A Guide to Restoring Car Headlights

Close up of the head lights of a new car. The color of the car is silver metallic, blue. The background is white. Front view, left wing. photographed with a 50mm prime lens and full frame camera.modern car-light, isolated on white, toned image

Are your car’s headlights starting to show signs of age, wear and tear? Maybe they look a little cloudy, yellow or just aren’t as bright as they used to be? If this is the case, it’s worth restoring them, as you could fail your MOT if the problem is causing issues with visibility and your view of the road.

Lots of things can cause headlights to discolour or turn cloudy, but thankfully restoring them is a job that you can do yourself at home with the right tools and know-how. Our guide covers the basics of headlight restoration, and provides tips and advice on how to maintain car lights.

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Why Do Car Headlights Become Cloudy or Yellow?

Over time, the plastic covering car headlights can become foggy, cloudy or start to turn yellow, stopping the lights from shining as brightly, and possibly reducing your visibility. But why is it that headlights do this?

Here are some of the most common causes of cloudy or yellow headlights:

  • Oxidation is when the polycarbonate lens which covers the acrylic headlight is worn away by UV radiation. As a result, the acrylic develops tiny cracks which make the lens look cloudy.
  • Road damage can change the appearance of car headlights. When small stones and debris hits the plastic fascia of the headlights, they cause small marks which can cause the lights to look cloudy or foggy.
  • Dirt and pollution can change the appearance of plastic car headlights over time, when a thin layer builds up on the surface. This opaque layer of dirt diffuses and dims the light, interfering with the strength and direction of the main beam.
  • Condensation can cause a build-up of moisture behind the headlight cover, resulting in a foggy appearance that can weaken the strength of the lights. Condensation can occur if the headlight cover hasn’t been reinstalled properly following a bulb change, or if there’s a problem with the seal around the edge of the plastic.

Car headlights. Exterior detail. Car luxury concept

How to Restore Car Headlights

The good news is, it is possible to restore car headlights, even if yours have been affected by oxidation or road damage. Our step-by-step guide can show you how to get the job done.

What You’ll Need

  • Holts Headlight Restoration Kit – which includes sandpaper, buffing tool, polish and sealant, as well as a drill sanding attachment which can be used with a standard household drill.
  • Masking tape
  • Car shampoo and sponge
  • Drying towel or chamois
  • Drill, for electric sanding (recommended) – you can also do this job by hand if you have the right sandpaper and a buffing tool
  • Chamois leather or paper towel, for finishing

Step 1

Start by washing the headlights with standard car shampoo, before drying them with a chamois or microfibre towel. You can either remove the headlights for this job or leave them on your car. Just remember to cover the surrounding area with masking tape to protect the paintwork and plastic trim of the headlight.

Step 2

Attach the drill sanding attachment (supplied with the Holts Headlight Restoration Kit) to your drill and begin by using the P800 sandpaper. Wet the headlight and begin sanding, working in even lines over the surface of the headlight to remove scratches and oxidation. You MUST keep the headlight wet while you’re sanding to prevent the drill sander burning the plastic and causing more damage.

Step 3

Continue sanding, working through the different sandpapers, which include P1000, P1500 and P3000, until you have a smooth, consistent finish.

Step 4

Attach the buffer to the drill and apply a small amount of the polish provided. This will remove any remaining sanding marks and restore a clear finish to the plastic. Remember to work in even lines to get the best possible finish.

Step 5

Spray the headlights with the sealer provided, which will help protect the finish and prevent the headlight from becoming hazy and oxidised in the future. Finish by giving the headlight a final buff with a dry chamois or paper towel, and you’re done.

Additional Tips and Advice for Headlight Care

the turquoise car is washing in soap suds

Restoring your car’s headlights to their original condition is one thing, but how do you prevent oxidation, marks and discolouring in the first place? There are a few things you can do to maintain the appearance of your headlights, reducing the risk of them becoming foggy, cloudy or yellow over time. Here are a few practical tips to try:

  • When cleaning your car’s paintwork, don’t polish the headlights. Polishes with any grit content can wear down the clear coat, making them more susceptible to UV, pollution and marks. If you do want to polish the lights, make sure the product you use doesn’t contain any grit, or use a clear coat sealant spray afterwards to restore the protective coating of the lights.
  • Keep the lights clean. As part of your regular wash cycle, you should make sure that the lights are clean, preferably using standard car shampoo. Removing the thin layer of dirt and pollution from the lights can prevent discolouring, and it will reduce the effects of UV radiation.
  • Park out of direct sunlight in the summer months to prevent UV rays damaging the headlights. If you’re storing a car for a long period, we’d recommend covering it to stop UV eating away at the protective clear coat of the headlight covers.

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