DIY Restoration for Hazy Car Headlights

DIY Restoration for Hazy Car Headlights

Whether you’re putting the shine on your old car to sell it yourself or trade it in, or you just like to keep your automotive assets looking sharp as the day you drove off the lot, a big-impact low-cost low-effort way to get your car looking young again is to clear up those hazy headlight lenses.

Now, if you drive a luxury vehicle and trade it in every other year, you probably don’t have a problem to pay a shop tech to touch up your headlights, right?

But for most of us, a simple DIY headlight restoration you can do quickly on a nice sunny Saturday afternoon is easier on the wallet – and it’s one of those tinkering kind of jobs that can be very satisfying, because you can really see the results of putting in a little time and elbow grease.  All you need is a headlight restoring kit, which usually comes with all the bits and pieces you’ll need, from tape to protect the car’s paintwork to lint-free cloth to put on the final clear coat.

Sylvania Headlight Restoration KitYou’ll find a couple of reliable brand-name headlight restoration kits on the market but the Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit is my choice these days.

It’s basically a wet-sanding process that restores the surface of the headlight lens, smoothing it right out, then you polish with the clarifying compound that goes on pretty much the same way you’d wax your car.  The “real magic” is the protective UV clear coat to finish off, then you kick back for an hour to let it dry before you drive.

Not that I had a favorite headlight restoration kit to start out with – who even thinks about that?  I’d used a couple of other brands (3M and Turtle Wax, to be specific) on my truck and on Herself’s little Civic, and was fairly pleased with the results.

Actually, I think the Turtle Wax kit is the better product of the two (except the clear coat was not included, but luckily I had a bottle of car wax in the garage to finish off the job), but the big difference is in application.  Turtle Wax and Sylvania kits are both for hand application.

3M 39008 Headlight Lens Restoration System
The 3M kit came with a drill attachment so you can get the power tool to cut the amount of elbow grease needed – just don’t be a jackass if you decide to go that route. Keep the speed real low on your drill and keep a sharp eye out for any heat build-up at the plastic, so you don’t do any permanent damage to your headlights while you’re trying to restore them.

Personally, I don’t mind grabbing a beer and a radio and a good low stool to sit on, and doing the polishing by hand. Safer for your vehicle, the end polish is finer with better results, in my opinion, and it’s not a bad way to spend an hour on a Saturday afternoon. Gives a guy time to think about things.

Anyway, I’d probably have gone with the Turtle Wax kit again but it just happened that Sylvania’s kit was on deep-deep-discount sale when that day came when the mother-in-law refused to be stalled any longer.

“Laaaaaarry, I thought you said you would polish my headlights this weekend…”

You’ve been there, right?  So I picked up the Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit, mostly because it had everything needed right in it, including the clear coat finish to keep the headlights looking “good as new” for longer, and here we are.

Clear, isn’t it?  You can do this…

Better yet, get that teenager slouching around your place to put down his xbox controller and do the job with with you. (Quality father-son bonding time!)

Why do clear plastic headlights go hazy, dull, yellowed?

Over time, the effects of age and weather can do a number on the clear plastic lenses that protect your headlight bulbs and are meant to help the light beams reflect and shine out a longer way down the road.

Scratches can be more visible to the casual eye, like the kind you get from kicked up gravel and wind-driven sand in normal driving, but your headlights can also get dull because of a million tiny scratches too small to see, which can happen just from particulate in the air getting blasted against your car as you drive.

(You can think of it almost like Nature’s sandpaper, just roughing up the surface of the plastic that should be as smooth as possible to allow the light to shine through.

Car headlightAnd that doesn’t even touch on the chemical interactions between air quality and UV rays, reacting with the plastic over time.  The experts say the top reason for those plastic lenses turning opaque is the effect of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Having seen the kind of damage UV can do to other things like vinyl siding and patio furniture, etc., I believe that.

Hazy headlights are a hassle in more ways than one.

It may not be logical, but when you’re selling a car secondhand,  a little thing like dull headlights can really drive down your resale value, even if the buyer isn’t consciously aware of noticing them.  See, your car is like a beautiful woman with grubby jeans on and ratty hair, she still looks mighty good, but… just a little short of as hot as she truly is.  But that’s just part of the issue.

Over time, it can become much more than a matter of your car looking less than its best, it’s a safety issue. Those old hazy headlights just don’t cast the bright beam you need to see and be seen in night driving.  And it’s not just from your side. Think about what it’s like when you’re driving at night in the dog? Hazy headlights cast more glare, so they cause more of a vision problem for on-coming drivers at the same time as you.

Long story short, there are plenty of good reasons to want good clear headlights.

And when the car with the crappy headlights belongs to the wife’s mother, you can add “keeping a happy home” to the list of good reasons.



Solar-powered and semi-retired; a self-confessed hoarder of tool catalogs; big fan of spaghetti and classic chrome.

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