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Headlight Restoration- used Permatex kit


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12 replies to this topic

#1 guy123

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 01:55 AM

I thought I'd post this thread to provide people with some information on a way to restore their cloudy, yellowing headlights. I know this has been talked about tons, I got a lot of info from other threads. I just thought that people trying to do the same thing could benefit from my job.

I didn't have much time to do the job, and didn't want to take the headlights out to clear coat them, so I decided to give the Permatex Headlight Lens Restoration kit a try just for kicks to see if it would help. I figured the $13.50 or so that I paid was worth a shot. The kit comes with 4 sheets of sand paper (1000, 1500, 2000, 2500 grits,) instructions, a pair of latex gloves (didn't need them,) a small cloth, and a bottle of "Plastic restoration polish." I didn't take a pic of both headlights before, so I'll use the passenger side headlight for demonstration. Here it is before:

Posted Image

I know a lot of people have restored headlights different ways, and everyone has their own "best" way. I'm going to describe this process so that a newbie can do it, so forgive me if I state obvious things. Understand that this is simply one way to do this restoration and I will not pretend it's the best, it simply worked for me. Wetsanding/clear coating, toothpaste, brake fluid... all those other techniques exist and should be considered when deciding how you want to do your own headlights.

I began wetsanding the lens beginning with the 1000 grit. I sanded for 25-30 min. with this one alone, and kept sanding until every imperfection was gone and the lens was a very uniform matte finish. The time it takes to complete this step will vary based on how bad your headlights are. You can tell it's almost time to move to a smaller grit when the water coming from the area goes from a yellowy milky fluid to a brighter white, more transparent fluid. The spent about 5-10 mins each with the 1500 and 2000 grits, then spent another 20 mins or so with the 2500 grit going horizontally for a few minutes, then going vertically for another few mins. I gradually let up on the pressure, and made sure it was liberally lubricated with water. The result was that by the end, I was basically keeping only enough pressure on the sand paper to keep it against the lens, no more. You can tell that the lens is almost smooth enough when the water starts to bead up on the lens rather than appear to be absorbed.

After all the sanding was done, the headlights should look acceptably clear. That way, they'll be like glass when you polish them. Now it's polish time... it's basically like waxing a car, although I tried to press pretty hard on mine to really work out a good shine. I polished for about 10 mins each headlight, going over it once, buffing, then going over it again, and buffing. This whole sanding and polishing process took about 3 hours for both lights. The end result on the passenger side light, the same one pictured above, was this:

Posted Image

I was very happy with the results. Here is another pic of the driver side headlight completed before I had begun on the passenger side- this is a good side-by-side comparison:

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And here Is the end result after both headlights were finished:

Posted Image

I wanted to do this restoration mainly because my headlights looked like such crap all yellow and clouded, and I also figured my headlights were a little bit dimmer because of the discoloration. After doing the driver side lights I was able to see just how much dimmer the lights had been. Here is a picture of the lights shining on a fence about 8 feet in front of the car- Driver side light has been restored, the passenger side light has not:

Posted Image

You can see that the focus on the light on the driver side is about twice as large as the passenger side. Not only that, but the driver side light projected at least twice as far with a much better intensity, I was amazed.

I'd really recommend doing this, any method, to clean up your headlights. My headlights had dimmed so much it was almost becoming a safety concern.

I'm not going to pretend that this is going to last forever though- once the sun comes out again and I start driving, the stuff that did this yellowing in the first place- UV rays, air pollution, etc, will begin the erosion again. I plan on applying Mothers Plastic Polish to my headlights whenever I wash the car, maybe a few times a year, to ensure that my results stay protected. I'm also going to start polishing the tail lights too to keep them looking good. I hadn't really considered this necessary until now, but this little project made me realize it's worth keeping those lights shining.

Anyway, I hope this helps anyone thinking about doing this themselves. Below is a final pic of what is included in the package- keep in mind this was taken AFTER I was done:

Posted Image

And just for fun here's a close up of the driver side:

Posted Image

#2 dmanaenk

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 02:19 AM

1. Nice writeup! And nice pics too.
2. On technical note - with that amount of cloudiness I'd start with 800, or even 600 grit.
2. Since you sanded your headlights on the car, I don't see what stopped you from applying clearcoat, all you need is some painter's tape. It would have saved you quite a bit of time also, since you wouldn't have had to make it mirror-like with sandpaper, clearcoat would have nicely filled the scratches left with 1500/2000 grit paper. And it would also stop the yellowing from coming back for quite a while.

#3 guy123

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 02:45 AM

Well I hope that with a little maintenance I won't need to clear coat, but if it were to start yellowing again I'd go ahead and do it. I didn't want to do it this time 1. because the headlights were still on the car and I didn't want to risk getting paint on something, even if it were taped off, 2. it's been raining off and on here which might put the paint in jeopardy, and 3. I'd be doing it in the parking lot here on campus. I agree that a coarser grit would have been appropriate for the amount of yellowing present though. I forgot to mention also that, while the kit was nice with everything included, you could probably do just as good a job by getting some sheets of sand paper and a bottle of plastic polish like the Mother's stuff and using those.

#4 ScoobySchmitty

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 07:36 AM

I did this to my Sundance's headlights. I wet sanded with 1000 grit, left them to dry for a while, then clearcoated them with enamel. The effect was stunning, they were brand new! I had purchased a set from the junkyard to test this method. It worked really well, so I ended up selling the 2nd pair once I was finished with them. Trouble is, I couldn't sell them for much more than cost.

Not sure if the kit is necessary, but I imagine it helps. Personally I agree with dman, a clearcoat after using this kit would definitely prevent the yellowing from now on, and you can do it right after sanding the oxidation off. Good write up, love seeing this work for other people!

- Schmitty

#5 dj3stripes

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 09:57 AM

Thank you so much for the newb write up. :clap: I can count the amount of times I've used sandpaper on one hand. And I'm talking mainly about using it to smooth wood projects. How does the cold weather affect this process? I have a garage at my apartment, but it still gets a bit cold in there as it's not heated and we're only seeing highs in the 20's this past week. How much water did you go through? Could i use an electric sander for this or should elbow grease be the only means for this project? :banana:

#6 ScoobySchmitty

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 11:11 AM

I hand-sanded mine in the sink with 1000 grit and running water, so elbow grease is a must. If you can do this all in the warmth of your apartment, it's better. You'll see it go from a yellowish tint to a milky white, at which point you have fully removed the oxidation.

#7 dmanaenk

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 12:09 PM

How does the cold weather affect this process?
Could i use an electric sander for this or should elbow grease be the only means for this project? :banana:

Weather matters for clearcoating part. it should be warm when you apply it and no rain for couple of hours after application.
If electric sander is circular - i would not use it.

#8 crazyhorse001

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 07:59 PM

Great tip! I never knew this existed, I build models & have anywhere from 400 to 12,000 grit sandpaper on hand. As well as Novus plastic polish. This kit seems to cover that quite well. Uh, yeah, that's twelve THOUSAND grit paper...feels like flannel!

Could i use an electric sander for this or should elbow grease be the only means for this project? :banana:

no, No & NO! Do NOT use power tools to sand polycarbonate lenses. The melting would be worse than the yellowing. To polish, yes. You can buff it with a pad on a drill. You can even use fine rubbing compound on a drill.

#9 Voluptuary5

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Posted 10 February 2007 - 12:25 PM

Thanks for the write-up Guy! I found it very useful. I had the same concerns as you about safety while driving at night. Your pics with the headlights shining against the fence say it loud-n-clear.

I'm going to give it a shot today.

Thanks again,

-V5

#10 guy123

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Posted 10 February 2007 - 08:24 PM

Glad I could help. :)

#11 Takami826

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 09:25 AM

This is a great write up and thank you! I desperately need to do this to my car as mine, too, are becoming a safety concern and I'd like to get another 6+ months out of my legacy before I trade it in or sell it. Now that I live in a rural area with minimal lighting, at night, it IS DARK.

Are the lenses a pain in the butt to remove and reinstall, though? (I honestly haven't looked yet) I have no problem doing the labour, but given the current temps, tendonitis doesn't allow for much dexterity. I already have to fix my grill piece (I went to put in washer fluid a couple days ago and the whole thing just fell at my feet) so if it's easy enough to take out the lenses while I'm in there, I can clean them in the house and throw them back on.

#12 tjxtreme

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Posted 03 April 2007 - 05:34 PM

Thanks for the great post. I went ahead and tried this on mine, and the resulting finish is much better than they were before, although not as good as yours.

I can still see the scratches left by sanding very lightly with the 2500 grit, and am wondering if I should go to a finer grit?

Or, alternatively, should I try an enamel? I read a lot about clearcoats and enamels, but what kind?

Thanks,
Andrew

#13 Sonicfrog

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Posted 04 April 2007 - 02:16 PM

I don't know where I read it (could have been on USMB) but I read that old fashioned white toothpaste works great for just this problem. I'm at the house waiting for the engine to get delivered, and thought I'd give it a whirl. Here are the results of just a few minutes of polishing.

Driver's side - no toothpaste.

http://www.ultimates...=1&d=1175713999

Passenger side - Smile!

http://www.ultimates...=1&d=1175713999

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