In many cars, headlamp leveling lives in the shadow. Many drivers don’t even know it exists. Therefore it’s not used often enough. But it’s also down to the fact that many don’t know how to control it. Here’s a how-to guide.
One of the problems of headlamp leveling is the standard symbol for it. Not only is it similar to that of the instrument lighting dimmer at first glance, but quite often the two buttons or small wheels sit directly next to each other. It’s a recipe for confusion. If the brightness of the speedometer and the like doesn’t change when you turn what you think is the right controller, that’ll be the one for the headlamp leveling system. Owners of cars with xenon lights have it good. They don’t have such a button and don’t need to worry about headlight range. Their headlights adjust automatically. It’s a similar story for most LED headlights. A note for readers in North America: US regulations don’t require any headlight technology to have headlamp leveling that can be controlled from the cockpit. Therefore most cars don’t have one.
In all other cars the controller is used to lower the headlights when driving with heavy loads. Otherwise they dazzle. Unfortunately many drivers don’t even realize that you can adjust them – and dazzle oncoming traffic. But what is a heavy load? That depends on the car. A small car with four people is already classed as “loaded”. So it’s time to adjust the headlights. In an SUV it’s probably only necessary if the trunk is fully loaded. A situation that at first doesn’t look so critical but has an enormous effect is when there’s a heavy load in the trunk and only the driver is in the car. That’s when it’s high time to level the headlights.
Those who do, often make the mistake of simply putting it on the lowest setting. In other words, the controller is turned as far in the opposite direction as possible. That’s often too much and the range of the headlights drops dramatically. Unfortunately many people don’t notice. Conversely, others are content to leave it just one position below the standard setting although the rear has been pushed down considerably by the load.
Now the question is which headlamp leveling adjustment is the right one for which load. The answer is in the manual. European regulations say that it has to contain specific instructions on what to do. So it’ll say something like “four passengers without load – controller on two”. Or “Only driver with load – position four”. There should also be information on driving with a trailer.
Incidentally, controlling the level doesn’t make headlamp leveling superfluous. If there’s a heavy load behind the rear axle, the beam angle is adjusted upward in these cars as well.
As mentioned above, the controller is often in the wrong position. There’s often a trivial reason – you may have accidentally turned it when you last cleaned the dashboard. The same is true for the instrument lighting dimmer, but a dark instrument cluster stands out more so drivers will notice.