Headlight adjustment (& auxiliary lights)


Capt. Mike

Moderator
Headlight Adjustment:

I get exasperated with headlight adjusting, particularly in early years when the state inspection station always claimed they were out of adjustment as a way to rip customers off with a tack-on fee.

In most of the years of the sealed beam, the lens had 3 small protrusions called -- well, this is a family site -- but they provided the zeroing attachment point for the adjusters. Most overseas OE equipment, including the highly efficient factory quartz halogen systems, didn't have these. Thus they were "illegal" in many states and most of the garages couldn't adjust lights without them. In those states with regulations requiring the SAE spec lights, the stations could legitimately flunk a vehicle inspection.

In the later years, with the emergence of the smooth aerodynamic lights, other systems came into use that are either freestanding, or use a suction-cup type attachment. Needless to say, they are expensive. Some fancy headlights have a build-in level for vertical adjustment by the user to compensate for different loads. Great idea, which means VW will never put it into our Westies.

In reality, most adjusting equipment is $500 dollar solutions to a $2 problem. All you need is a flat wall at the end of a level space big enough to park the car 5 meters (16.5 ft.) back, a yardstick and a roll of masking tape. And a heavy towel to cover the lights not being adjusted.

Bentley has left manual adjustment out of the later editions, but the older Type II manual has some instructions in Section 4-8.1. I prefer the following from the Porsche 911 factory manual as it can be done in the smallest distance, usually in the pad in front of a garage. They principle is the same for all cars.

1. Park the car with the headlights 5 meters (16.5 feet) from the wall and square on. MEASURE!

2. Measure the height of the center of the headlight from the ground.

3. On the wall, mark that height with a horizontal strip of masking tape. (I prefer to use the top edge of tape as my edge.) Get behind the car and sight very carefully the center of the vehicle and mark that point on the wall with a small vertical strip of masking tape.

4. Measure the horizontal distance between centers of headlights. Mark those same points centered on the wall with additional vertical strips of tape. Measure down 2" and place a second horizontal strip of tape.

5. Adjust the low beams to the intersection of the vertical and lower horizontal tape. If the low beams are to European standards where there is a built-in "V" point or "eyebrow" to raise the right side of low beam, place the center of the V slightly to the right of center, say 1-2". This is due to their raising the right side of low beam above center to read road signs, but would blind oncoming drivers if centered or to left of center.

6. If equipped with separate bulbed high beams, adjust them to the upper light centers.

7. Do it under full load!!! Unfortunately, many don't follow this common sense procedure and adjust lights with no driver or cargo on board. Then spend their highway time being cursed and flashed by oncoming drivers. Load your vehicle as for a trip! Include expected passengers. I fully understand the problem of having to do a headlight adjustment the night of a big trip, but it's the best way.

Some hints from experience:

a. Fudge a little to the low side -- 18-wheelers' huge mirrors make a light adjusted too high miserable on them and they may be less than friendly about it. And they do communicate with the other drivers around them. Learned that the hard way when I heard them talking about my fog lights on the Pickemup that I hadn't adjusted for the trailer tongue weight.

b. You can correct for the load vs. light adjustments by measuring (at that adjustment range of 16.5 feet) the beam height on the wall loaded, then again after you unload at the end of a trip. Then make light load adjustments accordingly. I have to adjust the Pickemup lights 1" low to account for the trailer.

c. DON'T leave the tape on the garage wall. The next hot day will leave tape residue you may never get off. On some of the modern "cardboard" garage doors, you might even damage the panels -- do a little test spot before ruining a door.

d. A roll of heavy dark butcher paper can accomplish the same results and be reused. Maybe two large pieces of cardboard with the joining point as center. My local VW dealer has a gridded chart taped to their front shop wall, great if you have multiple vehicles. But not cheap. I've seen them in some high-end auto boutique type catalogs -- outside my price range.
 
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Capt. Mike

Moderator
Driving & Fog Lights:

Driving lights are extra bright, long-range beams focused far ahead. Adjust driving lights to their centers in the same manner as high beams. In the later Vanagons, the smaller square headlights are actually driving lights.

Fog lights are the wide-angle lights with a very sharp vertical cut-off so nothing reflects back into the driver’s eyes. They may be white or yellow. Adjust fog lights to a point 2” below center in the same manner as low beams.

Both will require additional measurements of lamp height and centers.
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
Not really an adjustment item, but related:

Fog lights, particularly the yellow ones, make great daytime running lights. For some reason, they seem to attract more attention or register on other motorists better than the common headlights. And that's the whole purpose of running lights. DO NOT use parking lights while underway. It is illegal in most states and creates a safety hazard by giving the wrong impression.

I suggest wiring fog lights so the relay is activated off the parking lights. This automatically means tail-lights are on whenever they are, which is a good idea, and will also shut them off when the light switch goes off, saving a dead battery.

Many modern cars have factory fog lights wired to low beams only so they shut off when going to high. I dislike this as they make a great wide-angle light for the road shoulders. Since they don't project above centers, there is no reason to dim for oncoming traffic. Thus I've jumped the 'high-beam off' relay on my one vehicle so equipped. Yes, you will occassionally get some motorist flashing because he counted your lights instead of whether they blinded him or not. (But it could also mean you have something out of adjustment -- so check!)

Driving lights are great for that back-roads trip and those all-nighters across the Western Plains. Unfortunately, there are fewer & fewer times we can use them. They require very early dimming for oncoming traffic and cannot be used when following at all. Some have a range of over 5,000 feet!

They must be wired to the high beam circuit so they automatically shut off when ever dimming the headlights. This means they must be dimmed even on Interstates with wide medians (should be anyway). On my '90 Vanagon, I've put a cut-out switch into the factory driving light circuit for those rare circumstances where the factory high-beam might be used by not the extra range of the driving lights, such as following at half-a-mile.
 
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judlandis

New member
As I contemplate another winter of Pacific Northwest rain and fog, and snowy mountain driving, I'm thinking about Vanagon lighting. First, does anyone have thoughts or experience with Go Westy's "headlight upgrade kit"? They claim higher wattage, I think. Worth $90? How hard to install? Second, I'm looking at Hella fog lights. Big round or smaller square: any difference besides appearance? (I'm partial to the look of the big, round ones.) What about amber vs. white? I'm thinking amber for all the fog I drive in, but don't know.
 

icarus

Moderator
I did the headlight upgrade a year or so ago. Very easy installation. Much, much better lighting. I also have a set of hella fogs and hella driving lights. (the square ones, I can't remember the number.) The combination of all make for great lights. Brights with the driving lights are almost too bright ( the reflective lane markers reflect too much!) but for wide open spaces there is no substitute. The only problem with the Hellas is when (not if) you break a lens with a rock there is no replacment, you have to buy a whole new set. I'm driving with clear tape over two lenses right now.

The go westy kit with the single relay works quite well. I have not any headlight switch problems with them. The only caution I have heard (but not experiance) is that the bulb sockets tend to burn out with the larger bulbs. I carry a couple of spares just in case.

After the upgrade you realize how bad the stock lights are.

Good luck

Icarus

P.s. I like the white lights. Even in heavy snow I can see the road. Dense fog is dense fog no matter. Also pay attention to aiming, a bit too high and they reflect the rain and snow much worse that stock.
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
Much of the lighting quandry is perception and influenced by old wive's tales.

First, the power -- i.e. wattage -- is not the major determining factor of light effectiveness. Most of the better light units have their reflective and lens capabilities designed around a particular bulb style & wattage, most common a Halogen H-3 55w. Increasing power in the same light often results in light scatter, loss of beam focus and causes more glare & oncoming blindness than the minor amount of distance gained. To me, this is particularly true in a Westy where the speed won't outdrive the standard units. Comparison of candlepower to lumens is, at best, a black art. They are measured differently with different standards. The roughest conversion is 12.57 lumens = 1 candlepower.

A conversion to a modern, quality style like the European style H-4 is good in many vehicles because it provides more quality, better beam definition and sharper cut-off than the US spec 9004's. But, with good fogs to supplement the low beam and the factory drive lights, you are usually well set for today's conditions and the Westy's speed because they came equipped with quality Bosch or Hella units. It becomes a case of 'diminishing returns' -- does the small increase justify the rather high cost of conversion. I'd love to have the Euro H-4's myself because they have sharper cutoffs, but just haven't come up with the justification for the major mods required. Unfortunately, the necessary parts to convert via VW parts list just aren't available in the US, at least for reasonable cost like so many other marquees.

Fogs: I prefer the yellow, not so much for any gain in effectiveness but for the 'attraction effect' mentioned earlier in this topic. I don't think you'll find any reduction in actual lighting by staying with the yellow. And, again, the yellow's are less likely to create the irate oncoming driver who just counted lights instead of whether the set blinded or not.

Do not just change bulbs for more power; the Westy wiring is designed for a particular load and no higher. If you do go that route, you'll have to rewire to a direct relay and use the existing wiring to operate the relay instead of feed the lights. Even with standard bulbs, you will find Westies with heat stress on the wiring (browning, brittle insulation), especially near the bulb base. Since the Westy does NOT wire headlights via a relay, you would be carrying that extra wattage through the entire light system including the switch. NOT recommended. Susquehana Motor Sports has an excellent disertation on changing bulbs on their site under 'replacement bulbs'.

From an aesthetics point of view, I prefer the rectangular fogs and round driving. Size is not important; the smaller ones do quite well in a Westy application. Icarus may have some newer info than I, but I've been able to get replacement parts for Hella -- but have to go through a Hella dealer; what he may have referred to is that some model lenses are a combined lens/relector unit, but that's been true since the '60s.

Susquehanna/Hella has an excellent selection of Hella products. Pay attention to lamp dimensions; many of the new smaller lights are much deeper and thus can't be mounted on the bumper without excessive and thus unprotected extension. Others require adjustment in the mount rather than the light attachment. However some models like the 550 have clear acrylic light protectors, something to consider if driving on a lot of gravel roads.
 
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judlandis

New member
Thanks for the great responses, guys.

Another quick question: can I mount fogs on TOP of my front bumper? I don't want the lights hanging down there below, in front of the air dam. I think they'd be vulnerable to snow drift and rock/pebble damage in the blizzards of the Cascades. I want to aim them low, but mount them higher. They'd still be well below the other lights
 

icarus

Moderator
Jud,

I have mine mounted on top of the chrome bumper ('86 syncro) for all the same reasons. Truth betold, the fogs are only marginaly useful in the fog. They are great for fill light on the shoulders, deer etc. I tend to drive with them on all the time. I never need to dim the fogs for oncoming traffic, but I'll dim them following closely. I also run the fogs as daytime running lights. No point in burning all the parking/tail lights all day. (The Hellas I have are the rectangular ones that are about 31/2" x 6". Black plastic housings.) I found them on line (although I would preferto buy anything local if i can) from Denunzio racing products. About $50 for each set.

Good luck

Icarus

Good luck.
 

judlandis

New member
Update: Fog lights.

I went with the Hella 500's in amber. I really wanted that Paris-to-Dakar look. But I think the switch they supplied is cheesy-looking, and GoWesty is sold out of the OEM German fog light switch. So I'm thinking I'll install the cheesy switch temporarily while I await a new supply.
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
When you get your factory fog light switch, it has TWO settings. One for the fog lights and a 2nd position for the rear fog light. The latter is WELL WORTH installation. You will probably want to install a fog-light-on indicator light somewhere. It can be just a tiny LED somewhere in the dash (see my post on switch light for the A/C system) The first position on the switch doesn't have one; the 2nd has one built into the switch. Hella makes two models of rear fog light (an extra bright taillight for use in reduced visibility). Either is excellent.
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
Yellow fogs on the way out; comments on blue lights.

Last year, I hit a deer. 1st one, and for my county and driving conditions (often pre-dawn in the country) I'm statistically way below average. And this one, I just ticked the rear end with the right corner of the Syncro. I had stood on the brakes but was still probably doing 5-10 mph. The deer didn't even slow down. But, it took out the right fog light, which in turn damaged the bumper where it was mounted and was pushed back far enough to dent the nose. My comprehensive policy paid it all without a murmer, but I had to go outside for the fog lights since they were no longer available from VW. I found an equivelant set of yellow Hellas from Susquehanna but they reminded me that yellow fogs were being discontinued. Seems the Europeans have banned the heavy metal content contained in the reflector coating of yellow fogs. I did try a set of the yellow H3 bulbs but they are a joke -- no measurable color and several times the cost. The whites are just as effective, but I liked the yellow and think they have a far greater attraction factor when used as daytime running lights. Susquehanna did say they are supposedly working on more effective bulbs and possibllly a replacement yellow coating, but not in foreseeable future. FYI I have a set of Hella "bulls eye" Micro DE white fogs on my truck and they are excellent, but I've also seen the econo ones at the discount stores and they are worthless. Blue lights, as seen on the pimped-out cars, are equally worthless. The DE's are probably too deep for use on a VW bus. A friend tried a set of the blue H4's on his Mercedes (premium brand) and said they cut his visibilty nearly in half. As a test, I fished them out of the trash and tried them in my car -- similar results -- back in the trash.
 
R

reemadexiva

Guest
Headlight adjustment auxiliary lights

there are adjustment "screws" on the backside of the headlight. Had to do this to my Z4 as well - I think the screw I adjusted was a white plastic Phillips head.

Im sure someone will chime in with a better answer. Good luck

By the way, what best automotive auction do you used in USA? I recently investigated www.carfrom.us automobile auction. I encountered there good salvage BMW 740 2001
.
I'm pleased that i got vehicle history report before purchase. It had undercarriage damage. Do you know other pre-owned automotive auctions online in USA?
 

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