Headlight Restoration How To DIY

Are you having trouble seeing at night with your vehicle headlights?  Ever think how much better they were when your car was new?  Headlight restoration is easy to to yourself and takes about an hour to do.

The problem with the faded lights is the cheap plastic they are made from.  Even after a short few years, many headlights start to get a haze over them and discolor.  This happens from normal road conditions, weather, washing techniques and sometimes just pour maintenance.  Often, the solution has been to ignore the problem, or replace the headlights altogether.  I don’t recommend either solution.

The older the car, the more likely the headlights have faded and yellowed.  If your car suffers from this problem, I am sure you are looking for a way to fix it yourself, and for cheap too.  You can do it yourself, or have it done by any detailing service in your area.  It takes about an hour or less.

Headlight Restoration Products

There are several products on the market that are easily available at your local Walmart or Automotive supply store.  Most will be good, but some are not.  Any of the kits that are “no tools required” are usually hand polish and sanding products.  This is a lot of work and will take a long time to get a good finish.  Just don’t bother with them.  The best results for both quality and time require some power tools for the polishing part of the process at a minimum.

Some of the products I have tested over the last couple years are the following

Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit
3M Headlight Lens Restoration Kit
Turtle Wax Headlight Lens Restorer
Meguiars Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit

With the exception of the Turtle Wax one, I would recommend all 3.  The Turtle Wax kit was skimpy on supplies, took a long time, all by hand and very poor results.  The Sylvania kit was better, with great results, but also a lot of manual sanding and polishing.  Not my favorite, but decent results.

The only 2 I would buy again and use are the 3M and Meguiars kits.  Each of them are easily available at most hardware and automotive stores.  Both do require a power drill to complete the work, but the results are the best and the time to complete the work is a lot less.

The one I regularly use on customers cars is the 3M product.  Each complete kit comes with all you need ( except the drill ).  It is also the fastest one of them all.  You can also buy each component of the kit in bulk packages if you plan on doing it a lot.

Here is how you can do your own headlight restoration using one of these kits.  This example is based on the 3M kit and will require a drill.  Cordless is easiest to handle, but a regular drill will do just fine.  Here is what you will need to start.Headlight Restoration 3M kit

3M headlight restoration kit
Cordless or powered drill
Water or spray bottle with water and a couple cloths
A little time and a small stool to sit on.

Please note that using the 3M kit requires the use of the drill for most steps and you need to pay attention to your angle, speed and position of the drill.  The last thing you want is to slip with it and run the drill into your paint or any other surface of your vehicle, you will damage it.   If you are worried about that in any way, pick up the Sylvania kit instead and do it all by hand.

The kit will come with everything else you need, including the painters tape you are going to use to protect the edges of your car and other surfaces around the headlight lens.  There is generally enough of the tape to cover all the areas around both headlights for one car, but use as little as you can to tape it all off.  If you run out, or think you might, then make sure you have some spare painters tape available.

Headlight Restoration How To

First step:  Clean and wash the headlights and area around them.  Make sure the area is fully cleaned and dried before starting.

Here is what it looks like before:

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Second step: Read the instructions.  Don’t rely on what you remember from reading this.  It only takes a few minutes and if you have never done this before then it might help you from screwing it up.

Third step: Mask and tape off the area around the headlights.  Make sure to get all the edges and any surface that is close enough to the lights that might get touched by the sanding pad provided in the kit.  Remember, if you even touch a painted surface with the spinning pad, it will grind right through the paint very fast, especially if you catch the edge of the polishing disc.

Fourth step: Attach provided sanding disc to your rill and start with the p500 sandpaper.  DO NOT USE FORCE. In slow, even motions, sand the headlight lens to remove all corse imperfections.  You want the sandpaper to do the work, no need to apply much pressure at all.  This step usually makes it look worse, so don’t worry.  You can keep the sandpaper lasting longer by keeping it clean and free from build up.  Easiest way is to frequently brush off the sandpaper and sanding area with a dry cloth.  Do not use a wet cloth as that will gum up the sandpaper and make it hard to use.  Once the headlight is evenly sanded with the 500 grit paper you can continue to the next step.  If your sandpaper becomes too gummed up or worn, replace it with a new one.  There will be several in the kit.

At this point the lens should look evenly sanded and rough, white’ish look to it.  This is what we are going for, so don’t worry if it is worse than when you started.

Pay attention to the edges and watch the angle you hold the drill.  Ensure you get to all the areas of the plastic lens.  Keep the lens free of dust build up and wash and dry when you are finished this step. Here is what it should look like at this point

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Fifth step: Switch to the next finer grade paper, a p800.   With the same, even, slow and light pressure motions, you will be sanding down the rough grade sanding lines.  You should see a lightening of the lens and will be a lot smoother.  You should pay closer attention to the build up on the sanding paper and keep cleaning it more often.  This will make it last longer.  Make sure you sand all the areas and edges that you did with the 500 grit sandpaper, don’t miss anything.

Here you will see a half and half.  Left side is p500 and right side is p800.  You will see the clarity already changing a lot at this point.

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Sixth step:  Clean the lens off and inspect for any rough areas that may have been missed or need a second pass.  Once ready, change the sanding paper to the finest grade – in this kit, it is a foam looking pad.  This is designed to work with water as a wet sanding stage.  The grade is a 3000 grit and must be used wet.  Use a spray bottle to keep the area wet while sanding.

This stage is the most critical part and when you will see the biggest difference.  Make sure you are holding the drill steady, smooth and with very little pressure.  Let the sanding pad do the work, not your arms.   This process will take several passes over the area and make sure you keep it wet.  To check your progress, dry off the area and inspect for any sanding lines or too much haze.

The end result of this step will be a slight haze to the lens without any discoloration or sanding lines.  The lense will look very clear , but not quite perfect.  I could not get a good picture because in a picture it is almost impossible to see the difference.

Seventh step:  Polish step.  Using the buffing foam pad and the provided rubbing compound ( use sparingly as you only get a small amount ).  I personally like to use the drill at a higher speed for this step then sanding steps, so if your drill has speed adjustment, then it’s easy.  Using a small dime sized drop on the pad, start slow and spread out the compound.  With smooth, even passes you will be polishing the haze out of the plastic.  Don’t over polish with the compound, you do not want it to dry up.  You are looking for a slight change in the look of the polishing compound as it hazes over.  You can then buff it with a micro fiber cloth.  Re-apply some compound to the pad and repeat as needed.  Each pass should make the lens clearer and to the point where all haze has been removed and you are left with a completely clear ( new looking ) lens.

Here is how it looks when you are done the polish step.  Like new.

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Final step:  The 3M kit also provides a finishing protector that you can apply to keep the lens looking as good as it does.  Apply by hand and buff like you would a regular car wax.

That’s it, you’re done.  About an hours work and your car will look a lot better

Here is a comparison of a before and after.  About an hour of your time.

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Professional Auto Detailing products and information

Your vehicle’s interior and exterior finish takes a lot of abuse from you, your family, the weather, and those “people” that scratch and ding your car in the parking lot. Even regular washing and drying with the wrong product or towel will put fine scratches in the paint. Over time, all those fine lines add up and make your paint look faded and old. Your car can look new and stay looking new with the right care and products.