How to Restore Your Vehicle's Headlights

Main_BeforeAfter_B500

Cars get old and if you're part of the vast majority of Americans who own a set of wheels at least 11 years old, we're pretty sure those front headlights could use a makeover. Clean headlights not only make your vehicle look like new, but they allow for safe and unobstructed travel by clearly illuminating the road ahead.

Haze, fog, smear, whatever you want to call it, there are easy ways to get rid of that plastic oxidation that fogs up your vehicle's headlights after years and miles of driving.

There are numerous headlight restoration kits available for sale at auto parts and home improvement stores. For this story, we tested two different kits: a $25 kit from Mequiar's and one that cost $10 from Turtle Wax. Both kits come with a cleaning-clarifying compound, wet sanding pads and a protectant sealer solution. What do you get for $15 more? The more-advanced Meguiar's kit provides a clean microfiber detailing cloth, an ergonomic hand grip for the wet sanding pads and a polishing buffing ball that mounts to a drill. The cheaper Turtle Wax kit came with two solutions and a numbered set of sanding pads.

What you need:

  • Headlight restoration kit
  • Car wash solution, window cleaner or a spray bottle with cold water
  • Masking or painters tape
  • Power drill (optional depending on the restoration kit)
  • Dry towels or detailing cloths
  • Elbow grease and patience

Steps:

Cleaning_Taping

1. Clean the headlight area with soap and water to remove surface-level dirt and debris. Windex or a household glass cleaner can also do the trick. Make sure the headlights are completely dry, and then move to Step 2.

2. Once dry, tape off the surrounding areas near the headlights (any of the car's painted body panels that touch the headlights). This is an important precaution as it prevents sanding damage to your car's paint during the restoration process.

Some headlight restoration kits, like the Turtle Wax one we used, will require you to apply a coat of clarifying compound to the headlamp assembly before any wet sanding is done.

Other headlight restoration kits may skip the sanding needed in Steps 3-5 and instruct you to just begin polishing.

TurtleWax_ApplyBuffing

3. Both headlight restoration kits provided a few different grits or strengths of sandpaper to use. Using a spray bottle filled with water or a provided lubrication liquid, dose the headlight and get the lowest number piece of sandpaper wet.

4. In a side-to-side motion, rub with pressure the lowest number (1,000 or 1) sandpaper piece across the headlight's surface, being careful not to touch any other part of the car's body. You want to create a full "glazed" look that covers the headlight assembly. Always keep the sandpaper piece and the headlight assembly wet with water.

5. Move on to the next highest number (2,000 or 2) grit of sandpaper, and rub across the headlight in an opposite up-and-down motion. Continue, unless instructed otherwise, to keep the sandpaper and headlight assembly wet.

The Turtle Wax kit (shown above) came with two more levels of sandpaper at finer grits, leading to more sanding. These small pads required more effort to use but were also able to tackle the curved areas of the headlights better than the Meguiar's kit (shown below).

Meguairs_ApplyBuffing_B

Steps 3-5 can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes depending on how cloudy the headlights are. Be patient and be careful not to accidentally touch the applicator to any other part of your car. Scratches and paint damage may occur.

6. Dry the headlight lens assembly with a paper towel or detailing cloth.

Meguairs_ApplyBuffing_C

7. Apply a dab of the provided polisher liquid or paste to an applicator pad or buffing ball (like the one included in the Meguiar's kit shown above). Using the applicator pad or buffing ball, pan continuously back and forth over the headlight to clear up the wet-sanded glaze. You should be able to see a difference in the clarity of your vehicle's headlight(s) almost immediately. Again, the buffing ball didn't tackle the curved surfaces of the headlights as well as the Turtle Wax kit.

8. Dry the headlight lens assembly with a paper towel or detailing cloth.

TurtleWax_Finishing

Meguiars_Finishing

9. Once you are satisfied with the improved look of your headlights, finish the job by pouring a conservative amount of sealer protectant onto a separate applicator pad or towel — or in the case of the Turtle Wax kit (top image above), a small towelette with the protectant already applied — and rub it over the headlights.

10. Remove the tape around the headlights and you're done. Make sure to let the sealant sit for a few hours, if possible, to allow everything to dry and seal, ensuring a new, protective cover.

This process isn't just for headlamps. You can repeat the process on vehicle taillights, side markers or plastic fog lamps. Do not use these products on glass.

TurtleWax_BeforeAfter

Meguairs_BeforeAfter

While both kits provided noticeable improvement in headlight clarity, the cheaper Turtle Wax kit did a superior job eliminating haze and discoloration from the entire lens, despite there being more laborious steps throughout the wet sanding and polishing processes. Even though the more-advanced Meguiar's kit was quicker and more ergonomically pleasing, Turtle Wax's basic $10 kit was our shining winner thanks to some good-old elbow grease.

HeadlightOutput

The cost savings of doing this type of work yourself is also significant. Independent body shops will charge around $60 to restore your vehicle's headlights, while one Chicago area Volkswagen dealership quoted us $100 to do the work.

*While we hope to help, Cars.com is not responsible for any damage that may occur to your vehicle by following the steps above. 

Cars.com purchased both headlight kits independently and there was no contact with representatives from either company. 

Related
More How Tos
More Car Maintenance Stories
How to Get Your Car Ready to Sell

By Robby DeGraff | December 3, 2013 | Comments (25)

Comments 

Tony

This is all cute. But I've done it with plain old, $4, Turtle Wax polishing compound and a piece of old t-shirt. Took about 5 minutes of rubbing on each side for a minimal cost and simplicity to match.

George

Once polycarbonate is cooked from the UV, all you are doing is rearranging deck chairs...

any polishing compound would do.

Skankzilla

George is pretty much correct. My shop performs headlight restorations when the customer would rather not pay to have them replaced entirely. It will look fantastic in the beginning, but you'd be lucky to get a year out of it before they start to degrade. We use a professional grade kit, with multiple grits of sanding discs, polishing compounds and sealer(s).

boeingboy

I concur. Having a vehicle that spend 9 summers in Phoenix, I can attest that the reconditioning process is temporary. That said, it's still cheaper to do this once a year than to replace the headlights.

James Demestihas

why do we accept the plastic crap that fogs from the vehicle mfr'rs?

We pay enough for our cars...youd think we'd get headlights that don't go bad in 2yrs!

Wolfhound

I hear toothpaste works good too.

Paul

Mother's Aluminum Polish. Try it.

Revelinit

Toothpaste works just as good, and tons cheaper. Hit the dollar tree, get toothpaste and a fake magic eraser and ELBOW grease

Littlejohn

Use toothpaste and wet rag. A little elbow grease will save you money.

J

That is the reason you put those headlight films once this is done. Mine is still holding up very good after 2 years.

This headlight would easily be done with Chrome-It Super Polish and a rag in about 5 minutes in 1 step.Crusty lights need more work including sanding but these kits are overated.

wain

It should not reappear if you reapply the compound every time you wax the car. I did mine 3 years back, to this day they look fantastic.

hellomoto

I've used the Turtle Wax kit before and my lights didn't come out that great after a lot of hard work. I even tried going through the process twice. My results also lasted about a month.

Wax and toothpaste have similar chemical compounds (believe it or not), problem with toothpaste is that it can scratch the glass up pretty bad.

kevin's autospa detailing

when restorin plastic headlight assembly the less expensive way to take off oxidation is using 0000
steel wool and foam glass cleaner to start. then simoniz scratch out compound.

Mike

When your headlights are foggy, cloudy or yellowed means that Oxidation is building up in your plastic lens. Replacing headlight lenses can cost several hundred dollars. Having a detail shop or Auto repair shop professionally restore your headlights can run $75 to $150 per car. No headlights covers remain clear forever. All plastic headlights become cloudy, foggy or yellowed over time. Enjoy Crystal Clear Headlight Covers In Minutes WITHOUT Sanding, Buffing or using Masking Tape with LTC Headlight Cleaner. Headlights treated with LTC Headlight Cleaner will maintain clear for 8-12 months or more, it varies where your car is parked; garaged, streets, *remember that sun is one of the biggest factors why your headlights get oxidized.

Sanding and polishing eventually will scratch and reduce thickness of your plastic headlights. Toothpaste will semi-clean your headlights and leave it without any kind of UV protection. Why pay for something you can do at home for less. Like everything else, there are good and bad 1 step headlight cleaner products and this is considered the Best Headlight Cleaner.

You're 6 steps away to remove Headlight Oxidation from your headlights with LTC.

1. Wipe off dust from headlight
2. Shake bottle for up to 30 seconds first time, consecutive applications up to 10 seconds.
3. Apply 1/20 oz in a cotton cloth rag.
4. Start rubbing cloth rag with some pressure, chose your desire rubbing pattern and don’t stop rubbing until you see the difference and you’re satisfied with the results.
5. With a clean cotton cloth rag start wiping off until is dry to the touch.
6. Clean edges around headlight removing excess fluid in non plastic surfaces.

Source link: http://trk1.ltcleaner.com/headlightcleaner

Eric

Toothpaste and polishing compounds only help some cars with light oxidation. Restoring headlights correctly requires alot of sanding and a quality clear coat sealant like the factory uses in order for them to look the best and last the longest. I am headlight technician.

Very cool idea about cleaning the headlights. Thank you for sharing this.

I found this new product that is very easy to use, It worked amazing for me, it just wiped away the yellow oxidation on my headlights right off in just a few minutes.Great product for under $10 Go to LenzClear.com Seeing is Believing

Joe

If you want to save money dont waste it on headlight kits..they use 10 cents worth of turtle wax polishing compound and charge you 10-20-30 bucks. for less than 5 dollars you can buy a can of turtle wax polishing compound(the white stuff not the red rubbing compound) and you can do 100 headlights and still have a half can left.

Rick

Hey "Mike", any other companies you want to promote on here, lol

Mike

No, just sharing a product I used and it worked, I thought that is a good thing, since there is so much crap out there you buy and it doesn't work. Oh and to Joe every time you use compound on your headlights you are taking off the Uv coating little by little, eventually you will have to sand it off totally use a UV safe
de-oxidizer to remove oxidation. easier and safer. LenzClear.com great product

I've tried many but the one that won hands down was the Sylvania Headlight restoration kit. Sells for around $25 and it works. Gotta put some time in but the results are outstanding. This isn't a temp fix either - you are literally stripping away the worn out finish and applying a UV blocker so they will last for years!

GranNan

the only thing I can add is don't waste your money getting the job done at WalMart..doesn't last three months...

Post a Comment 

Please remember a few rules before posting comments:

  • If you don't want people to see your email address, simply type in the URL of your favorite website or leave the field empty.
  • Do not mention specific car dealers by name. Feel free to mention your city, state and brand.
  • Try to be civil to your fellow blog readers. This blog is not a fan or enthusiast forum, it is meant to help people during the car-buying process and during the time between purchases, so shoppers can keep a pulse on the market.
  • Stay on topic. We want to hear your opinions and thoughts, but please only comment about the specified topic in the blog post.
view posting rules

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In

Search Results

KickingTires Search Results for

Search Kicking Tires

KickingTires iPhone App
Ask.cars.com