Clearing Up Cloudy Headlights
by Pat Goss
Here’s a problem that has become literally epidemic. Cloudy, discolored headlamp lenses. This is caused by the ultra-violet light from the sun. It attacks the surface of the plastic and causes it to get little pock marks and checks in it and so on, and you see it as this cloudy appearance. That diffuses the light into the air around the car and in general you can’t see when it happens. The unfortunate thing is it happens when the car isn’t all that old, too. But the fortunate thing will be that most of these can be restored.
What determines whether they can be restored or not restored is if the damage is on the outside of the lens, or on the inside; if it’s on the inside it’s caused by moisture intrusion and you’ll probably have to replace the entire lamp assembly - expensive! But fortunately the majority of them will be on the outside and you can restore them as we have done here.
If you look at this lens, the left side is very discolored. Over here (right side) we’ve polished it using a special kit for polishing headlamps and as you can see it looks virtually like new. Now, you have two options. You can take it to the shop. The shop is going to use a power tool with a special buffer, usually operated by air, but the pads and the speed of the buffer and everything are designed so that they won’t burn the plastic in the lens of the headlight. Now, this will also involve the use of three different chemicals, there will be a cleaner, that’s step number one. Then a restorer that’s going to polish the plastic, that’s step number two and step number three is a sealer that seals it against the elements and helps reflect ultra-violet light. So, expect to pay something on the order of an hour’s worth of labor plus $15 or $20 for the material.
If you’re into do-it-yourself well, there are a lot of kits on the market, one of the better ones is made by Permatex, it has all that you need to do a very good job. Follow the directions to the letter and you should be pleased with the results.
But, there’s something else: masking tape. Use masking tape and old newspaper to mask off the paint around the headlight so that you don’t get any of these chemicals onto the paint. You don’t want to spot the paint. Now, whenever you’re dealing with masking tape, get it onto the car and get it off of the car as quickly as possible, never use it in sunlight because it will absolutely weld itself to the paint - you’ll have a real mess on your hands. So, on and off as soon as you’re done.
If you have a question or comment, write to me.
The address is MotorWeek, Owings Mills, MD, 21117.