Most vehicles produced over the last decade have been equipped with plastic head lamp assemblies. After a few years, many will start to cloud up and loose their clarity. This affects the appearance of the vehicle and causes a reduction of light output from the headlight capsule. The good news is most of these headlamp assemblies can be restored to a like new appearance.
If you encountered a cloudy headlight lens a few short years ago your options were limited...
I restored my first headlamp lens after I successfully buffed an instrument cluster lens which was badly clouded from mis-use of some type of cleaning product. I had nothing to loose so I took the cluster apart and started wet sanding the lens with varying grits of fine sandpaper while holding the lens under running water. No matter how fine the sandpaper, the lens looked terrible until I ran it across my bench mounted buffing wheel that I normally used for polishing aluminum street rod parts. A few passes later this lens looked better than new. That gave me confidence that clear headlamp assemblies could be restored in the same manner.
A sideline business...
For a moment I thought about the possibility of starting a specialty business. Since I have a history of dealing with car dealers (new and used) my first thought was creating a service business to provide headlamp restoration. I thought about the dozen or more clouded headlamps that could be polished in one trip to a used car lot - or - keeping already polished assemblies on hand for the most popular models like the Chevy Malibu, Ford Taurus, and Chrysler Intrepid. Well, that idea never took off though it may have worked, at least for the short term.
Today, headlight restoration products are available everywhere, and it's probably no longer a secret that you can make a clouded lenses look almost new with some fine sandpaper and a little elbow grease. Though I still prefer my method of removing the entire assembly and working it over while it's off the vehicle, there are many restoration options available, none of which require headlamp removal. The idea is the same though for most methods. You start with a kit which contains some assortment of medium fine to very fine sandpaper and some plastic polishing compounds. You mask off the painted surfaces and begin wet sanding your way through the pits and clouded plastic, gradually working up to finer sandpaper and then to final polishing. Depending on the kit, you may also get some type of sealer or protectant.
The time it takes to restore a headlamp lens depends on how clouded the lens is. More clouding equals more sanding which means more time. I'd say the average headlamp restoration takes about twenty minutes. This also depends on the type of kit used and whether this is done by hand or with power tools.
The easiest kit I have used so far is called Crystal View. This was recommended to me by a salesperson at Advance Auto Parts, after another brand failed to get the job done. The magic of Crystal View is the final sealer which fills in the micro scratches and brings out the clarity in the plastic.
Thanks to YouTube
, there's a nice video to show how simple this product is to use.