How to Properly Perform a Headlight Restoration
By Amber Roundtree
How to properly perform a headlight restoration may seem like a chore, but it’s actually quite easy. If you have ever sanded something down, then you know how to perform a headlight restoration. With a few slight adjustments to a normal sanding, you can learn how to properly perform a headlight restoration without the use of some funky little kit.
The reason that headlights seem to fail so often these days is due to the low quality plastics that are being used. This on top of an uninformed public leads to over 50% of late
model vehicles needing to have a headlight resurfacing performed.
Everyone knows that a car needs to have a wax job at least a few times a year. Most people do not know that their headlights need to be conditioned with plastic polish a few times a year also. This is not only to keep the car and headlights beautiful, but it adds a protective layer to filter out the sun’s harsh UV rays. Just like a vehicle’s paint can oxidize so can the plastic that composes the headlights on modern vehicles. Oxidation requires a resurfacing whether it is on the paint of the car or the headlights. The process for both is similar, but we will cover how to properly compound and polish a car at another time. For now let’s focus on how to properly perform a headlight restoration.
The first step in the headlight restoration is to wash the vehicle thoroughly. After the vehicle is clean, you will want to pop the hood. The hood will remain raised throughout the entire process. The reason the hood has to be raised is to prevent damage from occurring to the paint while we are resurfacing the headlights. Now that the hood is popped we will want to tape off the area below the headlight to protect the bumper. This is only a precaution and if you do this a bunch of times, you will be able to properly perform this without hitting any painted areas. After taping off the painted area we are going to wet sand each headlight. To do this the following sanding grit will be needed 500-1000-2000-4000. If the headlights are just slightly cloudy you can start at 1000. If there are spider cracks and etching marks the 500 will be the starting point.
To begin wet sanding grab the starting pad and wet both the pad and the headlight. Begin sanding in a circular motion until the surface is consistently nice and smooth. Repeat this process until finished with the 4000 grit. The sanding area will need to be kept wet throughout the process. This is very similar for how to properly compound and polish a vehicle. As you go from the most abrasive to the least abrasive you will notice the visibility getting better and better. Normally by the time 4000 is finished the headlights are 85%-90% restored.
The wet sanding during the headlight resurfacing will leave fine 4000 grit micro scratches in the surface of the plastic. To get rid of the swirl marks and micro scratches we will want to use a medium compound and cutting pad with a random orbital polisher. The porter cable 7424xp is the perfect machine for performing the wet sanding and compounding and polish of the headlights. After the headlights are compounded it is time to polish them to a crystal clear finish. Using a polishing pad and plastic polish thoroughly polish the headlights. The headlights are now 100% restored and visibility returned to manufacturer’s settings. Most people will not believe how much better they can see at night. The hazing and cloudiness happens over the years so gradually that most people forget how well they could see when the headlights were in a like new condition. To finish up the job a plastic headlight sealant will be applied.
Now that you understand how to restore your headlights you can begin to regularly maintain them using the same plastic polish by hand. Polish your headlights every time the vehicle gets waxed and anytime there is even a slight hint of cloudiness. Re-sealing the headlights is recommended every six months to maintain the factory like new condition.