How to maintain headlight focus and visibility

In Summary

•When vehicles are freshly imported both brand new and second hand, the light focus and intensity is usually pronounced.

•As time passes, so does the light focus and intensity.

A headlight.
A headlight.

The curfew has been around for more than a year now but one thing is for sure, it won't go on forever before we get back our freedom of driving at night for long periods, especially over the weekends when we were used to traveling upcountry. Being able to see the road at night gives the driver an easy time to fully concentrate on driving and maintain a steady speed. Failure to see the road may lead to unnecessary brakes and a lack of confidence on the road which could lead to accidents.

 When vehicles are freshly imported both brand new and second hand, the light focus and intensity is usually so pronounced leading to a splendid night driving experience. As time passes so does the light focus and intensity fade away. Some times this could be brought about by the headlights being oxidised smoked windshields and headlights but in most cases it turns out that the light focusing is the main problem. Efforts by many motorists to replace the bulbs with higher wattage bulbs seem not to bear any significant changes.

 Surprisingly, as most drivers have lamented of not being able to see the road at night, the irony is that they get signalled by oncoming vehicles to dim down their lights yet in a real sense they are not on full lights. This is double trouble because you are struggling to see the road on low beam and now you are being asked by the oncoming to dim the lights further.

 When this happens, be assured that your headlights are poorly focused. There are several causes of headlight misalignment that we thought we should let you know about.

Faulty height control/level sensor

Most modern cars come with automatic light focusing that utilises at least 2 level sensors fitted on the front and rear axles to monitor the inclination of the vehicle on the road. It is from this inclination that the control unit will determine whether the vehicle is laden or unladen. When the car is laden it means its centre of gravity is lower so the lights need to be raised a bit higher for the driver to see ahead and vice verser when it is unladen.

Faulty or removed height control from any of the axles means the headlights will be permanently fixed in one position. for example, if it is fixed in an upward position will keep on blinding oncoming drivers. They will keep on insinuating to you as if you are on a high beam even when you are not.

Brocken headlamp clamps

All headlights are made of plastics and so is the clamps. Most of these clamps are easy to break especially when someone leans on the headlight when the bonnet is opened. Failing to repair the clamps leads to serious misalignment. Sometimes vehicle owners usually carry out quick repairs to the broken brackets with fibreglass without considering the original angle. This also leads to serious headlight misalignment.

Mixing of left-hand drive/right-hand drive headlights

Since all left-hand drive cars usually drive on the right while right-hand drive cars drive on the left of the road, the light focusing from their headlights are never the same. All the headlights are engineered in such a way that the driver's side headlight only focuses at the centre of a road while the light on the passenger side focuses on the curb to focus on the road signs. By so doing chances of directing a beam to the oncoming is minimised.

 When ordering new lights for your car especially from abroad, you must be sure from which region you are buying them. Buying lights from America for the Kenyan market without notifying the seller that you intend to use the lights on s keep left country could land you into trouble with other road users asking you to stop blinding them without your knowledge.

Always notify your seller. They are aware of this and they already got you covered I their design.


 Misaligned headlights

Whether or not the headlight is electrically focused, on the backside of the headlight, 2 adjusting screws are usually provided for mechanical adjustment. One is for vertical adjustment while the other one is for horizontal adjustment. In most cases, if the vehicle is being worked on and the lights are removed, someone could tamper with them and the alignment can be lost. Once the lights are back on the car use the manual adjustment screws to adjust the focus in a dark room or on the road at night. Keep the beam on the driver's side as low as possible at the centre of the road, the passenger side headlight should be kept slightly higher but the beam should be biased to the left side such that the road signs are visible. this is just a simple way of doing it yourself and keeping other drivers safe on the road otherwise the best way to carry out light focus is by using professionals who have every detail and parameter for each car.

Improper vehicle  restoration after an accident

A small variation in vehicles geometry may affect the headlight focusing. The entire car could be well fitted but missing out on a smaller detail like the bumper slide or a radiator panel can cause the headlight mounting points to throw the focus out of proportion.

All the above factors contributing to misaligned headlight focus can only be corrected by light focus machines found in well established automotive service shops in Nairobi and a few other towns in the country.

 The focusing is re-calibrated using an aiming board with graduations denoting out of range focus for every car. When going for recalibration always ensure that your fuel tank is at least half-filled and the vehicle is free of any other luggage apart from the tools and spare tyre that comes with it. Also, the suspension shocks should be in good condition all around.

Most fog lights also come with adjustment screws for proper focusing and may also be affected by all the factors affecting the headlights.

Avoid blinding oncoming drivers at night by conducting headlights focusing on your car whenever you feel the lights are not well focused.

Until next week feel free to ask us any questions related to automotive or give us a topic you feel we should handle in the comments section

The writer is the owner of Boosted Auto car repair shop