Tips & Tricks IV

Headlight restoration

3y ago

When you first brought your car home from the showroom it looked really amazing, but over the years the paint has faded and the headlights have yellowed like someone has cracked a raw egg over them. The faded paint might have to be the subject of a future article, but here we’ll take a look at what you can do about those headlights.

From the dawn of the car and throughout most of the 90s, headlights were made of glass and they sometimes broke if another vehicle threw up a stone on the highway. If they didn’t break, they lasted forever and always looked good. Nowadays headlight lenses are made from plastic, and though they are a lot less likely to break, they do scratch more easily and they have an unfortunate habit of turning yellow in the sun.

Sun damage causes your lights to turn hazy or yellow

Sun damage causes your lights to turn hazy or yellow

Not only are your yellow headlights aesthetically unpleasing and detract from the overall appearance of your car, they also reduce the transparency of the lens, which is undesirable in terms of light output. That is probably not good as far as headlights are concerned. If they get bad enough your car may even fail a roadworthy inspection on account of it. And no one wants to hand MORE money over to the roads authority.

The good news is that all is not lost and in most cases they can be restored – quite inexpensively too.

There are several methods of removing the haze and yellow oxidation from headlights, using everything from toothpaste to sand paper. Not kidding. Your dentist would be proud.

Option 1

If your headlights have not yellowed too much but need a bit of a spruce up, you can give the toothpaste technique a go. If your headlights are heavily oxidised, this may not work, but you will have lost nothing by trying it – except for a bit of time and toothpaste.

Make sure your headlights are free of dust, road grime and bug splats before liberally applying toothpaste to the lens. Use a gritty toothpaste for best results. If your toothpaste doesn’t have a gritty texture, you can add a little baking soda to the mix. Cover the whole surface and rub it in well using a buffing pad or an old toothbrush. Once you’ve finished brushing, don’t forget to floss. No, wait, we’re talking about headlights here… Once you’ve finished brushing, clean the remaining toothpaste off your headlights and they should look much clearer.

If they are not quite as good as you’d like, or you missed some bits, simply repeat the process until you are happy.

Option 2

If your headlights are more heavily oxidised, then this method is for you. You’ll need to use wet & dry sandpaper; P400, P600 and then P2000. Since you are sanding, it is a good idea to either remove the lights from your car, or at least mask the adjacent paintwork to prevent damage.

Starting with the P400 sand in a gentle circular motion and only apply very light hand pressure – especially with the coarser grades. It is essential to keep the headlight and sand paper wet (not just damp) to prevent harsh scratching of the headlight lens. Work progressively up to the P2000, covering the entire headlight surface. You can also finish off with a bit of toothpaste if you wish. Then clean and dry the headlight.

Option 3

If either of the two options above don’t work, then I’m afraid you are up for new headlights.

During the process of sanding or grinding with toothpaste, you will have removed all that remained of any UV protective coating that was on the headlights. This means that they will now oxidise even more quickly and turn that unsightly yellow colour. Therefore you really need to protect them with a good layer of car wax, but note that you will have to continue to wax them every few months in order to keep up a good level of protection.

Lasting protection can be afforded by clear coating the lenses with a UV stabilised paint suitable for use on plastic. Clear coat provides long lasting protection, but it is a fair bit of effort to do it properly and not everyone has the ability or desire to go to that degree of trouble.

There are kits available from most auto stores (both 3M and Meguiars make good ones) that contain everything you need as well as a set of instructions. While they cost a bit more, the good thing about the kits is that they also contain a UV protectant that is applied in the final step.

TAGS: #advice

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Comments (7)

  • If I only I had this article while I still had my old car!! Nice work :)

      3 years ago
  • Nice one David! When me and my bestfriend were in high school, we both got our first cars. His was an 01 Skyline 250GT and mine an 05 Mitsi Lancer. He used to always marvel at how my headlights were crystal clear even after so many years while I could always point out his yellow headlamps as a way to make his car seem inferior to mine. I can finally tell him that I have found a solution for his yellow headlamps or maybe I shouldn't tell him. Now I know why my headlamps have not yellowed with time, I also know that I should be very careful of unsealed roads. Cheers for the tips!

      3 years ago
  • My dad used the Toothbrush technique on his 1998 Porsche Boxster. Said it worked a treat! I'd be inclined to go for new lights, that can be really expensive though!

      3 years ago
  • Nice Work David!

      3 years ago
  • Hi congratulations - your post has been selected by DriveTribe Lifestyle Ambassador for promotion on the DriveTribe homepage.

      3 years ago