New cars always look so amazing. They have shiny, unmarred paint jobs without any of the dings and scratches that come from driving and parking. They have interiors that lack smells, crumbs and trash. They also have headlights that are crystal-clear with no signs of fogging. However, new cars quickly become old cars, and suddenly, there are small scratches in the paint, lingering smells and headlights that are so foggy that they begin to obscure your night visibility.
When your car suffers from cloudy or foggy headlights, you need to look into your options for headlight restoration. We have put together some information that should help you with this process. We will discuss why headlights get cloudy, why this is an issue and how it can be fixed. We'll help you find the right way to fix your problem, offer solutions and even give step-by-step instructions on how to restore your own headlights.
WHY DO HEADLIGHTS GET CLOUDY?
Clouding or fogging of headlights occurs over time. You will rarely see a newer car with this problem. That is because it is something that is caused by several years of exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays. Other environmental factors may also play a role in the process of breaking down the material used in the headlight lenses. Since most of these lenses are made from plastic, heat, cold, moisture and other elements all have an effect that causes cloudiness. In addition, people are driving vehicles longer, so they have them long enough to see this problem.
Lenses do typically have a protective coating, but even that breaks down over time. The lower layer is completely exposed once the coating is broken down, and nature takes its course quickly. The lenses get scratched and discolored, which then causes them to look cloudy or foggy.
If you live in certain areas where there are more environmental risks, such as pollution, road salt or excessive sunshine, then your vehicle may be more susceptible to cloudy headlights. In addition, some makes and models seem to be more likely to have this issue than others.
REASONS TO RESTORE YOUR HEADLIGHTS
You probably have a burning desire to restore your headlights because cloudy lenses make it harder for the headlight to shine through. This can cause problems with visibility when you're driving at night or in adverse weather conditions — not to mention that cloudy lenses can also dim your headlights enough to make it hard for others to see your vehicle. Cleaning the lenses up can help you with these issues by making your headlights brighter and better able to cut through the night, fog, snow and rain.
Another reason to do a restoration is that replacing the lenses is expensive. Like many other parts of the vehicle body, the lenses can cost quite a bit to just replace even if the actual replacement work is not too difficult to do. You can save a lot of money by restoring instead of replacing.
You have two options when you want to restore your headlights. You can take your car to a professional for services. This typically will cost anywhere from $100 to $250. While this is cheaper than replacing the lenses, it is a lot more expensive than the other option: restoring the headlights yourself.
There are many kits on the market that provide you with everything you need to do a restoration. It is not a very difficult process either. A DIY restoration kit usually includes compounds that will allow you to remove the oxidation, sand down the lenses, buff the finish and protect it with a new seal. You will also typically get all the tools you need to this as well. These kits usually cost less than $20.
Honestly, whether you do the restoration yourself or have a professional do it, the process is the same. It involves removing the oxidation from the lens. This is done using gritty compounds and sandpaper. Some kits may have various levels of compounds and sandpaper that you will use as the damaged material is removed. You may also not use some of the heavier options if you only have light fogging. As the oxidation is sanded away, your headlight will become clearer.
Do be aware that sometimes during the process, the headlight might look clearer than it actually is simply because it is wet. In addition, the compounds can be cloudy looking, so you will have to wipe them away to see your progress.
Once you have finished sanding, you polish and coat with a protective UV coating to seal the lens and prevent future issues. However, this type of coating is nothing compared to the original coating that went on the lens. It will not last as long and may not be as effective, so oxidation could happen again.
A LOOK AT DIFFERENT KITS
Let's take a look now at some of the kits on the market, so you can get an idea of what you can buy to help you with headlight restoration. We have a quick review of five different products with current prices from Amazon.
BLUE MAGIC HEADLIGHT LENS RESTORER
This is a very simple kit. It does not require all the steps that the other kits do, so it is really fast to use. However, you pay in results — it won't do nearly as good of a job. It does restore the lens quite well temporarily, but the effect fades quickly.
SYLVANIA HEADLIGHT RESTORATION KIT
While this kit requires a fairly significant time commitment, it does restore headlights to almost new. The company also offers a lifetime warranty that your headlights will never cloud again. It comes with almost everything you need. You will have to supply a towel and water.
TURTLE WAX HEADLIGHT LENS RESTORER KIT
This kit does a fairly decent job of restoring the headlights. It comes with almost everything you need, except a towel to finish the process.
RAIN-X HEADLIGHT RESTORATION KIT
This kit does a nice job restoring headlights to almost new. It comes with everything you need, including sanding squares. It also has very clear instructions that include graphics to make it even easier to use.
MOTHERS NULENS HEADLIGHT RENEWAL KIT
This kit does a great job and offers you a chance to use a drill for the sanding and buffing, which can make things easier on you physically. Using power tools might give you nice results that you may not get if you aren't very good at sanding by hand.
HOW TO RESTORE YOUR HEADLIGHTS
If you decide to give one of these do-it-yourself options a try, then it may help to read through the process of how to use the kit before you get started. We have put together this step-by-step instruction list to help you out.
STEP ONE: PREP YOUR LENSES
Before you even open the kit, you want to make sure your lenses are ready to be restored. It is a good idea to wash them to remove road grime and grit. While your kit may not tell you to sand the headlights before getting started, it can really help make the final results better.
To avoid sanding your car's paint, tape off the headlights with painter's tape. Then, spray the lenses with water and use sandpaper to go over it. Work in circles and go all over the lens. Wash the lens off and wipe it down to remove any grit. Do this on both headlights.
STEP TWO: APPLY THE COMPOUND
Your kit should include a compound that will further sand the lens. It should be gritty. You will basically rub it on, rub it in circles and then wipe it off. Do this until you notice the lens clearing. When it is almost clear, you can then use the polishing liquid, which will be less gritty. Rub this on, work it in with circular motions and wipe it off in the same way you did with the other compound. By the time you are finished, the lens should be clear. This step will take a long time.
You can use a drill if you would like in both steps one and two. Use a separate buffer or the attachment included in your kit if it provided one for you.
STEP THREE: BUFF
Once the headlights are clear, you need to buff them to a shine. This will help get rid of any compound and grit left behind.
STEP FOUR: APPLY UV COATING
This is a very important step because it will help prevent your headlights from reverting to their previous state. There are also clear cover films you can buy to put on the lenses if you desire.
IN A PINCH
If you don't have much faith in the restoration kits or you don't feel like spending any money on trying to restore your own headlights, then there is one more option that you can try. This is something that people have been doing for years before companies got into the market selling the restoration kits. You will need to gather a few supplies:
These things will make up your own homemade kit. You will use them just as you did with a kit. Start with cleaning the lenses. Then, sand them to get rid of most of the oxidation. Then, you will use the toothpaste in place of the compounds that you would get in a kit. You can use more sandpaper in addition to the toothpaste or just rub it on with a clean rag. Use circular motions and keep working until the lenses look clear. Then, buff and apply the UV coating. Remember skipping the UV coat will mean your headlights won't stay clear very long, and you'll have to do this process again soon.
WILL DIY RESTORATION WORK FOR ME?
Now that you understand more about restoring a headlight, you may wonder if this even works. You might think it would be better to just go ahead and buy new lenses or shell out the money to have a professional do your restoration. The truth is that the reviews are mixed. Some people swear by DIY restoration, while others say it doesn't work. There are still others that say restoration is good enough to remove most of the oxidation, but that it will never clear headlights up completely.
The reality is that the effectiveness of restoring headlights yourself really depends on many factors. Here's a look at some elements that contribute to the success or failure of a DIY job:
How hard you work refers to how much time you spend on the process and how hard you are pressing. Remember you are removing oxidation — that doesn't come off easily. It is going to take quite some time to do this. Using a drill may help some with getting good pressure and keeping pressure even, but it will still take a fair amount of time to remove the fogging. It is important that you keep working until you see the lens is clear. Make sure to have something handy to sit on while you work to spare your body some strain.
The compounds you use can also make a difference. The liquids and pastes that come in kits have various levels of grit. The more grit, the more they can remove. If you have heavily oxidized lenses, then you need something very gritty. If you go the toothpaste route, it may not be gritty enough to do the job. Of course, the coarser the compound, the less time you will spend working, too. So, keep that in mind.
The sandpaper you use is just like the compound. You want it to be able to remove the oxidation. It also will affect how long you have to work, just as with the compound.
The amount of fogging is a huge factor. If you have light oxidation, then it will not take as much time or compound to get rid of it. It will also be easier to remove. However, if you have heavy clouding, it can be almost impossible to remove all the damaged material.
Considering these factors, it isn't surprising that DIY restoration works well for some people while it isn't as effective for others. The conditions of the lens, the materials used and how hard you work all play a large role in what results you will get. In some cases, some people just give up too soon, feeling that they cannot get any better results. However, in most cases, you can get clear headlights again as long as you are willing to put in the time — regardless of the other factors.
To ensure that you get the best results, we wanted to offer some final tips to keep in mind as you do your headlight restoration.
1. MAKE SURE TO GATHER THE RIGHT TOOLS.
Even if you buy a kit, you may still need some additional items to do a complete job. Make sure to read through all the instructions and gather what you need before you begin.
2. GET COMFORTABLE.
Since the process is going to take time, make sure you have set up a comfortable place to work. You don't want to kneel or bend over during the process. Find something to sit on and maybe play music to keep you from getting bored.
3. PROTECT YOUR PAINT.
Make sure that you use painter's tape to protect the area around your headlight. Remember that you are using sandpaper and gritty compounds that will scratch your paint if you are not careful. Taping off the area helps prevents accidents and helps ensure that your paint isn't ruined.
4. KEEP AT IT.
There's no way to stress enough how long the process can be sometimes. Make sure you just keep working. Also, make sure you choose to do this when you have a couple hours to devote to it. You may also need more time, depending on the kit, for the UV coating to set before you can use your car. Having enough time is essential to ensuring you do a complete job and get the best possible results.
5. STAY ON TOP OF OXIDATION.
Even after you have properly restored your headlights, that doesn't guarantee that the problem won't happen again. Next time, catch it early before oxidation gets too bad. This will save you a lot of time and elbow grease. Do a check every month or so to watch for fogging.
Headlight restoration is a process that isn't too hard — but it can take some time. While you may not feel like doing it, the option to do it yourself can save you a lot of money. Your only other alternatives are hiring a professional or buying new lenses, which both can be expensive. Taking time to use a DIY kit can get you the results you want as long, as you keep the information and tips we provided in mind. You should be able to successfully remove the oxidation, getting your lenses clear again. That way, you can see properly at night and in adverse weather — and others can see you more easily.