Winter is here. Not in a technical sense, but there’s snow on the ground here on the east coast. With temperatures dropping and more winter weather on the way, it’s time to prep the car for winter.
Strolling through a parking lot I often see a lot of cars in rough shape. Some have near bald tires, others have torn windshield wipers, some have thick layers of dust and grime. But the number one issue – clouded or yellowed and neglected headlight lenses.
If you have an older or well-traveled car, you really should check the headlights more than once a year. It doesn’t really matter what the season is, I just recommended it as part of winter car prep to get more readers to do it.
Clouded headlights block and scatter some of the light from your headlamps, reducing their range and power. Severely damaged lenses should be replaced, but most normal wear can be reversed or at least improved with an off-the-shelf restoration kit and a few minutes of elbow grease.
As embarrassing it is to admit, I haven’t checked my own headlights in a while. It wasn’t until I caught mention of restoration kits over at Adam’s Auto Advice that I remembered I meant to inspect them early last month. In case you’re wondering, they’re nearly three years old and they’re still sparkling.
What you’ll need:
- Headlamp restoration kit
- Bucket of clean water, maybe a spray bottle
- Cordless drill/driver
- Clean rag or cloth
I used two products in the past, a 3M headlight restoration kit, similar to this one on Amazon, and a bottle of Mothers’s plastic polish, which is also available on Amazon. Both were purchased locally, but it took a few trips to different auto supply stores for me to find the exact products I wanted.
If I had to pick up a new kit today, it would either be the 3M kit or this Mother’s set that comes with a small powerball and polishing pads ($21 via Amazon).
How it works:
All headlight restoration kits work in a similar manner – they use polishing compounds to physically remove a thin layer from your finely scratched and weathered headlight lenses. Most kits come with a small drill-mountable reusable polishing pad, or a drill attachment with disposable pads, to help make the job a little easier.
Abrasives in the restoration kit polishing pads create tiny scratches in your headlight lenses, but as long as they’re uniform and fine enough they’ll give you a nice crystal-clear finish. Some kits will have multiple steps – the first with a coarse abrasive for greater material removal, and then one or more additional steps with a finer abrasive or polish to further smooth the surface.
To clear up severely dull and clouded lenses I once used a restoration kit and then followed up with a manual plastic polish. In hindsight this seems unnecessary and inefficient, not to mention tiring.
The kit I used only required a bit of water for lubrication, a clean rag, and a drill to spin the polishing pad. I stayed away from the outermost edges of the lens to avoid having to carefully mask the surrounding surfaces, but you can meticulously prep and protect them if you’d like.
How well does it work?
Sorry, I don’t really have before and after photos as I haven’t needed to restore any headlights in a while, but you can see typical results in this 3M kit review over at Adam’s Auto Advice. Those results really are typical – a quick application can restore most cloudy headlights to crystal-clear clarity.
Which one works best?
It’s really hard to get something like this wrong. I would trust headlight lens restoration kits from any of these brands: 3M, Mothers, Meguiar’s, Turtle, and Sylvania.
Browse Headlight Lens Restoration Kits, via Amazon
Do you have any tips to share, or maybe a favorite brand to recommend?
P.S. At a bare minimum you should also check your car’s tire pressure and fluid levels. Make sure your wipers are in good condition, and that your windshield wiper fluid is something other than the cheap freezes-on-contact blue stuff they sell for $1 at the gas station or supermarket. And make sure you have a snow brush and ice scraper that doesn’t suck.