If you tried a headlight lens restoration system you're probably familiar with the following scenario. You tape off the headlights and you follow the instructions provided in the kit.
When you're all finished, you look at those nice clear lenses and say, "wow I did a great job". The next day you come back out to the car and you realize that maybe you didn't do such a great job?
After a week passes, you realize the headlights are starting to return to the cloudy and yellow finish you started with.
One of the reasons for this scenario remains the various types of headlight lens restoration systems and the different methods they deploy.
Generally speaking, the ones that require less work often provide results that disappear quickly. As you can see from the image of the families 2002 Toyota Corolla, we struggle with this problem.
This particular picture of the headlight lenses from the Toyota Corolla came two days after applying a headlight lens restoration system purchased at a local big box store.
They looked brand-new for the first 24 hours after completing the operation. Within two days we could see this wasn't going to hold up.
After 30 days they went right back to where we started. In this article we'll talk about the second attempt at removing the oxidation from the headlight lenses.
Then we'll talk about the step used to seal in the goodness. Finally, we'll discuss why the headlight lenses turn yellow in the first place.
Hint: it's not all about UV rays and acid rain that turns the headlights cloudy.
The first kit we purchased for the 2002 Toyota Corolla headlights cost us about $10. The second time around, we decided to go with the 3M headlight restoration system costing about twice as much.
The 3M Company offers two different options in repair kits. They have a medium duty headlight cleaning system and a heavy-duty restoration kit.
The heavy-duty kit utilizes a motorized cleaning disc. This is an important point to make, because if your lenses are just starting to get cloudy you definitely want to go with the medium duty system.
This allows a gentler hand cleaning of the finish. It also leaves the option open for using the heavy duty system further down the road if needed.
Since the fixmyoldride.com website deals with older automobiles we'll focus on the heavy-duty kit in this post.
The heavy-duty kit includes everything you need to get the job done. It even includes masking tape. Don't skip this step because it's possible to slip off of the headlights with the sanding disk and damage the paint.
The 3M heavy-duty headlight kit includes three separate wet sanding discs that you chuck into a handheld drill motor. These Trizact sanding discs start with a 1000 grit disk to remove heavy oxidation.
Then you take a step down to the 3000 grit disk and then you do a final polishing with a 5000 grit disk. When it comes to sanding pads the higher the grit number the less material it removes.
One of the mistakes people make is they see, the lens is clear after using the first disc and then doesn’t bother using the higher grit pads.
If you want this headlight restoration to last, follow all the steps so you don't have to do it again. The final step after compounding the plastic headlight lenses is to wash them with soap and water.
Next you apply the liquid finishing solution. The 3M heavy-duty kit also includes a synthetic wax designed to provide longer lasting results. However, like any wax it wears off quickly.
As we mentioned throughout this article the problem isn't restoring the headlights to a clear finish it's actually how long it lasts after you're done. Even when using the 3M kit outlined above the results start to fade over time.
Therefore, the additional step becomes to apply a coat of hard clear protection over the newly cleaned lenses.
With that said, after the restoration steps are completed you need to wait a couple of hours before you apply the additional protective layer.
The Maguire brand of headlight protection acts like an additional clear coat over the top of the headlight lenses. This is specially formulated as a plastic friendly product.
The other big point to make here is you want to keep the masking tape on that you applied during the headlight restoration process.
In fact, I'll take this a step further and say you should apply additional protection before using the sealing spray.
You want to keep this stuff off the paint finish. If you’re applying this outdoors, do not do so on a windy day. The packaging suggests that the additional clear coat keeps the headlights, clear for up to one year.
I think the key words here are up to. On the 2002 Toyota Corolla I clean the restored headlights with soap and water and reapply another layer of protection spray every three months. Yes, I’m getting tired of this process.
It's a lot of work and therefore, maybe you should consider buying brand-new headlights. Brand-new aftermarket lenses start in the $50 range. Switching the parts out makes for a good do-it-yourself repair on some models.
Either way, It's more than the way the headlights look, because clear headlights increase visibility at night.
It certainly seems like a bad idea to make a clear plastic lens out of plastic for an automobile. Acid rain and UV light play a big role in the deterioration of the headlight surface.
However, on our Toyota, another common problem greatly contributed to the decline or yellowing of the lenses. This Corolla has seen its share of automatic car washes.
Those rotating cleaning bristles wear out quickly and turn into swirling monsters that cause light scratches in the protective finish all over the automobile.
With that said, as your vehicle progresses through an automatic car wash it's often the headlights that first meet the spinning brushes.
They physically push the brush upward so it can pass over the hood, up the windshield and over the roof line.
This means the worn-out spinning brushes, the car wash should replace, apply a lot of pressure to the headlights. The fine lines it etches into your plastic headlight lenses become the beginning of the breakdown process.
With the scratches applied it allows all the other issues like acid rain and UV light to penetrate deeper into the plastic surface.
In other words, if you're going to use automatic car washes you should probably opt for one that's considered Touchless. This is when no brushes physically contact the surface of the vehicle.
This becomes more like a high pressure wash and dry system. Nevertheless, there's nothing better for the surface of your automobile than a good hand washing and drying with a shammy.
Hand washing the automobile increases how long the headlight lenses stay clear. We filed this headlight lens restoration system guide in the miscellaneous car repair problems section.
If you would like to see what else we had to fix on our Toyota Corolla take a look at this article about the broken inside door handles.
Author bio : Mark Gittelman is a retired ASE certified master technician, Chevrolet Professional Service Council member and the founder of FixMyOldRide.com. Watch the video on the about Mark Gittelman page to see his credentials, awards and certifications for yourself. Mr Gittelman hand writes all of the articles on FixMyOldRide.com unless indicated otherwise.