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Thread: Headlight restoration kits

  1. #1

    Default Headlight restoration kits

    Greetings, CPF! I'm a long-time lurker here, and have finally decided to join this wonderful community.

    So, on to my query. As the official caretaker of my friend's Pilot, it has come time to finally do something about the horrifically faded lenses on his car's headlights, as well as the bulbs themselves. I've already got the bulbs sorted (LED drop-ins, yo! Just kidding; it's getting Phillips Xtreme Visions or GE Nighthawks), and I am aware that the best course of action is to replace the assemblies themselves, but neither he nor I have the ~$500 to purchase them at this moment. So, my question to you is: who is making a good headlight restoration kit? I did some searching on this forum, but I couldn't find much. Some Googling found me a 3M kit, and I know that 3M *usually* makes a good product; is this a decent one, or a waste of money? I do intend this restoration to be a stop-gap measure, as I have already sourced genuine Honda assemblies, but, as previously stated, they aren't in budget at this point. The only reason I'm considering a cleaning is his headlights are incredibly dim, and I'm honestly beginning to fear for his safety. I've driven said vehicle at night, and the lights are bloody awful. I need to do something, but I want to make sure I get a decent product before I proceed.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    None of the headlamp "restoration kits" really work well enough to be worth the purchase price; certainly none of them live up to their claims. Those yuk-yuks at Consumer Reports magazine, who heaped overheated praise on the Sylvania kit, only "tested" its durability for eight weeks (gosh, wow, eight weeks! I guess that's a really long time if you're a 3-year-old, otherwise no). Given that you realize headlamp "restoration" is a temporary, get-by measure and not a permanent fix, you might try UV spar varnish which, carefully applied, seems to be better than the kits.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Thanks for the advice, Virgil. That's basically what I'm after. Hopefully it'll hold up to the rather harsh Texas sun for a while.

    Also, I stopped reading Consumer Reports years ago. Glad to know it's still not worth it, at least for automotive products. (Eight whole weeks!! That must be the best stuff ever!!)

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    I can't comment on the product in the link that was posted but I CAN comment on the process that was used in the link. Basically, you need to grind off the damaged layer, then polish out the grinding marks. I have done 2 of our cars (Honda van, Audi A6) with great results. I used several grits of wet/dry sandpaper and then machine polished them with a random orbital polisher and 3 inch pads.. The results really were spectacular. (I'd post a pic of the Audi but I don't know how to resize )

    Any kit you chose should have a way to sand, then, MACHINE polish the lenses, usually with a drill attachment. I don't think you could get clarity by hand polishing.

    Also, as stated the results are temporary. If you don't find a good coating, they will yellow rather quickly. I've used several "UV" coatings with poor results. Currently, I am using Aerospace 303 with promising results... 2 years and counting with no detectable degradation.

    Best of luck.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Thanks for the input, JohnnyB. Glad to know the technique works well, as the lights on the Pilot are atrocious right now. I'll post up before and after pics. I hadn't planned on doing the polishing by hand, as my masochism only extends so far. Do you have any polishing pads you recommend?

    The longevity of the coating isn't *too* important to me, as I do plan on replacing the assemblies later this year. I'll be happy as long as it lasts for 6-8 months, which I consider acceptable given the harshness of Texas summers (which basically means March-October; sometimes I do miss Virginia's actual seasons).

  6. #6

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    I have a Honda pilot as well (2005) and the headlights were not the brightest. I learnt a trick which doesn't involve any sanding and i know it works as before i did this, i had a friend of mine (a detailer) do the sanding and polishing with great results that lasted about 1 month.
    The procedure is, to take a coarse shop rag, spray penetrating fluid on it and rub the crap out of the lens. When it starts to feel dry, switch sides, spray some more penetrating fluid and rub again. When it feels like you have covered the entire lens, get another rag and repeat the process. Then finally get some windex and clean the oily residue. The lens will stay clean for a very long time. It's been 6 months since i did mine and it had lasted through the winter up here in Toronto.
    About the bulbs, im not sure if the bulbs you have mentioned will have any additional benefits. I have Denso 9003 (I work at a Lexus dealership) in mine and they appear to be pretty bright. As per an article i read not too long ago, those claims of 100% or so more visibility are pretty bogus. If i can find the article, I'll post a link here.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/m...ulbs/index.htm

    Please don't drill me for saying the bulbs may not help as I was in the same situation as you are.
    This prevented me from dishing out $60 for 2 headlight bulbs that may have not resolved my problem.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Yeah, that Consumer Reports article is the one I figured you'd point at. Its test protocol was very badly flawed. For more realistic data, see here.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    I've used brake fluid on lenses to clean them, and it did work, for a couple of weeks. Honestly, I'd much rather take the time to 'restore' them with sanding and putting on a semi-protective coating to coax a few more months of life out of the assemblies until I can replace them.

    Quote Originally Posted by rishabharies View Post
    About the bulbs, im not sure if the bulbs you have mentioned will have any additional benefits.
    Having actually used the Philips Xtreme Power/Vision bulbs before, I can say with certainty they will have additional benefits. Legitimate +30/50/100 bulbs do deliver significant lighting improvements over standard and long-life bulbs. Granted, the bulb life is drastically shortened, but as has been mentioned on this site many times before, a new set of bulbs every year or two ($35-60) is a lot cheaper than body work. I'm more than willing to spend the extra money on better bulbs.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    I use Mother's headlight restoration kit, and it actually works. My friend recommended the Mother's kit as he has tried many other brands.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    With as many degraded polycarbonate headlight fixtures as I see on the road, all makes and models, it's a bit of a mystery why US regulations still require "sealed" units that don't have replaceable parts, aside from the bulb.

    Restoration kits and other methods are half-measures, and pragmatically speaking, few owners are going to replace their fixtures, when they already scream bloody murder that a bulb doesn't last five years like they expect.

    The average age of an American vehicle is more than eleven years, which further decreases the chances that the OE parts may even be available, never mind the higher cost of genuine parts acting as a further deterrent.

    The Germans marques are good at parts support for older models, even without their heritage programs, but on the flip side, a domestic marque like Ford is notorious for their poor support for their older models.

  12. #12

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Quote Originally Posted by MazdaFan View Post
    I've used brake fluid on lenses to clean them
    Yikes. That'll strip all of the clear coat right off of the lenses (and it'll also attack and remove the paint on the surrounding body parts of the car). For lamps that aren't totally baked to death, I've used brake cleaner (CRC "Brak-Kleen" in the red/white can), applied to paper towel, to quickly and easily remove the oxidized clear coat while leaving the un-oxidized clear coat intact, then a good brand of car polish/sealant to make the remaining clear coat on the lens shiny and transparent. That actually works for quite a long while as long as there's some original clear coat left on the lenses.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Quote Originally Posted by TheIntruder View Post
    With as many degraded polycarbonate headlight fixtures as I see on the road, all makes and models, it's a bit of a mystery why US regulations still require "sealed" units that don't have replaceable parts, aside from the bulb.
    They don't. Replaceable lenses are legal, but headlamps with replaceable lenses have to pass tougher tests as far as reflector durability, and it's more expensive to make a lamp that passes those tougher tests, so mostly the makers don't do it.

    The average age of an American vehicle is more than eleven years, which further decreases the chances that the OE parts may even be available, never mind the higher cost of genuine parts acting as a further deterrent.
    Car maker answer: "Too bad, so sad, buy a new car."

  14. #14

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Quote Originally Posted by -Virgil- View Post
    Yikes. That'll strip all of the clear coat right off of the lenses (and it'll also attack and remove the paint on the surrounding body parts of the car).
    Yeah...I was young and stupid then (now older and slightly less stupid). That advice was given to me by an old-school manager of mine when I worked at a quick lube franchise, and I decided to try it out. It worked for a bit, but I'll never do that again. I know better than to do that now.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Quote Originally Posted by MazdaFan View Post
    Thanks for the input, JohnnyB. Do you have any polishing pads you recommend?
    I believe my pads are by Lake Country. I used the standard orange foam pads plus Menzerna polishing fluid on my Porter Cable DA polisher that I use to correct the clear coat on cars. If you get the sandpaper down to 2500, the lens will be smooth but completely opaque. The polisher will eliminate that milky color and leave them crystal clear.

    I took a bunch of photos when I did it. I can try to resize them and post them here if anyone is interested.
    Last edited by JohnnyB; 03-05-2016 at 07:40 PM.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Let's try this...Car is 2006 Audi A6 bought Summer of '05 so, 10 years old when these were done (last Summer)

    Degraded state. They are pretty bad.

    DSC_6055 by JohnnyB2005, on Flickr


    Wet sanding with a sponge inside

    DSC_6058 by JohnnyB2005, on Flickr

    800,1000,1500,2000, then finished with 2500 grit paper (I know, a little overkill

    DSC_6059 by JohnnyB2005, on Flickr

    Starting the polishing, orange pad with Menzerna "Final Polish"

    DSC_6061 by JohnnyB2005, on Flickr

    Final product, crystal clear in all types and angles of light

    DSC_6062 by JohnnyB2005, on Flickr


    These are almost 9 months old with no deterioration using Aerospace 303. Our van headlights are 2 years old and doing well.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    That looks really nice JohnnyB.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Quote Originally Posted by rishabharies View Post
    That looks really nice JohnnyB.
    Thank you.

    A few points I thought of after posting...

    If you are buying a kit, avoid the "miracle fluid" that you wipe on and walk away. They are usually oily and will make the plastic look a little better for about a week.

    Buy a kit with an attachment for your drill. You will need this to polish off the marks made by the sandpaper. On a side note, the drill attachment may have been better than my DA polisher as it would not introduce vibration. I was afraid it might be a problem and sure enough, the next day my driver's side DRL (halogen) was out. Coincidence?

    Once the outer layer is gone, it will have no protection from UV. You will need to coat it with something or all your hard work was for nothing. I have no first hand experience with any of the coatings offered in the kits, only the product I listed above. Several car polishes that promise "UV protection" did not work at all.

    Best of luck.
    JB

  19. #19

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Quote Originally Posted by -Virgil- View Post
    They don't. Replaceable lenses are legal, but headlamps with replaceable lenses have to pass tougher tests as far as reflector durability, and it's more expensive to make a lamp that passes those tougher tests, so mostly the makers don't do it.
    That's too bad.

    I was given that impression by an action BMW took in the past. A past generation of the 7-series was originally equipped with HID fixtures with replaceable glass lenses.

    Then, they subsequently withdrew those lenses from their U.S. parts system, and blamed it on non-compliance with U.S. regulations.

    Needless to say, owners faced with the prospect of having to buy full new HID fixtures, instead of just the lenses, were not pleased.

    Thankfully, the strong enthusiast aftermarket for some marques makes it possible to buy non-U.S. compliant OE parts relatively easily. Aspherical side mirrors are one such popular item.

  20. #20

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Quote Originally Posted by TheIntruder View Post
    I was given that impression by an action BMW took in the past. A past generation of the 7-series was originally equipped with HID fixtures with replaceable glass lenses. Then, they subsequently withdrew those lenses from their U.S. parts system, and blamed it on non-compliance with U.S. regulations.
    Interesting...got a cite? I'd like to know which lamps/which models that happen

    Needless to say, owners faced with the prospect of having to buy full new HID fixtures, instead of just the lenses, were not pleased.
    Gosh, I can't imagine why on earth not...!

    You can read about NHTSA's perspective and rulemaking on replaceable lenses here, here, and here.

  21. #21

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    I tried to find a citation, but came up empty now. The situation applied to the E38 7-series. Things may have changed, but it seemed like a raw deal for the owners at the time.

    Some interesting comments in the rules. But regardless of all the considerations, it still ultimately rests with the owners, and how knowledgeable and willing they are to properly maintain the lighting equipment on their vehicles.

    That plays out here, and other forums all the time, and I think it's safe to say it's not a concern for most owners.

  22. #22
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    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    As a follow-up, @johnnyb posts inspired me to try one of the 3M kits on my wife's Mini Cooper 2006 stock halogen headlamps. This was already knowing that I could buy a pair of Hella replacements at ~$350 (rather than MINI-branded at about the same price each). Oxidation on her lenses I would call "moderate", no obvious yellowing, but enough that the output and pattern would likely be significantly impacted, especially on the upper surfaces. Here near San Francisco, we have a relatively mild climate in terms of UV exposure (37° N) and effectively no salt from either the roads or the ocean. No sand/dust issues to speak of.

    There are two commonly available kits from 3M. The 39008 was ~$18 through a local PepBoys. It includes a 3" drill-mounted backing pad and multiple 500, 800, 1000 disks, a single 3000 Trizact pad, a "fingered" foam buffing pad, and a small packet of rubbing compound. I should have looked first, as masking tape cost me another $3, not counting the gas and time to get to a local auto-paint supplier.

    The 39084 kit appears to include a small roll of tape, as well as a second packet of rubbing compound, but nearly impossible to tell what is in there from the photos.

    First I tried some cleaning/solvent approaches:
    * Multipurpose countertop cleaner (Mrs. Myers) -- no noticeable impact or damage
    * Isopropyl alcohol, 91% -- no noticeable impact or damage

    Elsewhere on these forums, CRC Brakleen in the red and white can was mentioned. Knowing that if I had any at all it was probably from the days before VOC limitations, I checked the MSDS on Brakleen
    * 60-70% acetone
    * 5-10% carbon dioxide
    * 5-10% hexamethyldisiloxane
    * And under 5% each of a few other solvent and things

    OK, polishing kit in hand, try acetone. Some some yellow on the rag, good sign. Not much clarity change over most of the lens. Top of the lens (most sun exposure) clouds over immediately. My guess is that the hard-coat was shot up there and it immediately attacked the softer plastic underneath.

    As a result, I recommend against trying Brakleen or acetone, certainly on older MINI/BMW lenses

    Edit: Checking polycarbonate and solvents, ammonia should likely be avoided as well (present in some glass cleaners). See, for example, https://www.calpaclab.com/polycarbon...ibility-chart/

    The 3M kit worked reasonably well. I didn't notice it until after I finished that there were some barely visible (unless the sun hits it right) marks on one lens, in one area, likely from the sanding disk or pad not being absolutely centered on the backing pad. Every rotation of the drill, the "wobble", even if only a mm or so, "goes back" over the direction of movement. The 3000 Trizact result looked like a headlight again with the buffing compound getting rid of the remaining haze. The fingered-foam disk worked well (don't wear black pants when working with buffing compound!) End-to-end, including time to let the drill cool, my arm recover, and a drink, about two hours.

    Would I do it again? Let's see in a year how well Aerospace 303 (2 oz. bottle for $7) works in keeping them clear. I'm not touching the lenses on my OE xenon headlights (they've also held up significantly better) until I know the long-term outcome (especially at $750/side to replace).
    Last edited by jeffsf; 05-09-2018 at 12:55 PM.

  23. #23

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Quote Originally Posted by jeffsf View Post
    OK, polishing kit in hand, try acetone
    Gosh, where was that ever recommended? (nowhere, never...)

    I recommend against trying Brakleen or acetone
    Acetone is a definite no-go on plastic/polycarbonate, which it attacks furiously, and applying it to your headlamps was a mistake that will probably shorten their lifespan significantly. Watch for crazing as shown here

    You looked at the wrong kind of Brakleen. This is the right kind, basically dry-cleaner's fluid in a spray can, and its MSDS is here. Totally different from what you looked at.
    Last edited by -Virgil-; 05-09-2018 at 07:46 PM.

  24. #24
    Moderator Alaric Darconville's Avatar
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    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Quote Originally Posted by jeffsf View Post
    OK, polishing kit in hand, try acetone. Some some yellow on the rag, good sign. Not much clarity change over most of the lens. Top of the lens (most sun exposure) clouds over immediately. My guess is that the hard-coat was shot up there and it immediately attacked the softer plastic underneath.
    Acetone and headlamps is a great recipe for needing to buy new headlamps.

    Quote Originally Posted by -Virgil- View Post
    You looked at the wrong kind of Brakleen. This is the right kind, basically dry-cleaner's fluid in a spray can
    We sure that's not Bra-Kleen (recommended by Maidenform, Cacique, and Victoria's Secret)?

  25. #25
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    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    It seems that there are several formulations of

    Quote Originally Posted by -Virgil- View Post
    (CRC "Brak-Kleen" in the red/white can), applied to paper towel, to quickly and easily remove the oxidized clear coat while leaving the un-oxidized clear coat intact
    many of which now are acetone based.

    http://www.crcindustries.com/product...-brakleen.html

    Some are tetrachloroethylene (a.k.a. perchloroethylene, "perc") based, some are acetone based. Both formulations are under both the "Pro" and regular labeling. The formulation is not immediately clear from the labels, at least on the front of the can, except for the part number.

    The "50-states" and "non-chlorinated" formulations appear to use acetone.

    Tetrachloroethylene was "banned" in California in 2007 and the Brakleen formulations containing it are also restricted in New Jersey as of early 2018.

    Like those old-school cans of carb cleaner, MEK, and the like, it seems as though both the "old" Brakleen and that little blue and white can of spot remover are falling into the "irreplaceable" category.

    ---

    Yes, I had already made the decision that I was prepared to replace the headlamps when I decided to try the sand/polish approach. I knew that the moment the hard-coat finish was broken, it was likely to be a never-ending battle against UV and physical degradation of the lenses. If a quick wipe with a clean towel moistened with Brakleen could delay that, I thought it worth trying.

    While perhaps not as aggressive as methylene chloride or MEK, tetrachloroethylene still attacks acrylic and polystyrene, should someone following decide to try it.
    Last edited by jeffsf; 05-10-2018 at 02:55 PM.

  26. #26
    Moderator Alaric Darconville's Avatar
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    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Quote Originally Posted by jeffsf View Post
    Tetrachloroethylene was "banned" in California in 2007
    Which only affects you as a dry cleaner, or a manufacturer of automotive/industrial cleaning products. It does not apply to you as an end-user of Brākleen.
    Last edited by Alaric Darconville; 05-10-2018 at 03:27 PM.

  27. #27

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    Quote Originally Posted by jeffsf View Post
    While perhaps not as aggressive as methylene chloride or MEK, tetrachloroethylene still attacks acrylic and polystyrene
    Neither of those materials is used in headlamp lenses, which are made out of polycarbonate.

  28. #28

    Default Re: Headlight restoration kits

    I like JohnnyB's method. I followed it from Chris Fix on youtube. The final step is spraying with UV resistant Rustoleum clear gloss spray. I did it on my 2005 Jeep and it looked great. After 1 year it was still good, but recently sold it so that's all I can say.

    I also purchased some Meguiar's Keep Clear Headlight Coating spray. I haven't used it yet because I'm afraid of making things worse. Thought it would be a nice preventative thing to do on newer vehicles though.
    GOOD TINT!

  29. #29
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    Thumbs up Re: Headlight restoration kits

    With some time and patience it's a pretty easy job that you can definitely do at home. Just check out some how to videos and you'll see, just don't try any of the easy way out methods; do the actual wet sanding & polish method.

    Again, the most important part to making all of your hard work last is a quality clear coat. A professional 2-stage clear coat is worth every penny and should last as long as you own the car. I recommend this if you need to spray your clear out of a can, it is a true 2-stage that has a little button on the bottom that once depressed will release the 2 parts together. Be sure to use proper PPE when spraying this stuff
    Last edited by -Virgil-; 10-13-2018 at 08:27 PM.

  30. #30

    Default Re: Who/What is TYC? Best Source if I Strike Out with OEM?

    Quote Originally Posted by 1pt21 View Post
    I recommend this if you need to spray your clear out of a can
    Interesting packaging of a catalyzed (2-part) paint product in a user-friendly aerosol can. Can you point to any long-term results with this stuff in use as a headlamp lens coating?

    Another method, using much less toxic materials and with some multi-year checkups behind it, is described here.

    But eventually once the lens itself degrades, there is no bringing it back.

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