Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

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Saving$
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Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by Saving$ » Sat Oct 11, 2014 1:07 pm

Vehicle is over 10 years old and headlight lenses are clouded. I'm trying to determine the best solution. Being a Boglehead, I want to spend as little money as possible over the long term. Plan to keep the car for MANY more years.

Restore:
1. Rub out with toothpaste. This is a common internet remedy, and improved them slightly, but not enough. Cost - $0 + 1 hour.
2. Headlight restoration kit. Consumer reports claims these work but only last about a year. Cost $25 + 1 hour.

Repair: It is annoying that it is not possible to only buy a lens for this car - need to buy the entire assembly.
3. Low cost aftermarket replacement headlights. I'm not familiar with the various brands, but all seem to offer a 1 year warranty. Cost $50-$125/headlight, so $100 to $250 + 15 minutes to replace.
4. OEM replacement headlights. Found online for $150 each, so $300 + 15 minutes to replace.

I'm inclined towards option 3, spend $100 on aftermarket headlight assemblies. I just know nothing about these aftermarket brands, and don't know who to find out. What are your recommendations, experience or suggestions?

Carson
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by Carson » Sat Oct 11, 2014 1:24 pm

Yes! dh used one of the kits on our headlights and it had them looking great for quite awhile. It was more than a year, but we retired the car for other reasons. We were happy with the results, and it wasn't terribly difficult.
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ResearchMed
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by ResearchMed » Sat Oct 11, 2014 1:33 pm

We had this happen, and have since noticed how very many other cars have very cloudy headlight "glass/plastic".

Our Volvo dealer (not known for ultra-low cost in general, as with all/most Volvo stuff) suggested having them polish them rather than buy new whatevers, and they came home looking brand new.
I don't remember the cost, but it wasn't anything like the cost for new parts being mentioned.

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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by topper1296 » Sat Oct 11, 2014 1:44 pm

I used a 3M headlight restoring product on my car several years ago and then also bought a custom cut 3M clear protective film to cover my headlights. My headlights still look as good as new even though my car is 13 years old. The restoration kit needed an electric drill to grind/polish and I had to buy a hairdryer to shrink down the film to fit.

Rodc
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by Rodc » Sat Oct 11, 2014 1:46 pm

Go to auto parts store. Wood working store may also work.

Get some 400 grit wet dry paper. Plus 600, 1000, 1500, 2000

One sheet each should do it. Way less than spending $25 on a "restoration kit".

Sand out lens. All or at least the last one or two wet.

tooth paste is just not aggressive enough.

Or if you have a buffer get some aggressive cut to swirl remover buffing compounds. These are sold for removing defects in your paint job but work fine on plastic (and furniture finishes for that matter which are really no different from the clear coat on your car).
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davegreen10
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by davegreen10 » Sat Oct 11, 2014 1:54 pm

I had someone try to sell me a kit at the gas station by demoing on one of my headlights. I didn't buy, figuring I could get it cheaper online but never got around to it. That was 4 years ago and the treated light still looks really good

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Driver
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by Driver » Sat Oct 11, 2014 2:03 pm

Usually when you sand or polish headlights they look good for a year and then start to fade again. This is because when you sand or polish you are removing the factory UV coating on headlights (depending on manufacturer). The solution is to apply the UV coating after sanding or polishing. You can do this many ways. Amazon sells many sprays and I think the Sylvania headlight restoration kit comes with it.

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semperlux
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by semperlux » Sat Oct 11, 2014 2:08 pm

Use something like this:

http://www.amazon.com/3M-39008-Headligh ... B001AIZ5HY

Then apply something like this:

http://www.amazon.com/XPEL-H9904A-Clear ... words=xpel

Headlights should last for a long time after that, & cost much less than replacing headlights.

user5027
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by user5027 » Sat Oct 11, 2014 5:06 pm

I tried a headlight restoration kit and had limited success. Ultimately wound up buying aftermarket headlamps and had the local garage install them.

Saving$
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by Saving$ » Sat Oct 11, 2014 5:24 pm

semperlux wrote:Then apply something like this:

http://www.amazon.com/XPEL-H9904A-Clear ... words=xpel
The $4 kit on Amazon is apparently for a 6" round headlight. The kit for my headlights is $67 according to the mfg website. +$15 for the restorations kit = $82 + time. At that point the aftermarket headlights might be a better idea.

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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by gwrvmd » Sat Oct 11, 2014 9:11 pm

I have used a very fine Brillo pad. It works fairly well and it is definitely cheap........Gordon
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thomase
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by thomase » Sun Oct 12, 2014 3:11 am

I use regular auto paint polishing compound and/or cleaning wax once a year. Apply it with a 6" palm polisher, only takes about 10 minutes to do both headlights.

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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by technovelist » Sun Oct 12, 2014 5:40 am

I had the same problem, with my 2001 Maxima, and bought aftermarket replacements. I thought that I was only getting the plastic but they came with new bulbs also. A pair cost less than $100.

I would post the manufacturer's information but I can't find it at the moment. I will look for it further if the OP wants me to.

The lights are MUCH MUCH brighter now. :mrgreen:
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by interplanetjanet » Sun Oct 12, 2014 6:33 am

I'll suggest a third alternative that may or may not be useful.

Check to see if an ECE/EEC headlamp was made for your vehicle. These are continental European "E-code" headlamps (so the beams point the correct direction) and in many cases they will have glass lenses that stay crystal clear even if the North American lenses for the same model are plastic. You also generally gain a better beam pattern as ECE regulations on beam cutoff are more stringent.

You do not want Japanese domestic (JDM), Australian or UK headlamps as they point the wrong direction.

Legality can vary by jurisdiction, however given that a properly aimed ECE lamp will produce minimal glare to oncoming traffic it's unlikely to be an issue. This is a fairly common "upgrade" for many models.

This is all assuming regular incandescent headlamps. With HID lamps I would probably not vary from what came from the factory.

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frugalhen
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by frugalhen » Sun Oct 12, 2014 6:42 am

Use a kit. It is basically just wet sanding and misting the lens.

Just remember to tape around the lens so you do not scratch the pai t
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Rich in Michigan
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by Rich in Michigan » Sun Oct 12, 2014 6:47 am

I used a kit on my wife's car. It worked great. Then after awhile the cloudiness returned.

While at a body shop, I was chatting with the owner and mentioned the cloudiness issue in passing. He said that there is a product that works but it is very expensive and not practical for most car owners. The only real solution for most people was to replace the whole lamp housing and lens...he suggested buying an OEM housing and lens from a parts store but re-use the lamp from the old assembly to minimize costs. Haven't gotten around to pricing that option.

So it seems that the choice is frequent purchase and use of a kit...which will give temporary results...or go for something more permanent, expensive, and labor intensive. If someone has a better solution, I would be interested but the body shop guy seemed all too familiar with the problem.

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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by fcox85 » Sun Oct 12, 2014 6:58 am

I've seen several videos on YouTube with individuals using Off (or the equivalent)bug spray and a paper towel, and it seems to work great.

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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by Cody » Sun Oct 12, 2014 8:07 am

I bought an after market set of covers and they were not a good choice. Not clear and not good to drive at night with. So buy with caution if you go that route.

Best,
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Rodc
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by Rodc » Sun Oct 12, 2014 8:45 am

So it seems that the choice is frequent purchase and use of a kit...which will give temporary results...or go for something more permanent, expensive, and labor intensive. If someone has a better solution...,
No need to buy a kit. Very fine wet dry sand paper used wet or auto buffing compound works fine.

If the lens is far gone it is a bit of effort. But if you just do it when it gets just a little cloudy which may only be every few years it only takes a few minutes. Even if once a year and it take 5-10 minutes no big deal. A couple sheets of sand paper or one container of buffing compound will last the life of a car.

If you buff out your car now and again (sadly I very rarely bother though think about it from time to time) just buff out the lens cover when you do the rest of the car.

It really is not that hard or time consuming.
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by tibbitts » Sun Oct 12, 2014 10:28 am

I think the problem is model-specific. I have a 4yr old car (with 3yr warranty of course) where after 3.5 years the clearcoat started peeling off the lenses. I believe the clearcoat has UV protection in it as well. The lenses are getting cloudy where there's no clearcoat, and are like new everywhere else. Removing the clearcoat without damaging the lenses would be difficult, and of course it would have to be removed to repaint it.

I've only had to replace a couple of light housings (due to impact) and OEM parts I've found on the net are nowhere close to $100 for even inexpensive cars - they're much, much more. Part of the problem might be that for just one year and model car, you can have many different headlight assembly varieties (right/left, and then different trim levels, like L, SL, LE, LX, etc.) for the same make/model/year. Before I looked into it I'd thought that headlight assemblies would the same for all option levels for a given make/model/year, but of course it couldn't be that simple.
Last edited by tibbitts on Sun Oct 12, 2014 10:32 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by Stonebr » Sun Oct 12, 2014 10:28 am

Our Corolla has this problem, and I polish the plastic headlight covers once a year. Takes about an hour at most. The stuff I use is off the shelf at my local auto parts store -- Meguiar's PlastX. It cost about $6.50 and lasts for several years at least -- I'm not even close to half way through the small bottle after 2 years. I'm not sure why people make such a big deal out of this. It's is easy to do and effective.

Not all cars have the problem. My Volvo had perfect, clear lenses throughout its long life.
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by Woodshark » Sun Oct 12, 2014 12:32 pm

fcox85 wrote:I've seen several videos on YouTube with individuals using Off (or the equivalent)bug spray and a paper towel, and it seems to work great.
I have an 1998 minivan with a clouded headlight. Last year I used one of the polishing kits and it worked but it took a least 15-20 minutes and the results did not last. This year it was just as cloudy.

Last week I ran across the same video using "Off" with 40% deet. I thought "what the heck, it can't get any worse". Tried it and it worked like a charm! Less than 1 minute and the headlight was 75% clearer and looked much better.

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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by telemark » Sun Oct 12, 2014 1:13 pm

Also look for ways to park so the headlights are less exposed to direct sunlight.

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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by Saving$ » Sun Oct 12, 2014 3:06 pm

interplanetjanet wrote:I'll suggest a third alternative that may or may not be useful.

Check to see if an ECE/EEC headlamp was made for your vehicle. These are continental European "E-code" headlamps (so the beams point the correct direction) and in many cases they will have glass lenses that stay crystal clear even if the North American lenses for the same model are plastic. You also generally gain a better beam pattern as ECE regulations on beam cutoff are more stringent.

You do not want Japanese domestic (JDM), Australian or UK headlamps as they point the wrong direction.

Legality can vary by jurisdiction, however given that a properly aimed ECE lamp will produce minimal glare to oncoming traffic it's unlikely to be an issue. This is a fairly common "upgrade" for many models.

This is all assuming regular incandescent headlamps. With HID lamps I would probably not vary from what came from the factory.
I googled this in case they sold a version of my vehicle in Europe, but not such luck - just a plain old US vehicle.

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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by Rodc » Sun Oct 12, 2014 6:07 pm

Last week I ran across the same video using "Off" with 40% deet. I thought "what the heck, it can't get any worse". Tried it and it worked like a charm! Less than 1 minute and the headlight was 75% clearer and looked much better.
Very cool. Will have to file that one away for future use.
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by kolarson » Sun Oct 12, 2014 6:46 pm

By a can off Deep Wood Off, spray it on your headlights, and wipe off with a cloth. You can search for the video on the internet.

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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by LadyGeek » Sun Oct 12, 2014 8:17 pm

Use caution, as the text under the videos also say that you could damage the headlights, as well as the surrounding paint and trim. deep woods off to clean headlights - Google Search
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by petunias » Sun Oct 12, 2014 9:00 pm

The kits just contain various grits of sandpaper, so you may already have some at home or as was suggested you can get larger sheets for the same price.
Some more expensive kits contain adapters to fit a drill.
Keep in mind no matter the kit the idea is to progress from rough to fine grit.

I tried a DIY two step method on my car:
1. Turtle wax rubbing compound (not polishing compound) $2.27
2. Meguiar's PlastX ~$7

I did this a few months ago on 13 year old headlights and have been happy so far.
It took maybe an hour total.
I have enough leftover product to do 100s more times.

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Mister Whale
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by Mister Whale » Sun Oct 12, 2014 10:43 pm

If the headlight isn't too clouded then Novus Plastic Polish #2 (sold on Amazon) or the 3m equivalent (sold in auto parts stores) will clear it up easily, if it's bad then the very fine sandpaper/wetsand route will be necessary. I used to use #2 on the headlights on my Grand Voyager every 6 months or so, just a couple of minutes each time kept them looking like glass.
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by viking112347 » Mon Oct 13, 2014 6:21 am

Our Costco tire center performs headlight restoration for $25 for both lights. I had a 2004 Honda CRV that failed inspection due to how cloudy they were. After Costco finished with them they looked brand new. They even scraped off the film from the kit I tried myself but didn't work.

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semperlux
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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by semperlux » Wed Oct 15, 2014 9:09 pm

Saving$ wrote:The $4 kit on Amazon is apparently for a 6" round headlight. The kit for my headlights is $67 according to the mfg website. +$15 for the restorations kit = $82 + time. At that point the aftermarket headlights might be a better idea.
Looks like I'm a bit outdated then. I used 3M's headlight buffing kit, and also 3M's vinal wrap on my mother's car a little over 10 yrs ago & it's still looks great. Some rock dings, but no haziness. Starting to yellow a bit, but I can always just replace the vinyl wrap without having to rebuff the lens. And at the time, the headlights were going for about $200 a set, so it was a better deal for me. YMMV, esp given the different prices today.

Sounds like a replacement might be easier for you, perhaps add the wrap so it won't haze up in the future?

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Re: Best solution for clouded auto headlight lens?

Post by SC Hoosier » Fri Oct 17, 2014 8:37 pm

I just restored my headlights with this: http://smile.amazon.com/Sylvania-38771- ... mp+cleaner

It worked great. The video was really helpful. It instilled some confidence. The final UV coating was the real difference maker. Be careful to get that step right the first time. I tried other kits that had me using my drill. This one worked WAY better.

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