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Thread: How-To: shine up your headlights

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Kansas City
    Posts
    75

    Default 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

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Location
    DC area
    Posts
    172

    Default

    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. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Location
    Manteno,Illinois
    Posts
    59
    Blog Entries
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    Default

    I used 3m's finnesse-it II, works great!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Scottsdale
    Posts
    22

    Default

    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. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Iowa/ Wisconsin
    Posts
    133

    Default

    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. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Location
    Paynesville, MN
    Posts
    392

    Default

    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. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Augusta, GA
    Posts
    250

    Default

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

    thanks,

    Mad Dog

  8. #8

    Default

    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. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Augusta, GA
    Posts
    250

    Default

    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. #10

    Default

    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*

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