How to restore headlights

Prior to the early 90’s, automotive manufacturers were using glass on every vehicle headlight. However, after realizing just how expensive they are to manufacture and fix, the replacement for glass was polycarbonate plastic.

There are a few reasons why manufacturers leaned towards the use of plastic instead of glass, a few main ones are; much better durability, a drastically lower manufacturing cost, and an easier overall fixing process. With all those benefits, comes a BIG problem that burdens all automobiles at one point or another.

Oxidation of the polycarbonate headlight surface.

This is the process of aging the surface plastic, which as a result causes fogging and yellowing. The cloudiness occurs only when your vehicle factory clear coat is worn down completely. To fix this, is actually quite easy and is VERY cost effective than buying a new set of headlights.

Headlight restoration by the use of wet sanding, fine polishing, buffing and reapplying a new clear coat. Don’t worry it’s easier than it sounds, and to be honest… the process is in order from start to finish.

Routine Plastic Headlight Restoration

Look around any public parking lot and you will see dozens of cars with cloudy, nicked and scratched headlights.

You know why that is?

The industry change from glass headlight lenses to clear plastic (polycarbonate).

Before and after headlight restoration with plastic polish.You can restore your headlights in less than 1 hour.

Something happens without proper maintenance…

The sun’s UV rays, acid rain, salt and road debris all degrade and discolor clear plastic lenses.

It’s normal.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way guys!

Halogen and other high-intensity headlights operate at very high temperatures. This further contributes to degradation.

I’m here to tell you:

  1. Your car’s headlights don’t have to look crappy, and;
  2. You can easily fix them if it does happen.

Plastic headlight restoration, as it is known, is a repair process that:

  1. removes surface damage and;
  2. restores lens clarity
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What’s great is, even in very bad condition, most headlight lenses can be restored in no time.

First, there’s one thing to understand. Your vehicle’s headlights are a sealed unit.

Why is that important?

Because you can’t just replace the clear plastic. For an expensive car (high-performance lights) replacement is darn expensive.

Fact: Headlight restoration, versus replacement, will save you quite a bit per lens.

Take it from me.

It is well worth the effort. Plus, it’s too easy!

What to Expect With a Lens Restoration

This article covers the products, tools and methods for restoring your headlight lenses.

Some steps may not be necessary.

It really depends on the level of damage or oxidation on the headlight lenses.

More work is required if headlights are heavily oxidized or scratched.

Replacement may be your only option.

Thankfully, this is rare!

Headlight before restoration with 3M kitEven this sad looking lens can be restored to look like-new.

You may think your headlights look absolutely hopeless.

Guess what!

Most likely the damage is superficial. Even completely opaque, they can usually be restored.

You want a super clear condition.

I know! So, let’s do it!

Full restoration is easy – as long as your headlight lenses haven’t completely yellowed all the way though.

I’m going to say this again…

Plastic headlight restoration is not difficult at all. Isn’t that encouraging?

You can even do it without a kit (w/ the right tools).

We’ll cover all the bases here!

Headlight after restoration with 3M

How Plastic Headlight Restoration Kits Work

Be sure to watch the 3M video above.

You’ll see how several grades of fine sanding paper were used to remove a very fine layer of the plastic lens.

After sanding, the lens is polished with a plastic polish. This restores full clarity and a nice lens appearance.

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Some kits have different methods for cleaning away the layer of damage.

There’s abrasive sanding disks and pads, like 3M’s system. But others rely on the plastic polish itself to do the work.

DIY Headlight Restoration Tools and Supplies

Guys, check your garage.

You may already have everything you need to make a lens repair:

  • Latex gloves (if you have sensitive skin)
  • Painter’s masking tape (1” to 1.5” width is best)
  • Wet/dry sand paper (600, 1200, 3000 grit)
  • Sanding block (1” x 2” erasure works great)
  • 2.5” Velcro backing plate for use with 3/8” drill or cordless drill
  • 3” foam or wool polishing pad with Velcro backing

How to Restore Headlights the APR Way

Photo demonstrating how to restore headlights the APR way, making them like new.

Headlights are usually molded from polycarbonate polymer—tough stuff that really takes a beating and holds up amazingly well. But time, debris, atmospheric chemicals, and ultraviolet rays do break down the surface over time. Not only does it make the lenses look dull; it reduces the amount of light hitting the road when you drive at night.

At APR, we restore headlights with professional grade buffing materials that leave a perfect, glass-like finish; it looks like new and performs like new. With the right tools and materials, the process is relatively simple:

Surface preparation

  • We clean the area of dirt, oils and debris to make sure no contaminants are being buffed into the plastic.
  • The headlight lens is masked with low-tack tape that can be removed without damaging surfaces or leaving residues. We may remove trim to keep it away from the buffing compounds, which can damage finishes on both plastic and metal vehicle parts.
  • We buff the lens with an ultra-fine compound that gives a glass-like finish to the surface, removing discoloration—even pits and other imperfections.
  • The finished lens is cleaned and dried, then we detach the mask and reassemble any parts that were removed for buffing. Just like new!
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    Photo of beautiful results from a headlight restoration service.

    If you love your car (as most of us do), you probably spend time and money keeping it washed, waxed and pristine. Maybe you take it in for auto detailing service periodically, where technicians use special brushes and industrial cleaning techniques to remove every speck of dust, oil, grime and soil. Restoring headlight lenses brings the appearance of your vehicle’s exterior up to the same standard you expect everywhere else. It’s inexpensive, when you consider that it only needs to be done every few years.

    Give us a call when you’re ready to give your car or truck a real facelift—and make it safer for night driving. Or stop by one of our Wichita, Kansas, headlight polishing locations. Find headlight restoration near me.

    Philips headlight restoration kit reviewed

    • Rating: ★★★★☆
    • Price: £23.29
    • Buy one at: Amazon
    • More info: Philips

    What you get

    How to restore car headlight covers

    The Philips headlight restoration kit consists of three small (29ml) bottles, containing cleaning fluid, polish and sealant, all necessary application paper, three types of sandpaper (600, 1500 and 2000-grit) and a pair of latex gloves. It’s enough to clean two headlights.

    Is it easy to do?

    Anyone can do this, in less than an hour. All you need is some masking tape for cars, to ensure that when sanding the plastic covers, you don’t scratch the paintwork of the bonnet, bumper or wing.First, you clean the plastic covers with the cleaning fluid and paper provided. Then you rub the cover with 600 sandpaper, if the surface is very pitted, followed by the 1,500 and then the 2,000-grit paper.

    Then you clean it and apply a water-based treatment, and finally you apply a shine restorer fluid, which helps protect the plastic from sunlight.

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