2009
    Posts: 6,077

    scrap metal 48

    On 30s hot rods with separate headlights, I don't like the look of them when they are aimed right.. They look like they're shinning in the air.. I always aim them down to where they look good and run with my brights on.. They don't shine up on oncoming cars and I can see the road fine and they look better....
    -Brent- likes this.
  19. DDDenny
    Joined: Feb 6, 2015
    Posts: 16,059

    from oregon

    Is there a problem officer?
    thintin, woodsnwater and Roothawg like this.
  20. Tman
    Joined: Mar 2, 2001
    Posts: 36,064


    Adjust them to where YOU like them. Screw the other traffic. With todays super bright OEM headlights I highly doubt your will be bright enough to piss any body off by comparison. Hell, the lights have gotten so good my that in my daily I run high beams all the time due to deer and wildlife. Even then I barely get a notice because there are so many HID and other flamethrowers out on our roads.
    Roothawg, scrap metal 48 and Tim like this.
  21. Tim
    Joined: Mar 2, 2001
    Posts: 13,514

    from KCMO

    @Tman the low beams in my Subaru are brighter than the 46’s brights all day long. I agree
    thintin, Roothawg and scrap metal 48 like this.
  22. Tman
    Joined: Mar 2, 2001
    Posts: 36,064


    Yeah, I am impressed with the lights on my Subie as well
    Roothawg likes this.
  23. nochop
    Joined: Nov 13, 2005
    Posts: 2,629

    from norcal

    I drive around in the dark and adjust as Needed. Easy though as the lights are on a light bar
  24. If you can find one of these for a reasonable amount of money, they work great. One nice thing with these is you can adjust both vertical and horizontal aim with no measuring or walls needed, all you need is a level spot to park the car. Same company (Hoppy) also made a inexpensive single unit that would give vertical adjustment only. Both turn up used.
    Roothawg and Moriarity like this.
  25. lostone
    Joined: Oct 13, 2013
    Posts: 2,006

    from kansas

    I just turn the lights on low beam, walk out 25 ft. And adjust until the center of the beam hits my knee caps with me standing straight in front of the light.

    Fine tune from there if needed, only change about 1 in 8 is all doing it this way. Been doing it like that for 40 yrs....
    Bugguts, nochop, guthriesmith and 2 others like this.
  26. alchemy
    Joined: Sep 27, 2002
    Posts: 17,926


    Old cars, new cars, I adjust them the same. Find a flat stretch of road and tweak them till I like it. There’s no measuring or technology required.
  27. X-cpe
    Joined: Mar 9, 2018
    Posts: 1,406


    State of Maryland has removed headlight aim from their inspection requirements and procedures.
  28. RJP
    Joined: Oct 5, 2005
    Posts: 2,121

    from PNW

    Walmart side wall.... 10pm... your car and a buddy's with well adjusted headlights.... adjust accordingly....
    Roothawg, Algoma56 and Budget36 like this.
  29. Roothawg
    Joined: Mar 14, 2001
    Posts: 22,509


    Could you come down. My kneecaps are higher than yours. :)
    Tim likes this.
  30. lostone
    Joined: Oct 13, 2013
    Posts: 2,006

    from kansas

    I'm 5'10" in tennis shoes or 6'4" in my 6" stilleto high heels so adjust your height accordingly :p
    X-cpe, Tim, Roothawg and 1 other person like this.

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