Here's how to restore foggy, oxidized headlights

No, not toothpaste
by Manskee Nascimento | Feb 4, 2017

They say the eyes are the windows to one's spirit. In your vehicle's case, it's the headlamps that complete the face. Problem is, once your car ages and its eyes turn into an oxidized, foggy, hepatitis yellow hue, it'll look like a diseased creature on four wheels.

Since the introduction of polycarbonate plastics, the classic glass headlamps our lolos grew up with have been replaced by stronger, more durable and easier to manufacture material. Modern headlights went from plain old round shapes to designs that matched the contours and fascia of the modern automobile.

Despite the advantages of polycarbonates, they are porous and prone to wear due to external radiation and internal heat emitted by the bulbs encased within them. From the factory, these headlamps come with a thin layer of UV coating which eventually breaks down due to lack of care and natural oxidation. In extremely foggy headlights, light dispersal is high and greatly affects the range of your beam, reducing nighttime visibility and resulting in a risky drive.

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There are steps to restore your beloved vehicle's youthful glow. No, we will not get into the quick fixes using toothpaste, vinegar, baking soda or insect repellents containing DEET. These only bring results that don't last. If we are to attain desirable, long-term results, then we must do it right.


What you need:

*Get yourself some sandpaper; 800 grit, 1,500 grit and 2,000 or 2,500 grit.

*Spray bottle containing clean water (preferably distilled).

*Two-step polishing compound or any popular polishing compound

*Roll of masking tape.

*Dual-action polisher with variable speed adjustment up to 6,000rpm and a small finishing buffing pad. If not available, then a lot of good old elbow grease combined with a microfiber towel plus compound should work.


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*Clean headlamps followed by taping its outline in order to protect the paint around it.

*Dry sand the surface of the headlamp using 800 grit sandpaper while strictly following a back and forth, left-to-right motion. This is to rid the surface of unwanted, oxidized plastic. The whole headlamp will be very hazy after you've completely done this. Don't worry, it's normal.


*The next step is to switch to 1,500 grit sandpaper. This time, you'll be damp-sanding the surface by spraying a thin layer of water over the headlamp and sandpaper. Instead of sanding in a side-to-side manner, you'll be executing up and down even strokes. Why? The sanding in the previous step left what is known as abrasion peaks. This switch in direction will flatten out those tiny peaks for a better finish later on.


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*The last sanding process involves the use of 2,000 to 2,500 grit sandpaper. Follow procedure in the previous step but revert back to the left-to-right motion. When done right, you will witness a noticeable improvement in clarity. Once you've tackled the whole surface, you can already feel a huge difference in terms of surface smoothness as opposed to the roughness it had prior to initial treatment.


*Now comes the finishing process of polishing. If you have the convenience of owning or being able to borrow a dual-action polisher, then, by all means, use it. Just in case you have no experience in using one, ask a pro or simply search online for demo videos. In the circumstance that it isn't available, old-fashioned handwork with a quality microfiber towel should do the trick, but will require a lot of patience and endurance—a more rewarding approach, in my opinion.

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As much as possible, use a decent, two-step compound (medium and fine cut) along with the polisher. You can also find off-the-shelf compounds that combine the effects of the two-step process in a single bottle. From personal experience, the two-step technique will always yield more refined results.

If you end up doing it by hand, do a small section of the surface at a time moving in a circular manner using both index and middle fingers. Pace yourself as you proceed to ensure equal effort is given all throughout the headlamp. Depending on the severity of the correction needed, this may take a day or so to accomplish. Just think of it as quality time with your baby.


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Once clarity has been restored, you'll want to protect your freshly rejuvenated headlights by applying a UV protection solution for headlamps available in the automotive section of almost all major retailers. This will prolong the results of your hard labor.

I would like to thank Nelson Mantilla and the staff of Toybox Car Shop in San Fernando, La Union for facilitating my demonstration for this article.


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PHOTO: Manskee Nascimento
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