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The switch away from sealed-beam headlights helped us all. Seriously. There’s nothing crappier than having to search around all weekend for a bulb that’s EXACTLY the right shape and size for your 280Z. (Yes, I’ve been there.) But that’s the upshot. The downside: Over time the plastic covers over modern headlights starts to develop a fuzzy film from scratches and weather wear. And this dims your lights. Plus it looks totally crappy.

So why not take some time this weekend and polish ’em up? A number of companies sell tools to help you do the job, and they’re all pretty effective — assuming you get started early enough. (Hint: If your headlight covers are yellowed, you’re probably screwed. That’s a chemical change that you can’t polish away.)

Most kits include some kind of polish plus a polishing wheel for you to chuck up in your cordless drill. At the high end of consumer products you’ll find Meguiar’s kit, checking in at $25, for which you receive a tube of their PlastX product, a buff pad, and a microfiber towel. Reviews of the kit online seem mixed, but I suspect that those results might be skewed a bit by sour grapes over waiting too long to start the process.

On the cheap-ass tool end you’ll find a $10 kit from Harbor Freight, pictured above, including a tiny tube of polishing solution, three foam pads, and a 2-3/4″ backing pad with a 1/4″ shank for drill attachment.

Of course, if you’re planning on going into the headlight cover restoration business, Meguiar’s offers a “pro” kit with two pneumatic buffers, a ton of buffing pads, and their commercial-level solution for a whopping $500.

Regardless of which solution you choose, though, we recommend trying a little of it on the corner of your lamp cover by hand first to assure you’re not going to make a bad situation worse. If all goes well, switch to power and take it a little at a time.

And if you don’t get decent results with polish, you can always opt for replacement. Some covers are pretty reasonably priced, starting around $50 each. Others can run upwards of $200. Doh!

Headlight Restoration Kit [Meguiar’s]
Via Amazon [What’s This?]
12-Minute Headlamp Lens Restoration Kit [Harbor Freight]

 

24 Responses to Ditch The Film Over Your Headlights

  1. BJN says:

    I had good results with the 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System. The polycarbonate lens on one side had a fairly thick milky layer that I wet-sanded off using the kit supplies. Polishing worked fine with some minor swirl marks.
    Includes masking tape, sanding disks and pad, polishing compound and foam polisher. Cost about $15.

  2. george says:

    so far i have kept it at bay by using the plastx stuff as soon as i see some dulling. cheaper than waiting and having to get a kit.

  3. boyAND1 says:

    I too have surpassed the kit. I got a $4 bottle of polishing compound (liquid kind) and put it on a rag. If you don’t want to do it by hand, use a cordless drill or a orbital sander under the rag like I did. Total cost $4.

  4. Shopmonger says:

    Yeah they work good and it only needs to be done every two to three years……

    power is king….

    ShopMonger

  5. Toolaremia says:

    We were better off with sealed-beam headlights. Every reason NHTSA’s predecessor gave for requiring sealed-beams has come to fruition since composite capsule headlights have been allowed. The capsules are *insanely* expensive, so people don’t replace damaged headlights. Sealed beams were under $5. We won’t even get into replacement costs of HID components, but double the cost of halogen composite headlamp components just for starters. The capsule’s light output decreases with age and replacing the $15+ bulb doesn’t fix it because the damage is crazed and yellowed polycarbonate of the capsule and corrosion/ablation of the interior reflective coating. So replacing the capsule is required, which brings us back to the insane cost. The capsules for obsolete car models are hard to find and in some cases can’t be found new at all, meaning permanently shitty light output from used, hazed, yellowed, cracked, and corroded capsules.

    If you had trouble finding the right size sealed-beam bulb for your 280Z, then so did about 1/8 of every other car. There was a limited number of sizes and shapes of sealed beams prior to 1984.

    Sorry to be a curmudgeon, but the quality of lighting I see on the roads today is horrible. Either so dim I can barely see oncoming car’s headlights due to age and damage, or BLINDING light from HIDs coming over even the mildest crest. HID’s and composite headlights should be banned. Bring back sealed-beams!

    – Ned Ludd 😉

  6. Aarnesen says:

    I`ve had good results with Autoglym Super resin polish in the past. I guess any polish with a mild abrasive in it would work just as good as the “special” headlamp restore products. I`ve also heard about people using toothpaste with luck.

    -Anders-

  7. Groove says:

    My ’01 F150 was the first vehicle I ever owned with these installed. I discovered if I clean the lenses with the squeegee at the gas station EVERY time I filled up, they stayed almost good as new. I’m doing the same with my ’09 and they still look brand new. Just a thought…

  8. MattC says:

    The goal is to address it early. Several of the previous posts stated correctly that using PlastX or similar will help the deterioration. You can even use toothpaste with a rag, seriously. It is best to follow it with a sealant of some kind. If the lenses are cloudy, then the UV layer (a thin piece of plastic affixed to the lamp) has crapped out. The solution is to either wetsand followed by dimishing polishes, then protect it with a sealant. (the 3M kit used a variation on this by a dry sand disc, then wetsand discs, followed by a polishing pad// The Meguiars kit is perfect for mild oxidation, but not for advanced)

  9. DanS says:

    I go over mine with 1200 grit and then hit them with a buffer. Works on most plastics. I’ve done head lights, a grill, gauge clusters, center consoles, etc. Be careful with the buffer, I know a guy who melted a spot on a head light.

  10. TheHawaiian says:

    Take your favorite liquid metal polish, a towel and and use back and forth strokes. Wipe clean and follow with a plexiglas polish. About 5-10 minutes and you are done. Cheap, quick and effective.

  11. Larry says:

    For plastic lenses use Novus polish.

    http://www.novuspolish.com/

    For UV damaged lenses try mixing up some Retrobright

    http://retr0bright.wikispaces.com/

  12. ambush says:

    Chrome/metal polish works well, but there is a chance it could react with the plastic. A rubbing compound is safer.

  13. kyle says:

    Just use buffing compound like owuld normally be used of the finish-3M finnesse it is one
    if they are really bad sand with 1500 grit wet first

  14. kyle2 says:

    I heard toothpaste works just as well as polishing compound on headlights. Any truth to this?

  15. Chris says:

    you guys who have had good results are lucky. I’ve tried 3m and a kit like above in the post with, and have gotten no where. I’m thinking I’ll just have to buy two new head lights.
    Blaa

  16. Gene says:

    From what I have been reading, any polishing process will only work temporarily, as the UV rays will start breaking down the plastic again unless you have a UV protector to coat the headlights with AFTER you have polished all of the defects out of the plastic. I found a product on Amazon for around $200 that says it does 25 sets of headlights. Now to find 24 more people who need to restore their headlights!

  17. Jerry says:

    Just stop driving at night. Seriously, the other half managed to break one light so I replaced it with one from E-Bay. Only then did I realize how bad the originals had gotten. So, one bright light and one foggy/dim one. Being too cheap to buy another new one, went for the toothpaste and a buffer. It worked pretty well – “almost” as good as the new one. Sadly, it lasted about 2 months before turning foggy again. Still too cheap to buy another new one, the Mustang now looks as if it is winking all the time.
    I also have to agree with “Toolaremia” about the old sealed beam but I’m an old geezer who would prefer a vehicle of the sealed beam vintage anyway. I can work on those beasts.

  18. Wayne D. says:

    There are plenty of UV protectant coatings out there. There is Krylon Fusion Clear (2444) spray paint that has UV protection, but I would want to try it out on a broken headlight first. For more temporary, there is the following from Diamondite;

    http://www.autogeek.net/dia-plastic-liquid-armor.html

  19. B. Foo says:

    I’ve been using micromesh sanding pads and polish since before these kits were ever released. I think somebody saw me and stole my idea… maybe I should sue….

  20. uqbar says:

    I recently used the kit from Harbor Freight ($10) – worked just fine. Too soon to tell about ongoing UV exposure. I think it was worth it anyway – the plastic was very foggy before; after – I’m guessing the brightness improved about 20%.

  21. fuzzmanmatt says:

    I sell the sealed beam headlights, most common are a 6054, for almost $20 a piece. I sell the halogen capsules, at retail, for $10, and at wholesale for $2.99… I don’t see where the cost complaints against ancient technology come into play anymore. And yes, headlight assemblies cost way, way too much.

  22. wes says:

    Is there a reason to not just use the regular biannual car polish on the headlight plastic too? Those say they protect against UV and should protect some against minor scratches as well . . .

  23. pencilneck says:

    Toothpaste, I’ve tried it a few times, works better on teeth than headlights.

    I use to work at a dealer and hazed over headlights on the product line was almost standard issue after 5 years. We tried different kits, that while improving the lights, were a lot of effort for results that we were not proud of, as such, techs never would try to do the upsell.

    Then we tried the 3M kit and were very impressed with the results. So much so we purchased a whole kit that came with a couple of pneumatic tools and enough product to do 15 headlights. Yeah, why not 16? Anyway, the 3M kit works great. At Amazon they have small kits for under $15 and you use your own drill, that was what we tried at the dealer first.

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