How to fix cloudy headlights
Cloudy foggy headlights can really reduce driving visibility at night.
When the protective clear-coat on plastic headlights wears off, the poly-carbonate lens oxidizes and turns cloudy. The clear coat degrades from UV sunlight exposure and sand blasting from road dirt. Here’s how to fix cloudy headlights for less than $25.
Buy a headlight restoration kit
Auto parts stores sell at least a dozen different kinds of headlight restoration kits. And if you do an online search, you’ll find advice ranging from polishing the headlights with toothpaste to using ordinary plastic polish. I’ve got news for you; if you polish the plastic without restoring the UV resistant clear coat, you have cloudy headlights again in less than six months. I’ve looked at all the kits on the market and I find only a few that include a DOT approved clear coat in the kit.
One way to restore these headlights is to sand down the oxidized clear coat with a 400-grit wet/dry paper, move up to 1000-grit, and then finish sanding with 2,000-grit. Next, polish the lens plastic polish. You can buy all the components at a hardware store or you can buy a complete kit from any auto parts store. Major brands like Permatex, Mother’s, Mequiars, and 3M each make a kit.
As well as these kits work, and they do work well, the sad truth is that you’ll be polishing your lenses again in about six months. That’s because the kits don’t include a replacement UV clear coat solution. Well, the exception is the new product by Sylvania. I’ve tried this product and can tell you it really works.
Use activator to remove the remaining factory clear coat
In addition to supplying the sandpaper and plastic polish, Sylvania also includes a bottle of “activator” and UV clear coat. Spray the activator onto the headlight lens and leave it in place for at least 30 seconds to soften the factory UV coat. The stuff really does soften the clear coat. Then wipe it off with a clean rag. The clear coat wipes off as a yellowish crud (the spray itself is clear).
Sand the headlight
Then I proceeded through all 3 sandpaper grits and the plastic polish. I was afraid I was going to have to really polish the heck out of it. After all, the Mequiars, Mothers, and 3M kits each have a foam ball that attaches to your drill for the final polishing. Since this kit didn’t pack the foam ball I was a bit worried. That was unfounded. It really didn’t take long to polish the lens. Then I applied the UV clear coat. What a difference!! The lens instantly cleared up and looked like new. I’m not kidding. I was shocked.
I met with the Sylvania product manager who developed the Headlight Restoration kit at the 2010 AAPEX SEMA show. He gave me the back story on the product. He used to work in the division that manufactures headlight assemblies and sells them to the car makers. So when he became aware of the clear coat failure (it’s not really a “failure” as such, it just wears out from sandblasting and sunlight) he went to work on a fix. First, they needed to find a clear coat that could be applied in the field by DIYers. Next, they worked on formulating an activator that could remove most of the old clear coat, to reduce the sanding requirements. Then they consumer tested the product to make sure DIYers could follow the directions.
Sylvania’s studies show that their restoration procedure lasts 2-3 years, versus about 6-months for polish-only treatments. The new clear coat prevents oxidation and reduces damage from sandblasting.
© 2012 Rick Muscoplat
Posted on by Rick Muscoplat