How do I get the yellow film off my headlights? How do I restore my headlights? How can I get my headlights looking like new?
If your car is more than three years old, chances are the headlights have begun to collect rock chips, dirt, and other evidence of the elements. Not only do hazy headlights pose a safety hazard, but they’re also just plain ugly! So how can you easily transform your headlights from these below on the left to the image on the right?
For this headlamp restoration, we used Sylvania’s Headlight Restoration Kit, which you can find on Amazon for only $22.42. If you have a Prime membership you can get two-day shipping for free.
When we opened the box, we were a little disappointed at first. Compared to the 3M kit we reviewed a few months ago, it looked like it wouldn’t be as effective since it didn’t involve the use of a cordless drill. So, we parked the test car in a shady spot and began the restoration process.
Make sure you park your car in a shady spot to maximize the effects of the restoration process. This becomes especially important towards the end of the process. Remove all your materials from the box and have your spare rag and a stream of clean water handy. If possible, use a hose to rinse the headlights between steps. If you don’t have a hose, a bucket full of clean water will do the trick.
Step 1: The first step is to cover the area surrounding your headlights with the protective tape. This step is one of the most important, as you will be using abrasive materials on the headlight and don’t want to scratch the paint around your headlights. Then spray the Surface Activator on the surface of each of the headlights. This activator loosens the yellowed portion of the headlight and prepares the headlight surface to be stripped. Be sure to cover each headlight with the liquid, and then rinse after 30 seconds.
Now your headlights are ready to be sanded with the included sandpaper.
Step 2: Find the 400 grit sandpaper in the kit. Using the bucket of water or hose, wet the sandpaper and the headlight, and sand the entire headlight using middle pressure and a circular motion. This step might feel a little scary at first, but you’ll know this step is complete with you have given the headlight an even, sanded, opaque look. This step is one of the most important, as you will be removing the yellow film from the headlight. Make sure to keep the headlight surface wet as you sand it. This will ensure an even sanding and prepare you well for your next step.
This is how your headlight should look after sanding with the 400 grit sandpaper. Again, don’t worry if it appears as though your headlight will never look the same. It is supposed to look hazy and foggy. The most important thing is that the headlight looks EVENLY hazy. If there are spots that are not as hazy, or even still clear, touch them up before moving on to the next step.
Step 3: You’ll now repeat the same process with both the 1000 and 2000 grit sandpaper. With each of the two sets of sandpaper, you’ll perform a thorough sanding with a circular motion, making sure to keep the headlight wet as you sand. You should spend about five minutes with each grit of sandpaper on each of your headlights, always keeping in mind that you need to maintain firm pressure and sand each headlight evenly. Below are a few photos of the sanding process with these two pieces of sandpaper.
As you can see, your headlight will get extremely hazy after these two sanding steps. Don’t start freaking out yet, and whatever you do, don’t go driving with such hazy headlights! The next step will help smooth the headlights even further and will prepare them for the final step in the refinishing process.
Step 4: Using one of the white towels provided in your kit, apply the clarifying compound to each of the headlights. One headlight at a time, you’ll rub a quarter-sized drop of clarifying compound into the headlight surface with medium pressure.
You’ll notice that the clarifying compound feels like a thick creme with particles of sand mixed in. This compound will provide the final smoothing to each of the headlights. Again, you’ll spend about five minutes on each of the headlights.
Once you’ve completed this step, provide a thorough rinse in order to clean all of the clarifying compounds off of the headlights.
Before moving onto the last step of the process, reapply a layer of the Surface Activator to each headlight housing. This step will help clean some of the excess residues off the headlights. Once you’ve let it sit for 30 seconds, thoroughly rinse each light.
Once you’ve cleaned all residue off of both headlights, remove the protective tape from each headlight.
You’re now ready to prepare for the last step of the process. This is one of the most important steps in the process. Clean the headlights with freshwater and completely dry them with the second white rag provided.
We recommend letting your car sit for 10 minutes after this step to give the headlights time to completely dry. It’s very important that both of them be 100% dry before moving onto the next step.
Final step: The final step in this process is to apply the clear coat. Essentially the clear coat will fill in all of the small cracks and holes in the headlight surface. The clear coat will then harden to create a thick, durable shell on the outside of the headlight.
Don’t let this step intimidate you. you’ll simply fold the towel in 4 (fold it a hamburger and then fold it hamburger again) and wet the folded side of the cloth with the clear coat. One headlight at a time, starting at the top of each headlight wipe the clear coat across the surface of the headlight, slightly overlapping your previous stroke with each pass. If you miss a spot, quickly touch it up and move on. Don’t worry about doing a second coat, your headlight doesn’t need it. One coat will suffice.
After applying the clear coat, let your headlights sit for 4-6 hours before driving. This will give them time to completely dry and will result in clearer headlights for years.
We’d recommend this headlight restoration kit over 3M’s version of the kit. The main reason for our recommendation comes from the clear coat that is applied during the last step.