Photo: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
When I walked out to my car recently, I noticed the headlights were extremely dirty, which explained why I hadn’t been able to see the road very clearly while driving at night. At least, that’s what I thought. But even after I cleaned the headlights, they still looked cloudy. They had oxidized so badly that light was barely able to escape them.
Oxidation is a common problem with older cars and those equipped with a certain type of plastic headlight lens. It occurs over time with prolonged exposure to sunlight; the sun’s ultraviolet rays degrade the protective coating on the lens, causing it to fog up and yellow. You can replace the headlight cover itself, but that can cost more than $100 (per headlight), depending on the kind of car you drive. Another option is to buy a headlight-polishing kit, which includes all the materials you need. Or, for the fastest, easiest method, you can buy these three products, grab a drill, and do it yourself in less than 20 minutes.
It’s hard to truly understand how bad things have gotten until you see the results. My headlights now look as good as new. More important, they shine as good as new: When I drove the car that first night, it felt like I was driving with floodlights.
3M Headlight Renewal
This superfine rubbing compound is specifically made to buff the scratches off headlights.
Coceca 6-Inch Polishing Pad Kit
This buffing kit includes two foam-rubber pads for applying the rubbing compound, three wool covers for polishing the lens, and a special attachment that lets you hook both to your drill.
3M Quick Headlight Clear Coat
The final step is applying this clear sealant to deter future oxidation and yellowing.
Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit
I bought these items separately, but if you don’t have a drill or just like the idea of one-stop shopping, this kit includes everything you need to do the same thing by hand. It takes a little longer, since you’re providing your own elbow grease, but you should be done in under an hour. And Sylvania guarantees the results for as long as you own the car.
Step One: Buff
Use a microfiber cloth to apply a liberal coating of headlight renewal to the lens of one headlight. (It’s best to finish the process on one headlight completely, then repeat all the steps on the other.) Insert the six-inch-diameter base from the buffing kit into a cordless drill and attach a rubber application pad to the base. Use the drill and pad to buff the lens until all of the rubbing compound is removed. This should take about three minutes.
Step Two: Polish
Remove the rubber pad from the drill base and replace it with the wool buffing pad. Polish until the lens is shiny and crystal clear — about five minutes. If the lens still looks a little foggy, repeat Steps 1 and 2.
Step Three: Seal
The clear coat comes in a small pouch that’s similar to a Wet-Nap’s. Tear open the packet and wipe the entire lens in horizontal strokes, slightly overlapping each stroke to ensure full coverage. Park the car somewhere protected so it can dry for 24 hours, and that’s it.