Five ways to make your old headlights look new

Once cars reach a certain age the headlight lenses start to become faded and hazy.  I put together a handful of options that you can use to remove the haze and bring your headlights back to new condition.  With these options you can decide which one will work best for you to get your headlights operating in tip top shape.

1.  Headlight restoration kit- Available at your favorite auto parts store, this is probably going to be a better option for most of us.  There are kits available from several respected names 3M, Crystal View, Flitz, Meguire’s, Mother’s, Permatex Sylvania, Turtle Wax and Wolfgang  that you can choose from.   There are a couple different types of kits available; one includes several sanding discs, as is the case with the 3M, Crystal View and Permatex products, which is pretty similar to the steps listed in number three.  The other kit type includes the needed polish along with required pads and cloths engineered to work with the system.  Regardless of the restoration kit that you buy for your headlights you are going to want to be sure to follow the directions carefully to prevent doing further damage to your headlights For more information check out our comparison page:  headlight restoration kits comparison.

2.  Replace your headlight housings with new OEM ones – this is a very effective way to restore the newness to your headlights.  There are a couple of drawbacks to going this route, the first is expense.  A set of new OEM headlight housings from your local dealer can cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.  One benefit is that most anyone that owns a screw driver can make this change with little effort and have great looking and highly effective headlights again.  Also important is that since these are an OEM replacement, the new parts should mount up perfectly as they are manufactured with the same high standards of the parts initially installed on your car.

3.  Replace your headlight housings with aftermarket parts – The benefits to this option almost mirror the benefits of buying new OEM housings as you are accomplishing the same end result, but the build quality of the aftermarket pieces can be variable and can cause some grief when it comes time to install. Because these parts are mass produced, often in China, it helps to drive down the actual cost to you.  If you are willing to sacrifice a bit of build quality and work through some fittament issues then this can be a great option for you.  Because there are numerous aftermarket vendors for replacement housings you could have varied results depending on which you end up with.  The good thing is that if you have a Dremel, or other rotary tool you can resolve most issues you will encounter as the issues usually involve the plastic mounting tabs used to attach the lights to the car’s chassis.

4.  The old reliable way – because hazy headlights are caused by oxidation and breakdown of the outer surface of the lens the lights can be restored by removing the offending materials.  The plus for this one is that is one of the lower cost solutions as far as money goes, but is the most time consuming and requires the most effort.

You’ll starts off with 400 grit wet/dry grit sand paper and water to spray to keep things lubricated. The water part of this is the MOST IMPORTANT as if you mess things up here you will be seeking out options  two or three.  There are a few basic steps that you go through that will need to be repeated with 400, 800, 1000, 1500 and 2500 grit wet/dry sandpaper.

First wet the lights and the sandpaper and gently sand the surface of the lens from side to side, not in a circular motion.  Next thoroughly rinse the lens then wash with clean soapy water and rinse again, then move on to the next higher grit of sandpaper.  Once you have made it through all grits of sandpaper you will need to polish the lens as they will still have a slightly cloudy appearance.  For this you’ll need a high quality rubbing compound type polish and a power buffer.  You will gently buff the lights using the compound while moving the buffer continuously, we don’t want to waste all of our efforts sanding by burning things out in the buffing stage.  Also, pay close attention to the instructions on the polish can.  Finally finish off with a good quality headlight sealer, be sure to follow the instructions on the label and your headlights will be just like new again.

A couple of pointers for this method:  mask off areas that you do not want to affect while doing this.  Since you will be working with a lot of sandpaper and the residues that come along with that you want to take some steps to protect the paint and chrome finishes around your headlights.  Because every car is different, survey the areas and use waterproof masking tape on any areas that you think might get scratched while you are working on this.  Remember, tape is cheap but paint repair is not!  The other pointer is related to you, only do this if you are confident that you will be able to take your time to follow through and finish this.  Remember less is more when it comes to the pressure you use while you are doing the sanding.  Let the sandpaper do the work.  If you are not super confident with undertaking something like this check out the next two options, they may be a better fit.

5.  Headlight restoration services – Either bring your car to someone, or have them come to you to follow through the steps in option three.  With this option you are trading your cash for the efforts needed to get the final product.  This is a good option for those who do not have the tools, skills or the facilities to go through that process.  Some examples of these services I have seen cost as low as $40 for a single headlight lens up to $100 for both lenses.

No matter which one you choose be sure to only undertake what you are comfortable with.  Because a couple of these options come with no parts list or instructions you will need to trust your personal expertise in doing a job that will make your headlights function properly with no permanent damage done to the lenses.

If you want more information on how different headlights work, please take a look at my other headlight information articles.