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How-To: shine up your headlights

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  • How-To: shine up your headlights

    Very easy, but time consuming to really do it right. Well worth the effort, though, and a very enjoyable result.

    Your headlights may look like mine did, below, if they've never been refinished or replaced on your old Contique, or any car for that matter:

    Buy any headlight refinishing kit from any auto store, or... you can go to Lowe's or Home Depot (or any hardware store) and get your own set of sandpapers and polishing compound.

    I'd start with 600 grit wet sandpaper, for really bad headlights like mine. Even so, it will take quite a while of sanding to get a good result... I sanded for about 30+ minutes with hard pressure, very carefully to ensure even and thorough sanding.

    It works best to just take off your headlights, so you can hold them at an easy angle or set them on a table (PUT A DROPCLOTH OR CARDBOARD DOWN!!! They will scratch your table up, and piss off the wifey).

    Start at one end of the headlight, and sand in 1 direction only, ie - back and forth horizontally. Work your way all the way across the headlight in a "row", then move up a little bit, and work your way back, always sanding in 1 direction. Keep rinsing and re-wetting your sandpaper and the headlight, either with a little tray of water next to you or with a mister/spray bottle. I used a tray. Keep going like this.

    Next, use 1000 grit. Start in the same spot. Sand in the other direction, 90-degrees different, ie - up-down direction now. Again, work your way carefully across the headlight one "row" at a time and don't miss any spots. Sand ONLY in that same direction - ie - up down. Keep your sandpaper wet and rinsed at all times.

    Next, 1500 grit. Start in the same spot. Switch back to horizontal sanding.

    Next 2000 grit, same spot to start, up-down sanding.

    Next 2500 grit, same spot start, horizontals sanding.

    Finally (whew, tired? Yes, I bet, but this may be the hardest part)... use the polishing compound either included with the kit or separately bought. If you buy it separate, best to look for headlight or plastic polish. It looks like wax, but thinner & runnier. Rub the polishing compound in using 100% cotton rag or some soft polishing cloth (included in the kit, usually). Rub, rub, rub, RUB, RUB!! Rub hard! It may start drying on you, and that's ok. Rub away with firm pressure until you can see them shiny and clear again. You'll love the labor of your hours of hard work:

    2000 Mercury Mystique LS 2.5L V6 Duratech ATX 130k - black & tan "Mysti" - SOLD :(
    2005 Acura MDX Touring, steel blue, 60k mi - "The Mothership"
    2003 VW Jetta Wolfsburg 1.8T 60k mi ...yes, i hate this car :P

  • #2
    I used the 3M kit recently on both my SVT and my wife's '01 Camry - it worked great, except that the polishing compound splattered everywhere in the engine bay (I thought I'd be smart and instead of taping up the edge of the hood I would just raise it - not my brightest decision). It comes right off with water, but it does go everywhere. DO NOT forget to tape up anything that you don't want polished and be prepared to wash the car after you are done. My SVT took more polishing than the Camry as the headlights have more physical surface area (and I'd replaced the corners on the Camry - a separate piece - and they didn't need any polishing).

    It made a VAST difference in the effectiveness of the headlights at night in both cars (mine with Silverstars, hers with regular halogens).

    Highly recommend not only for aesthetics, but for safety.
    '13 Toyobaru FR-S 6MT Ultramarine
    SOLD '98.5 SVT - all mine since 43 miles on the clock - lots o' mods including 3L
    '11 Odyssey (applesauce encrusted carpets, etc.)
    '01 Camry 5SFE - wife's old car won't die


    • #3
      I used 3m's finnesse-it II, works great!
      1998 Silver Frost CSVT
      1998 Black CSVT Sold
      1997 Mustang gt
      04 Mustang gt
      87 Mustang lx


      • #4
        Are there negative effects if I use a random-orbit sander with wet sandpaper?
        '99 Contour SVT (Black/tan) 2.5L Duratec
        #308 of 2760
        K&N, Borla exhaust
        92K miles


        • #5
          You could gouge the lens. The random orbit sander has a flat base and the lens is curved.
          It only has to make sense to me.


          • #6
            I actually do headlight restorations on the side for extra cash, I always sand at an angle like this /// and then cross that 90 degrees the other direction when I switch paper (that is if the headlight is even bad enough to be sanded) that is how you are taught to sand most things when you get into autobody to prevent waves. I also use a 3m foam Sanding pad so that there is no worries of your fingers creating pressure points, makes your paper last longer too. Then I follow up with a 3 stage buff with 3" pads (two wool and one foam) then follow up with wax on a fine foam pad. They turn out tread and last a good long while as well. Plus if they don't require major sanding I can normally do a set on the car in under half an hour.
            Chris V.
            02 Cougar "Hello Cougar" 3L Hybrid, MSDS, Trubendz, Magnaflow, Quaife, Bat Kit, Hello Kitty Exhaust Tip + More
            04 Volvo S60R manual
            00 Sable LS Premium -Roush Springs, Magnaflow - 97 'Tour SE MTX


            • #7
              Can you use auto clear-cote or wax to seal the surface after you polish it clear ?


              Mad Dog


              • #8
                When I had my GTI, I wet sanded with 1000 grit , then 2000 grit and then clear coated the head lights, they looked like brand new.


                • #9
                  I ended up using 600-1000-1500-2000-3000 grit, then polishing compound. Then I used the Turtle Wax sealer from autozone. I am really happy with the result.

                  Mad Dog


                  • #10
                    I have tried four different methods/kits and 20 hours of sanding, but the desert sun and age has eaten them up. They look better than before, but still have a million micro-fractures and pits and put out diffused light. Seems no one sells just the lens and I must spend $150 plus on my 13 year old car for two whole assemblies or avoid night driving. *sigh*


                    • #11
                      Harbor Freight sells a headlight restoration kit that includes a convoluted foam pad and a hard plastic backing plate that chucks into a drill, throw away all the other bits that come with the kit. Get a nice glue that will bond the foam to the plastic plate permanently, I used Locktite construction adhesive. Clean headlights with a good cleaner, I like Krud Kutter and a green scotch pad, dont press too hard, just enough to get everything that is stuck on. Chuck up your convoluted foam pad into a high speed drill, or any drill that has 2 speed transmission and set to high. Rubbing compound on the foam pad and go to town on your lens. When you are satisfied and/or dont think the rubbing compound will help anymore, wash out your foam pad, dry and start with Meguiar's PlastX. The PlastX will bring them back to life like no other polish I have tried. If you dont want to repeat this in 6-12 mos use an activated clear coat in an aerosol can, DO NOT cheap out on the clear coat that goes on your lenses. It is worth the $25-$30 a can to use the good stuff. If you want to save money do more than 1 car. Once activated the clear coat in the can is good for around 24 hours. They even make the clear coat with UV protection. The last car I put the UV clear coat on the headlights was 3 years ago, on an '06 Grand Cherokee, lights still look brand new.


                      • #12
                        Just did this on my CSVT I just bought...
                        This is what they looked like when I started:

                        And after:

                        I maybe spent an hour on them. Sanded 400-800-1000-1500 with a foam sanding block. Polished with an orange cutting pad and Poor Boys SSR2 (a medium grade swirl remover for paint). Finished with Poor Boys EXP sealant. They look great! Can't imagine polishing them by hand though...a machine polish take a few minutes and basically no effort lol.