In this guide, we take a look at common problems that trigger BMW adaptive headlight dashboard warnings and malfunctions. This guide is meant to help BMW owners to troubleshoot BMW adaptive headlamp problems.

bmw adaptive headlight problem warning light

BMW adaptive headlights problems can cost anywhere from $600 up to $1500 to repair at the shop. This guide will help you better understand some of the common issues and possible problems that you can fix yourself.

BMW Adaptive Headlights Warning, Problem & Solutions

Symptoms

This is a list of possible symptoms that you may notice when BMW adaptive headlights fail.

  • Adaptive headlights only turn right not left
  • Adaptive headlights only turn left not right
  • Adaptive headlamp control malfunction message and warning light
  • Warning message: Adaptive headlight control malfunction. Have the system checked by your BMW center
  • Low beam stuck off-center
  • Greenlight flashing by the headlight switch

Common Causes

The most common problems with BMW adaptive headlights are:

  • Stepper Motor Controler (SMC)
  • Water/Condensation in the headlight
  • Loose or damaged adaptive stepper motor
  • Failed Adaptive Headlight Module (AHL)

Possible Solutions

Replace the Adaptive Headlight Control Unit

bmw ALC Adaptive Headlight Drive Control Unit Lighting Module  locaiton

BMW Adaptive Headlight Module is located right under each headlight housing is the adaptive headlight module which often is the culprit. It may also be referred to as the Stepper Motor Controler (SMC) or ALC Adaptive Headlight Drive Control Unit Lighting Module.
This is referred to as the Stepper Motor Controller - SMC. The controller often fails after heavy rain or if you recently went through a car wash.

 

The main reason why the adaptive module fails is that water shortens the module. A cracked headlight or a loose access door in the back of the headlight will allow water to enter the headlight. Because the SMC is at the lowest point of the headlight, water gets to the module and damages it triggering the Adaptive Malfunction error message on the dashboard.

If that's the case, you will have a fault code stored in the AHL module.

To replace the headlight stepper motor controller you will need to remove the front bumper and the headlight. The module can then be replaced with a used BMW Headlight Adaptive Module.

Software such as NCS Expert can be used to code the AHL module to the vehicle.

Repair Stepper Motor

bmw stepper motor

The motors that physically turns the low/high beam projector can break.

The stepper motor is located inside the headlight. It is controlled by the stepper controller module located below the headlight. The motor itself can fail or the link to the low beam projector can fail.

Repair kits for BMW stepper motor are sold online if you are looking to fix this problem without having the replace the headlight. Note that the headlight will need to be removed from the car to fix repair the stepper motor.

Headlight Seal

damaged seal

The access door behind the headlight has a seal. When you change a headlight bulb you need to ensure the seal is seated properly. If not, it will allow water to enter the headlight and damage the adaptive headlight module.

Inspect the back headlight cover if you are noticing condensation inside the headlight. If water is present inside the headlight, remove the headlight.

Remove the stepper motor controller and allow it to dry for at least 24 hours. Install the headlight and make sure the headlight is airtight.

BMW AHL module will need to be replaced and coded to the vehicle.

How to Diagnose BMW Adaptive Headlamps

bmw adaptive headlight warning diagnosis

To determine why you are getting Adaptive Headlight Malfunction, you can read the fault codes in the AHL module.

 

For this step, you will need a BMW scanner that can read codes from the AHL module. Generic OBD2 scanners won't help.

Missing taxonomy term.

Procedure

  1. Plugin the OBD-II scanner into the diagnostic port under the dashboard.diagnose bmw ~~~ fault code via obd2 port
  2. Turn on the ignition, don't start the engine.turn on bmw ignition to read ~~~ fault codes
  3. Turn on the scanner and select your BMW chassis. Next, Select Control Units menu.bmw ~~~ control unit module reading codes
  4. Select Light Module 2 with the Adaptive Headlight Module.
  5. Once you enter the AHL module, you will be able to do the following.
    • Read Codes
    • Clear Codes
    • Perform Adaptations, Activations, Tests

Adaptive Headlight Delete

Even though we would not recommend deleting BMW adaptive headlights, we have seen many BMW owners go this route.

To delete BMW adaptive headlights, you need to code the vehicle with NCS Expert and configure it to think that adaptive headlights are not installed.

When this is done, the adaptive headlight functions are disabled, the low beam lights no longer move, adaptive high beams no longer turn on automatically. Your headlights will function the same as in cars without the adaptive headlight.

When deleting BMW adaptive headlights, you must manually perform headlight adjustment so that the low beams point in the proper direction.

Physically removing the adaptive headlight module does not delete BMW adaptive headlights.

Removing the module without coding the car, will result in an adaptive headlight error on the dashboard.

What do adaptive headlights mean on a BMW?

BMW adaptive headlights actively move the headlight projector left and right to illuminate the part of the road the driver is turning.

In cars with BMW adaptive LED headlights, the headlights change the light output according to the incoming traffic. A light camera at the top of the windshield senses the light of the vehicles approaching.

Adaptive headlights also switch the high beams on and off depending on the traffic. When following a car, adaptive headlights will adjust the high beams by moving the high beams outwards which reduces the light in the center. BMW adaptive headlights will also turn off the left high beam when a vehicle is detected on the incoming traffic lane.

In vehicles with xenon adaptive headlights, the fog lights will be turned on at slow speeds when turning left and right. The first generation of BMW adaptive headlights used xenon bulbs while the newer BMWs use LED adaptive headlights.

How do I know if my BMW has adaptive headlights?

There is a couple of ways to determine if a BMW has adaptive headlights. One method is to park the vehicle but keep it running. You can look at the low beam move and right as a friend turns the steering left and right.

If the low beam projector moves, your BMW has adaptive headlights. If it doesn't, your BMW does not adaptive headlights. The other method to verify if a BMW has adaptive headlights is to decode the VIN and see if the car has the option for Dynamic Xenon, Adaptive Headlights or Adaptive LED headlights.

Adaptive headlights are disabled when turning the light switch manually to on position. To keep the adaptive lights enabled to turn the light switch to Auto.

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Thank you! 

Visitor
Member since 2020-07

Thank you for good information. Found out that my BMW523i got condensation inside the headlight. It will cost $5000 to repair it since they have to change all the lights and the control unit/headlight module. Do you know if such defect is coved by the insurance?

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Visitor
Member since 2020-07

Do I need to change just the the adaptive headlight control module or also the H.I.D ballast or just the adaptive headlight module

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Visitor
Member since 2020-07

Great article, very helpful. Thanks!

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Visitor
Member since 2020-07

So I took My bumper off and headlight assembly out, and all the wires seem to be missing insulation at random points! Is there replacement wiring or do I need A new assembly? Also, why would wire fray like that?

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Visitor
Member since 2020-07

You dont need to remove the bumper to take out the headlight, just make sure you have enough sack on the bolts on the lower mountings, remove with a magnet on a stick if need be so that you have enough room to move and then just gently tease it out, it can be tricky to find the right angle but as long as you dont force it you wont damage anything and eventually you will find the right angle but as i say if you are having a problem it is likely because it is caught up on the lower mountings somaking sure they are very loose or removing the bolts completely will make it easier if you are struggling. It may also get caught up on the rubber drain hose which can be maneovered out of the hole first if need be. When refitting put the bolts back in before the headlight but leave them as loose as possible to give you the maximum amount of clearance but refitting is not so difficult as you arent fighting against the bolts when you are trying to push it back in the bracket will flex slightly and pop into place but the reverse is true on removal, its like one of those Chinese finger traps.

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Visitor
Member since 2020-07

One thing to note: When you buy a BMW in the USA, and your car includes the "552 Adaptive Full LED Lights", BMW NA first "deprograms" your car with a mandatory option "5AP Decoding for no-dazzle high-beam assistance". This means they TURN OFF that fantastic "BMW selective high beam" function that works so wonderfully in Europe (watch the video of that feature on YouTube). They did this on my 2014 435xi and my 2020 X3. So while your headlights will still turn into the left or right corners when when you turn the steering wheel, they will no longer move or turn on/turn off to block out an area covering traffic you are following, or traffic coming toward you. So in the USA, if you leave your headlights on hi-beam, you will blind the people in front of you, and the oncoming cars. So sad we still live with an outdated NTSB.

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Visitor
Member since 2020-07

One thing to note: When you buy a BMW in the USA, and your car includes the "552 Adaptive Full LED Lights", BMW NA first "deprograms" your car with a mandatory option "5AP Decoding for no-dazzle high-beam assistance". This means they TURN OFF that fantastic "BMW selective high beam" function that works so wonderfully in Europe (watch the video of that feature on YouTube). They did this on my 2014 435xi and my 2020 X3. So while your headlights will still turn into the left or right corners when when you turn the steering wheel, they will no longer move or turn on/turn off to block out an area covering traffic you are following, or traffic coming toward you. So in the USA, if you leave your headlights on hi-beam, you will blind the people in front of you, and the oncoming cars. So sad we still live with an outdated NTSB.

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Visitor
Member since 2020-07

Not sure, but I went into to see why only ONE of my Angel eyes cuts on in bright weather or when I lock the car (with Auto lamps on). It works fine when turned to “ON” or turned to “PARKING LAMPS” and both Angel Eyes work in every situation. BMW Recommendation: We don't know what's wrong but we could order an entire new headlight assembly (5k), retest and THEN see if that fixes it. They weren't even able knowledgeable about the functionality to turn on only one side of the Parking Lamps when parked on the side of the road for safety. ITS IN THE IDRIVE CAR MANUAL!) Strangely, when I teuren this mode on it forces both Angel Eyes on during in all modes but when I try to exit the car I get a warning that says “Parking Lights” are on even when I turn it to automatic. I would take their word as the only solution! Also, look for salvaged parts. I saw TONS of OEM adaptive HID's for cheap but I unfortunately was misinformed and my car had crappy halogens. Jeremy F10 538i

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Visitor
Member since 2020-07

I have xenon adaptive headlights and when I turn headlights on, I noticed that driver's headlight lens moves to the left and stays there so it looks kind of funny. Service guys told me it was normal, but it didn't make much sense to me because wheels are standing still and pointing forward. I have no other 2012 x3 to compare so maybe they are right?!

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