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Guide: Replacing headlight adjusters

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Old Sep 14th, 2010, 18:52   #1
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Last Online: Nov 29th, 2019 14:58
Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: Oxford
Default Guide: Replacing headlight adjusters

I haven't seen a guide on this and, to my mild irritation, the kit that I got from Volvo comes without any instructions so it was scarier than I had hoped and I had to use my brain to work it out. So I thought it might be worth doing a guide (though they're obviously not too hard, given that I can figure them out).

First of all, what are they? Little ingeniously-designed devices inside your headlight that that enable you to adjust the vertical and horizontal direction of the beam. They do this by minutely varying the angle of the reflector inside the headlight.

The ones on the x40s seem to be brittle and failure is, I gather, quite common, which can then result in MoT failure... Unless you are very handy this means you need to replace them. The good news is that they are a very great deal cheaper than a new headlight, though (especially if you have the P1 lights) it may, depending on how cheap you can get them, make economic sense to buy some working 2nd hand lights instead. The current price of the kit that I used is 12.40 + VAT (from FRF Volvo Swansea).

What you need

- Cross-headed and flat-bladed screwdrivers.
- 10mm spanner (ideally, especially for the nearside light, one with an angled or hinged end)
- Pliers (maybe)
- Headlight adjuster repair kit. Part number 30623987 (that's correct for the P1 headlight anyway - I'm not sure whether the P2 needs a different part. Rufe of FRF Volvo will advise if you buy from him and tell him your VIN or registration). You need one kit for each adjuster that you need to replace. The kit consists of this

and these:

The black piece in the first picture is the main part of the adjuster. It consists of a metal screw with a ball-shaped head, fitted into an arrangement of plastic gears (inside the black bit) that enable the metal screw to be turned in or out by inserting a screwdriver into the mechanism at 90 degrees to the direction of the metal screw's travel. Your screwdriver, when you use the adjuster, goes into a hole provided in the protuberance on the black plastic bit that can be seen at the top of the picture.

The ball-shaped end of the screw clips into one of the white pieces, and the white piece is in turn attached to the inner or outer top corner of the reflector. So, when you operate the device, it pushes or pulls the relevant corner of the reflector forwards or back within the light to adjust the direction of the beam. The different designs of the two white clips and the way they are fitted to the reflector make one of them shift the reflector horizontally, the other tilt it vertically.

The right-hand white piece in the second picture above is the one you use if it's your horizontal adjuster that is broken; the left-hand one for the vertical. If both your adjusters are broken, you need two kits. I was advised to buy two anyway, since the plastic bits are flimsy/brittle and even if only one adjuster is broken to start with, it's (apparently) quite easy to break the other adjuster while replacing the broken one.

How to do it

1. The first job is to remove the headlight. This has been quite well documented elsewhere and generally poses few problems. Undo the two screws that fix the bumper in the wheel arch. You can see that I'm doing my nearside headlight.


The top one is metal and goes vertically up into the wing; the lower one is one of those plastic screws that, on my car anyway, always seem to be half perished and need to be prised out with a screwdriver and/or pliers and replaced.

2. Then open the bonnet, and look down between the outer edge of the headlight and the indicator. You should see a screw there:

Just loosen this screw; it is held captive by the headlight unit, so don't struggle pointlessly to remove it. If you loosen it just a little, you will find that the indicator can be slid forwards and out, so that the outer side of the headlight is visible. You can leave the indicator hanging out on its wire, or if you are more tidy-minded you can detach the wiring connector at the back of it and put it somewhere safe out of the way.

3. Now, on the outer side of the headlight, undo and remove the two 10mm nuts holding the headlight in position. Top and bottom nuts in this picture, taken from the side of the car, with a bit of the indicator hanging off and just visible at the bottom.

4. There are a further two 10mm nuts similarly holding the inner edge of the headlight in position – attaching it to a vertical metal piece at the front of the engine bay. These nuts are at the back of the light unit, near the edge that is closest to the radiator, one above the other. The picture is taken from the front of the car, bending right over to look at the back of the nearside light. The back of the headlight is on the right; the upper nut near the bottom of the left hand side of the picture, and the lower one nearer the top of the picture, near the middle.

The small white bit that you can see between the two nuts is a clip that holds a wiring connector to the metal in between the two nuts. I had to disconnect it from its hole to gain access to the lower 10mm nut. Remove both 10mm nuts.

5. Twist and remove the round black rear cover of the headlight to reveal the back of the bulbs. Twist and remove the sidelight bulb unit from the headlight (you can leave the bulb in its holder, hanging on the wire), and undo the electrical connectors to the main bulb and the levelling motor – this is the black box attached to the back of the light unit. (Mine are P1 headlights. If you have P2, do whatever it is of the same kind that you need to do to disconnect the wires so that the headlight can be completely removed from the car.)

6. With all four nuts removed and the wiring disconnected, you are ready to remove the headlight itself. Shift it a little towards the centre of the car to free the bolts from which you removed the nuts near the indicator from their holes. Then grasp the headlight with your hands and put your knee firmly on the bumper to push it down enough to allow the lower edge of the headlight to be freed from behind the top edge of the bumper. A good bit of (careful) wiggling and you should be able to get it out. (If not, you are looking at undoing the bolts holding the bumper on beneath the headlight, so that you can lower the bumper further. (I haven't covered this, because I found that I didn't need to do it.))

7. Now take the headlight indoors. If you have as little experience at meddling with the car as I do, a small celebration might not be inappropriate at this point.

8. Now: there are eight metal clips that hold the glass on to the plastic back of the unit. Carefully prise these off with your flat-bladed screwdriver. The clips tend to ping off at high speed and hide themselves under pieces of furniture if you are not careful, so keep a firm finger on each one as you release it.

9. With all the clips off, carefully ease the glass away from the rest of the unit. There is a rubber seal all the way around behind the edge of the glass to make the unit watertight. This may come away with the glass, or it may stay positioned in its slot in the plastic back of the headlight. The seal might want a gentle clean before you put it all back together, but be careful not to damage it.

10. Put the headlight glass somewhere safe on a clean bit of paper with the inside facing down. You don't want to get dirt on the inside of the glass. (Nor, as I was advised by a colleague of Rufe's when ordering the kit, should you attempt to clean the inside of the glass if there appears to be a tacky layer there. I was advised that you can easily wreck it if you do, and that it's best just to protect it from dirt and dust but otherwise leave it alone.)

11. Twist the headlight levelling motor (it's attached by a bayonet fitting) and carefully detach it from the back of the unit. You will see that it has a plastic prong ending in a ball that clips onto a white plastic connector on the back of the reflector. Just gently pull and slide to get it off.

12. You now have an opened-up headlight, minus glass, consisting of (a) the reflector (b) the plastic back piece and (c) whatever survives of your original adjusters (mine were mainly shards of black plastic rattling around inside). The reflector is fastened to the plastic back piece (or not) by the two adjusters.

13. If the original adjusters are attached at all to the reflector and/or plastic back piece, you obviously need to get them off. In order to avoid damage to the reflector, it's best to release the white clips from the reflector first, rather than try to pull the reflector, with clips attached, from the ball-shaped screw-heads. This is because the white clips fit very tightly on the end of the screw, and it takes a strong heave to get them off. In the case of the horizontal adjuster, you can just ease the white clip off the reflector with a screwdriver. You can just about see how it fits on in the picture below. Just ease your screwdriver under the white bit that protrudes on top and you can get the clip off the reflector.

The other white clip, for vertical adjustment, is fixed to the reflector with a screw that goes in to a rubber grommet, as shown in the following pictures of me refitting the new one at a rather later stage of the process:

To get access to the screw that goes in to the grommet, you need to get the reflector released from the plastic back of the light. Since my adjuster was hopelessly broken, I couldn't use it to alter the position of the reflector in relation to the plastic back. The solution is just to crush whatever is left of the black part of the old adjuster with a pair of pliers, so that the remains are narrow enough to be eased forwards through the hole in the plastic back of the light. You can then access the screw holding the white clip to the reflector (shown in the second picture below, in which you can also see the results of the work with the pliers on the old adjuster).

14. Obviously if the white clips are in good condition you could in principle re-use them. But it seemed mad not to use the new ones, given how flimsy the original construction seemed to be. So, after removing the old ones, fit the new white clips to the reflector, re-using the rubber grommet and screw in the case of the vertical adjuster.

15. Fit the new black bits, screw-head end first, into the plastic back of the headlamp from the rear of the unit. These too have a bayonet-type fitting, with three little plastic spikes on each black bit. Once inserted through the holes, the thing needs to be twisted one-sixth of a turn to be fixed tightly in place. In fitting the black bits, make sure that you align them so that the protuberance into which you insert your screwdriver ends up on top, so that you will be able to adjust the headlights with a screwdriver inserted from above when the lights are fitted in the car.

Here are my new black adjuster bits fitted (I hope you can see that I gave the inside of the plastic back a bit of a clean first):

16. Now firmly (but carefully) push the reflector into place, so that the white clips pop on to the ball-shaped heads of the screws.

17. Replace seal, glass, clips and everything else in reverse order.

A large celebration is now appropriate.
(Formerly) 1988 745 B230K (Phoenix)
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