Restore Your Headlights

Categories: Lighting, Product Reviews
A foggy, chipped, crazed plastic headlight lens

It’s been a hot minute since headlight lenses were made of durable glass. Since before most of you reading this were born, plastic has been the medium of choice. There are good reasons for this in weight savings, cost, ease of manufacture, and wider design options than glass. But there’s one significant drawback, too. With enough exposure to the sun’s rays, all plastic begins to deteriorate at the molecular level. This manifests as fogging, hazing, and yellowing and can really ruin not only your car’s appearance, but the clarity and safety of your headlights.

If your car is more than ten years old, it’s probably experiencing some degree of headlight haze. Many factors impact how quickly headlight plastic deteriorates; if you park in a garage during the day, how close to the equator you live, etc. Replacing headlight assemblies can run hundreds of dollars in parts and labor. But fear not, because you can restore your headlights quickly and simply, no matter how foggy the plastic may be.

There. Are. Four. Lights!

Yessir, it’s another product review post. By now most of you are aware of my personal affinity for Mothers line of detailing products, and this kit is no exception. But it’s far from the only option on the market and they’re all fine choices. So, let’s dive in…

What You Get

What’s in the box is really pretty clever. You get a hex-mount wheel with a Velcro face that attaches to any handheld, battery-powered drill. I happen to own a Black & Decker. To stick on the wheel there are 800 grit sanding pads (2x), 1500 grit sanding pads (2x), a 3000 grit sanding pad, and a “Power Ball” polishing sponge. A bottle of plastic polish rounds out the contents. In addition to the kit, you will need the aforementioned cordless drill, a bucket of water, and maybe a roll of painter’s tape.

The ideal way to tackle this job is to remove the headlight assemblies from your car entirely. Some late-model cars make this reasonably easy. If you don’t know how to remove the headlights from your car, do yourself an enormous favor and buy a Hayne’s manual. In my case however, and those of many others, this isn’t practical. Removing the headlights from a 2008 Mustang means pulling the entire front bumper cover, which is a bigger commitment than I’m willing to put into this venture. So…

Headlight taped off to protect surrounding surfaces

If you can’t easily remove your headlight assemblies, there’s nothing stopping you from restoring them in place. However, you’ll be using some harsh abrasives that can and will tear up your paint if you don’t prepare. Lay down a few inches of painter’s tape surrounding the headlight to protect your finish.

If your headlights are real gnarly, start with the 800 grit sanding pads. With sandpaper, the lower the number, the more course the paper. The higher the number, the finer.

Wet Sanding

Apologies to Ben Shaprio’s life experience, but you want to keep everything wet throughout this process. The water acts as a lubricant to keep the sanding surface from clogging up or the plastic itself from overheating and melting. Just dunk the sanding wheel in a bucket of water and keep dunking it.

Don’t press in. Light touch. It’s the speed of the sander doing the work, not the pressure.

Stop frequently to wipe the surface clean so you have an idea how far you’re progressing. This right here is probably the moment you have a little panic attack thinking you’ve ruined your headlights, but trust me, you haven’t. However, see how uneven everything is? That’s because you’re sanding through different layers of deterioration. It means you’re not evenly down into healthy plastic yet. You want it to look more like…

…this. Now you’re ready to step up to the 1500 grit pad.

Clearing up again, isn’t it? Now it’s time for the 3000 grit foam pad.

See how drastically the clarity improves at every step? You cannot skip any of them. They must be done in sequence. Anyway, once you’ve reached the last sanding pad, it’s time for the plastic polish and “Power Ball” sponge.

I’ve gone through this process by hand with progressive sheets of sandpaper and a buffing towel and I cannot express how much better it is to let the drill do all the work. Also, props to my little Black & Decker because it powered through this whole process on both headlights on a single charge. Anyway, once you’ve finished all of these steps and pull the tape away, you can expect results like this…

Folks, it’s brand stinkin’ new, cost $25 instead of hundreds, and about an hour of work, which is what installing new headlights would take anyway. This is 100% the way to go.

Final verdict: Firing on 8/8 cylinders.

And be ready for more feedback soon because I kinda splurged on cleaning products this month…