Nothing means more to your safety on the road at night than effective headlights, but over time, they get can hazy and yellow, decreasing visibility and making your car look like it’s ready for the junkyard.
The good news is that restoring headlights to their original luster doesn’t have to break the bank or your back. Keep reading to learn more about why your lights are dim and what you can do about it.
Why are my headlights cloudy?
Before the 1990’s headlights were made of glass, but this presented issues that encouraged car makers to switch to polycarbonate plastic.
Glass headlights are heavy and add to the weight of a vehicle, decreasing its fuel efficiency. When broken, glass headlights are both a road and personal hazard, as well as expensive to replace. Limitations on the shape of glass lenses also compromises aerodynamics and limits design options, making the switch to plastic a good move.
The problem with plastic lenses is that they’re strong, but porous. New lenses are coated with a protective film that protects them from damage, but over time, the heat from the lightbulb inside, exposure to UV rays and contact with road dirt and chemicals causes it deteriorate, leaving your headlights cloudy and discolored. In some states, hazy headlights won’t pass inspection.
The Benefits of Restoring Headlights
The most obvious benefit is safety. Driving at night is only as safe as your visibility, but there may be a few benefits that aren’t on your radar.
A car with cloudy headlights doesn’t look its best and gives potential buyers the impression that the vehicle wasn’t well-maintained. Small aesthetic imperfections can cost hundreds in resale value and high-impact safety items like headlights ding the value even more.
Once the protective film on lenses is gone, the porous material can allow water and chemicals inside the headlight. If this happens, the entire light must be replaced and that can cost hundreds more than a simple restoration.
How to Restore Headlights
Headlights can be restored by professionals, but — ouch! That’s costly. Another option is home remedies which can sometimes do the trick, but aren’t always effective. Finally, we have budget-friendly headlight restoration kits that when combined with a little elbow grease, offer professional results without the body shop price.
First, let’s look at a few effective home remedies.
Cloudy headlights often start with small scratches instead of heavy duty damage. This is the best time to consider home remedies. To improve the look of lenses, a good cleaning followed by a coat of wax or plastic polish can reduce haze. With a soft cloth, apply it to the headlights in one direction until scratches are no longer visible.
White household vinegar is an acid that can partially remove cloudiness from headlights. Soak the lens in a solution of half water and half vinegar and let it rest for an hour. After soaking, buff cloudiness away with a soft cloth or paper towels.
Fine grit automotive sandpaper is more abrasive than road salt and can even out heavy scratches on the surface of lenses. Gently rub until the scratches diminish, and then polish with vegetable oil, wax or plastic polish to remove the small scratches left behind.
Toothpaste contains a mild abrasive that isn’t as rough as sandpaper, but can still ease the appearance of unsightly scratches. It might take a few rounds, but just rub your lenses down with whatever brand you have and rinse. The results can be surprising.
There’s a better chance of these remedies helping if you’re dealing with mild wear. If you’ve tried these and they didn’t help or you’d rather eliminate the hassle and guesswork altogether, it’s time to consider a headlight restoration kit.
Let’s look at the ten best headlight restoration kits
3M is well-known for its high-quality surface abrasives and this kit is no exception. Inside are sanding discs featuring their patented Trizact abrasive that is so fine you can sand across the plastic lenses without worrying about creating scratches. It works faster, stays tougher longer and allows for precise finish control.
Each kit comes with instructions and enough materials to restore two headlights. You’ll need a few additional materials including tape to protect your car’s finish around the headlights and a polishing compound to use after. In under and hour, you’ll have a set brilliantly-restored lenses.
– Kit can be used with or without a drill
– Polishing compound is sold separately ¬— use your choice of products
– 3M videos on their website walk you through the restoring process
2. H & A Quality Headlight Restoration Kit Super Quick & Easy Result In 60 Seconds with 3M UV Protection
If spending even an hour in the garage on beach day sounds like too much work, try this crazy-fast option from H & A. In about a minute, your headlights could look like new.
The secret is a series of wipes that are already loaded with products you need to use. There are no cans to open, no rags to use, nothing to tape and nothing to measure. The box contains a special cleansing wipe, drying cloth and polishing wipe as well as a pair of gloves to protect your hands.
This kit isn’t the best choice for heavily clouded lenses and needs to be repeated twice a year, but it does an excellent job in the same amount of time it takes to swap out your car’s air freshener.
– Kit contains everything needed to treat two headlights
– No leftover products to dry out until the next time you need them — pay just for what you need
– 100% satisfaction guarantee
The Turtle Wax name is synonymous with shine. Each kit contains 10 products allowing you to restore up to four heavily oxidized headlights.
You’ll need a drill, but don’t worry, a universal connector and a full set of instructions are in the box. You’ll start by using Turtle Wax’s unique lens clarifying compound to remove surface discoloration and restore clarity. Then go to work with a spray lubricant and 3 premium sanding pads to remove scratches. Finish up with the protective sealant to prevent future damage. The whole process takes only 15 minutes per headlight. That’s faster than driving to the body shop.
– Kit contains everything except tape
– Protective sealant helps your results last longer
– Use on headlights or taillights
Mother knows best! This unique kit is a cinch to use and it makes results even easier to maintain.
In each kit is a “Powerball” polishing tool that fits on any standard drill. Apply a large dab of the PowerPlastic 4Lights liquid polish to the center of the ball and let the drill do the work. Buff the lens clean with the microfiber towel in the box and enjoy the crystal-clear results. It’s that simple.
Tape is not included, but recommended. To maintain optimal clarity, use the PowerPlastic 4Lights monthly.
– Polishing tool is washable and reusable
– Enough polish is included for months for maintenance
– PowerPlastic4Lights cleans, polishes and protects against future oxidation damage
For headlights in rough shape, Meguiar’s Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit comes with everything you need except a drill and tape to safely and effectively remove even the heaviest oxidation.
Remove surface defects with the included sanding discs and then polish with PlastX Clear Plastic Cleaner Polish and the Easy-Buff Wool Pad attachment using any standard corded drill. A proprietary headlight coating preserves clarity and protects the lens from damage for up to a full year.
There’s enough in the box to do both headlights and more.
– Long-lasting results don’t require constant touch-up
– Effective for heavy damage
– Users report getting at least three two-light applications per kit
This Meguiar’s Kit takes it a step further and lets you complete headlight restoration in just one-step.
Attach the included Meguiar’s Easy Buff wool pad to your drill. Apply a nickel-sized amount of PlastX polish to the pad and buff the lights. Remove the product with a soft, clean cloth before it dry and you’re ready for the next job.
If the results aren’t as good as you’d hoped for,a the folks at Meguiar’s include a stubborn defect removal pack, just in case.
– Easy, one-step process
– No drying time between product applications
This entry from Turtle Wax features the same great quality, but no drill required!
It starts with lens clarifying wipes that may be all you need. If not, wet sanding pads allow you to attack deep surface scratches safely. Use the lens sealing wipe to restore factory-style protection to you headlights and off you go.
It’s a multi-step process if you need it and a single step if you don’t. There’s enough in the kit to do two headlights in about 15 minutes each.
– Flexible single or multi-step process
– Lens sealing wipes offers ongoing protection from the elements
3M has done it again with a professional level kit that restores headlights to like-new brilliance.
The four-step process takes a little more time and you’ll need a drill, but it’s simple and instructions are included. In the kit, you’ll get everything you need to get the cleaning and polishing done, but you’ll have to choose a UV sealant on your own.
That may sound like a negative, but the sealant is the most subject to preference and buying it separately lets you choose just the right product for your car and environmental conditions.
– Professional-level results
– Can be used on any lights including fog lamps and directional
– Contains enough materials for every light a large truck or SUV
9. Visbella DIY Vehicle Headlight Restoration Kit, Manual, Quick Headlight Restore with UV Protection
For the non-handyperson, this kit includes everything you need — right down to the tape.
The quick, three-step process is a breeze and takes only twenty minutes for each light. There’s enough in the kit to tackle both lamps and what makes this product different is that the headlight cleaner offer extra UV protection. This may not be the ultimate must-have in any climate, but if you live where sun damage is a high risk, UV protection is absolutely essential.
– No drill is required
– Buffing tool is ergonomically-friendly
– Offers excellent UV protection
If convenience is the name of the game, this product is for you.
Made in the USA, it’s a one-of-a-kind presaturated wipe that takes the place of multiple steps. Just clean the lens with the included specialty cleansing pad and wipe — period. One application lasts through hundreds of car washes and the kit contains enough for both headlights.
Wipe New is so convinced it’s the only restoration product you’ll ever need that it guarantees your headlights will pass inspection for the lifetime of your vehicle.
– Gloves and microfiber finishing wipe included in the kit
– You can’t beat guaranteed results
Every car has different needs, so it’s worth doing your homework on these kits to find the one that will give you the results you expect. It’s a small, but significant investment you can make today in both your safety and the value of your vehicle.