How to Make Your Headlights Shine Like New

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

headlightMost headlights are made of polycarbonate plastic, which is durable and scratch-resistant. But over time polycarbonate clouds over, mostly due to UV rays that degrade the outer layer of plastic. Fortunately, there are plenty of products on the market designed to help you restore your car’s 20/20 nighttime vision.

To test the latest brands, I headed over to the Town & Country salvage yard in Ann Arbor, Mich., where Mike, the guy behind the counter, proudly showed me our shared name on his work shirt and loaned me the dirtiest, cloudiest headlights in the lot; I promised to return them clean. Back in the PopMech garage, I polished half of each headlight with a different product to demonstrate what I hoped would be dramatic before-and-after improvements. I wasn’t disappointed. These headlights went from filthy to fancy after less than a half-hour of work. I also applied all the products in strips to a single headlight to judge the results side by side. After soiling a stack of microfiber towels and raising plenty of sanding dust, I found out that all the products restored clarity to the lenses, but a few emerged as our favorites.


Basic Headlight Cleaning

Prep Wipe as much grime as possible off the headlights with glass cleaner or soap and water. After drying the area, tape around the headlights to ensure you don’t end up sanding your car’s paint. You can also remove headlights for cleaning, but you might have to align them after reinstallation.

Sand All of these products use an abrasive such as sandpaper to scuff away the outer layer of haze. This is the most important step, so be thorough. When you’re done, the entire headlight should be clear of any yellowing and have a rough, dull surface.

Polish A fine polish cleans up the sandpaper scratches and makes the headlight lenses clear again.

Apply UV Sealant There’s a reason we tested only headlight lens restorers with a UV protectant. The sanding step removes any protective layer that was originally applied to the headlight, and if you don’t reapply that shield your lights will haze over again in as little as a few weeks. Some products, such as the ones from Sylvania and Lenz Solution, promise extended protection.

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