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Picture of How to Restore Your Headlights
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This is my first instructable, so I hope all goes well.

Headlights begin to fade over time, and there's no way around it. As your headlights fade, the amount of light that makes it out of the headlight becomes less, and before you know it, driving at night becomes difficult, but more importantly, dangerous. This is due to oxidation on the lens. Once oxidation begins to take place, it quickly degrades the headlight lens, because polycarbonate is a porous material.  Wet sanding (what we will be doing) helps to remove this oxidation and restore your headlights to a safer condition.

I have been restoring headlights now (mine and a few friends and family) for quite some time, and I feel that the knowledge should be passed to others. So without further adieu, let's get started.

What you will need:

-Shop Towels
-Sand Paper with values: 800, 1000, and 2000 grit.
-A Small Towel, Rag, or Microfiber Cloth
-3M Rubbing Compund
-Automotive Masking tape
-A Drill (corded or cordless)
-Compound Pad (Wool pad works as well), with drill adapter
-A Spray Bottle with Water
-Rubbing Alcohol
-A Small Measuring Cup (one you don't use for food)
-Minwax's Helmsman Spar Urethane : Clear Gloss.You need this specific kind.
-Odorless Mineral Spirits
-2 to 3 Hours put aside (depending on your attention to detail)
-Patience
 
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jamoreno8425 days ago
This is great, my only question is: does any dust or any particles get stuck on the clear coat while it dries? Thank you
Skyline0091 month ago

At the Motor Dealership we have restored over 200 cars and tried all the kits from 3m to Sylvania and they didn't provide enough materials to complete a single job, left scratches and pitting marks or the resealer they provide (if at all) was only a short term fix, some lasting less than 30 days and turned yellow.

We tried thinners for removing just yellow discolouration and in many cases you could see it melt the surface...so you had to be extremely careful or not use it on some plastics. One set of lights proved ok with a small spot test and appeared ok...but several hours later they turned milkly. $2800 mistake on a BMW.

The tips in this instructable are quite good yet what we found was there was so much skill and art in the techniques as there is with the materials used. It requires someone who has done a lot of them to get it right.

We can't get the Spar Urethane floor sealer here and tried something similar and experimented with thinning mixes to get the right mix but at least 1/4 of these jobs had hardcoats turn yellow over a period of time. Clearly a floor sealer for timber has its limitations in constant exposure to the sun.

We concluded that is some cases you don't use wet and dry as you only need to light resurface with componds. However, in the highly oxidised state with scratches it is necessary to use specialised wet & dry paper and the right rubbing techique, along with the right compounds, drill pads and finally a suitable urethane or acrylic hardcoat for plastics.

JonathanL6 made it!2 months ago

This works great. I thought I would be able to just buff these out, but in the end did the wet sanding and they turned out just like glass. Thanks a lot for the instructable!

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gmatta (author)  JonathanL62 months ago

WOW, that looks awesome. I am more than happy to help, and thanks for posting your results.

Kurt_DR2 years ago
I have seen in some kits for this that they recommend sanding in the same direction for one grit size and then sanding perpendicular to the previous direction in the next. Is this how you sanded these headlights or did you go the same direction for all three grits of sandpaper?

It is best to alternate directions when sanding. If you don't you won't remove the previous grti scratches very well

gmatta (author)  Kurt_DR2 years ago
To be honest, it doesn't really matter which way you do it. From my understanding, going perpendicular each following step only helps to make sure you got rid of the scratches in the previous step. So if I were on the 1000 grit step, when I finish I should see all the scratches going on one direction. If there are any scratches going perpendicular from the direction I just did, I missed a spot. For me though, I just go in one direction. Its really up to you. Its a bit hard to explain, but I hope this answers your question.
siervua2 years ago
Also you can use a soft toothbrush and toothpaste. (not the gel type). Lather on toothpaste, and brush in circular motions. Wipe off with clean towel. I just did my headlights. Worked great and they smell minty too!

The toothpaste works on headlamps that are not very bad. But if they are bad you could use a case of toothpast and not help the ;amp at all.

Tex Arcana1 year ago
Why not use a spray spar urethane instead? More uniform coating and easier application.
gmatta (author)  Tex Arcana1 year ago

By all means, you can use what suits you better, in fact I have recently moved to spraying automotive clear coat (theoretically it should last longer, but I only just recently made the switch). With spraying clear of any sort though (especially with rattle cans), you must be mindful of overspray. Overspray has a way to get on any and everything that you don't mask, so when you spray (if you so choose), you will also need to spend more time masking and taping. I do not expect my instructions to be taken verbatim, but I would like to think of them more as a guide. I hope that you found this instructable at least somewhat helpful, and I do thank you for taking a look at it :))

I'd suggest editing the instructable to include the use of spray clearcoat, and what type/brand you used.

Also: most new automotive headlights are actually pretty easy to remove (mine, for instance, have just two pull tabs that release the whole housing), so removing them and repairing them away from the car is easy and recommended, especially to control overspray. ;-)
SparkySam1 year ago
Thank you for posting. I've got a headlight that is gonna get it!
gmatta (author)  SparkySam1 year ago
Awesome. I'm glad you have decided to take the plunge. Make sure you tale before and after photos so you can show all your friends how it came out, or you can just post them here in the comments to show how your's turn out, that way we have another example other than my own, haha. Thanks for checking out my instructable, and keep us updated on how it goes.
lyndall1 year ago
I tried this and it seems to work better than the ones you purchase.
gmatta (author)  lyndall1 year ago
Cool. Hey, Thanks for checking out my first instructable. I am glad that I have been able to help.
dchall82 years ago
There is a kit by 3M which has all this stuff in it. The sand paper goes on the rotary drill arbor. The first one might take you 20 minutes to learn how to do it. The second one will take 10-15. After that you'll knock them out in 5 minutes from the time you put the tape on until you peel the tape off.
gmatta (author)  dchall82 years ago
That's the first kit I used before learning how to do it by hand. Its great, but I do this to make money on the side (being a full time student with a part time job. It helps pay for gas). It Turns out to be cheaper if I do it this way it would be if I bought a kit. To do one pair of headlights though, the 3M kit is the best, hands down. Thanks for checking out my first I'ble.
gmatta (author)  gmatta1 year ago
Also, one thing to note (knowing that others might read this comment), I wasn't happy with the jump in grits from 800 to 3000 grit sandpaper. If you do find yourself using the 3M kit, I recommend taking extra time on the 3000 grit step. Just like the steps above, the more time you spend sanding, especially on the last step, the better your results.
Mama Reni2 years ago
Your results look wonderful...How much should I have to pay someone to do this? It's a tactile thing, I really don't want to have to touch sandpaper.
gmatta (author)  Mama Reni1 year ago
I know that this is a little overdue, but there really is no price that is set. It really comes down to the person doing the job to set a price. While I wouldn't say that it will be outragiously expensive, it does take some time, so I wouldn't be surprised if someone charged $40+
doc.kennedy2 years ago
Great tip and you saved me $$$!!! Thanks for not only your efforts but putting it all down in an understandable way in the Instrucable's site.
gmatta (author)  doc.kennedy1 year ago
Very glad that you found my instructable informative and helpful. And many thanks for checking it out!! :)
adamjoe862 years ago
You might try taping newspaper around the headlights to catch any drips of urethane from landing on the car paint or remove the entire headlight housing.
pantalone2 years ago
Great instructable! Can't wait to try this on my 11-year-old vehicle with hazy headlights.
whisperer2 years ago
I'm gonna let you guys in on a little secret.
The secret is called Silvo or Brasso. They are both metal polishes and come in small inexpensive containers. Rub it on and buff it off by hand, time spent... maybe 2 minutes.
gmatta (author)  whisperer2 years ago
To be honest, I never thought of that. The van I showed was actually a neighbor's car. The husband tried to fix it himself so there were a lot of scratches I had to correct. But to get rid of just oxidation, that's a genius idea. I'll have to try that out. And thanks for checking out my first i'ble
RainDog072 years ago
I'll do this next time I have to polish a headlight lens. Lots cheaper than buying a kit each time!