How To Restore Headlight Lenses

It’s perfectly possible to restore headlight lenses, and in this article, we’re going to show you how.

Your headlight lenses work in concert with your headlight bulbs to give you the best possible vision when you’re driving at night or in adverse weather. We often focus only on our headlight bulbs but ignore the simple maintenance jobs that can improve our visibility at night – things like making sure our headlight lenses remain as new.

Today’s headlight lenses are made from polycarbonate plastic, and this material is prone to oxidation when it is exposed to a lot of UV rays. That’s where the yellow discoloration comes from, and often also the cause of dim illumination from your headlights.

Stay with us as we show you what you’ll need to breathe new life into your headlight lenses, and give you step-by-step instructions on how to do it.

Why Restore Headlight Lenses

Headlight lenses are expensive to replace. And it is wholly unnecessary most of the time. With a little time and even less elbow grease, you can restore them to an almost-new condition, and improve both the look of your vehicle and the efficacy of the headlights.

It’s really a no-brainer because it is easy enough to take on as a DIY project, even if you have no technical experience or know-how at all.

What You’ll Need To Restore Headlight Lenses

  •  Shop Towels
  • Sand Paper with values: 800, 1000, and 2000 grit.
  • A Small Towel, Rag, or Microfiber Cloth
  • 3M Rubbing Compound
  • Automotive Masking tape
  • A Drill (corded or cordless)
  • Compound Pad (Wool pad works as well), with drill adapter
  • A Spray Bottle with Water
  • 2 to 3 Hours put aside (depending on your attention to detail)
  • Patience

How To Restore Headlight Lenses

Right, now that you have all the goodies together, simply follow the step-by-step instructions we’re about to give you. And have fun in the process!

  1. Preparation is key. Make sure you have everything ready. Put your tools and sundries in order, and fill the spray bottle with water.
  2. Tape up the entire area around the headlights. Make sure all painted bodywork around the headlights is covered with tape to avoid scratches.
  3.  Quarter your sandpaper sheets.
  4. Start with the 800-grit, spray it with water, place the sandpaper on the headlight you’re starting with, and thoroughly wet the entire headlight surface too.
  5. Now start sanding the headlight surface while making sure you keep it wet with the spray bottle. Once you’re done with one headlight, change the sandpaper and move to the other one.

Helpful Tip: Sand in one direction. This makes it easier for you to check and see that your lines are consistent and that you have sanded the headlight evenly. It also helps to see anything you might have missed.

  1. Sand and wet, and repeat, until you have a uniform finish of tiny scratches on the surface of the headlight.
  2. Now repeat the exercise with the 1000-grit sandpaper.
  3. Repeat, this time with the 200-grit paper.
  4. Use your drill, attach the buffing pad, add some polishing compound, and start buffing the surface of the headlights.
  5. Finally, dry the headlight surfaces thoroughly, and apply the UV filter as instructed on the packaging.

Things To Consider When Restoring Headlight Lenses

Although this is an easy and painless job, there are things to look out for. Keep your eyes open for these …

  • Slight scratches on the paintwork – this is due to improper taping
  • Gouges on the lenses – this will happen if your sandpaper grit is not right
  • Burns on the lenses from buffering – this is if you don’t use the right polish

 Also, during the testing for this article, we stumbled across another challenge …

We used a couple of restoration kits during the test for this article, and none of them had a proper, long-lasting UV protection coating. Instead, the manufacturers opted for a waxy product that was really not up to the job at hand. We suggest you invest in proper UV coating – it will last longer.

A parting shot

This is one of the most simple, straightforward maintenance jobs you can possibly perform on your car. And the benefits are too many to mention. It will result in more comfortable nighttime driving because your visibility will be better. And it will greatly improve your safety on the road.

It’s a no-brainer, really!

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Richard Nickleson is the author and owner behind Headlight Reviews. He first started the site as a hobby to share his insights on car parts and specifically headlight bulbs, but it soon ballooned and now he writes on all topics surrounding headlights bulbs. If you've got a bulb question, contact Richard here.