The polycarbonate plastic headlight lens on your car or truck degrades from the moment it leaves the factory. Air pollution, airborne grit, and ultraviolet light take the shine off and then discolor the lens. After only a few short years, a haze develops across it. Fortunately, lens-renewal products–boxed kits consisting of abrasives that grind off the yellowed layer and smooth out scratches–are fast and easy to use. Some also contain a UV-resistant coating that you wipe or spray on.
How We Tested
We performed two tests. One test was on cars that exhibited moderate lens degradation, but we also paid a visit to our favorite auto salvage-recycling yard, Scarpati’s in Trenton, NJ, and asked to pick out three badly degraded headlight assemblies. They thought we were crazy, until we explained what we were working on. Our tests showed that lens restoration products quickly restore a dulled, yellowed, and scratched lens. They can’t address dust, condensation, or sunlight-related degradation on the inside of the lens or on the reflector. And we can’t make any estimates as to how long the improvement lasts. That depends on the region in which the car is located, the sunlight it sees, the extent of the air pollution, and how dusty the driving conditions are.
As to specifics of the procedure we used, it was pretty simple. All of the lenses were first cleaned with water or household spray cleaner to remove dirt. Then we applied the products strictly per the instructions. No two headlight lenses were identical, of course. If you look carefully, you can even notice differences on the same car. Still, we think we have a clear idea of how these products work and what they have to offer. We called the results as we saw them after rigorous testing and analysis.
Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit
Osram Sylvania amazon.com
This kit left the test headlight clearer and newer-looking than any of the others. Be warned: It was also the most time-consuming process. All you need is a clean towel and a hose for this one, everything else is provided in the box for you. The tested light showed a massive improvement over the cloudiness from the beginning, with the only downside being a long four-plus hour waiting period for the UV protection to take effect. Sylvania offers a lifetime warranty claiming that your lights will stay clear for the life of the car with its kit.
Rust-Oleum Wipe New Headlight Restore
Rust-Oleum’s kit is easy to use. Open the box and you find a small foam block, 1¾-inch on each side. One side of the block is green, the other is gray. Dunk the block into a cup of water and use the green side first. After thoroughly abrading the headlight’s surface, switch to the gray side. When you’re done with that, wipe the headlight clean and put on the pair of nitrile gloves included–you’ll need them. Next, tear open the enclosed foil pouch and use the Wipe-It cloth inside, a microfiber towelette saturated with the proprietary Wipe-It sealant. The MSDS for the product says that it contains 1-chloro-4-(trifluoromethyl) benzene, a powerful solvent with a variety of chemical manufacturing purposes, among them to make coatings. All we can say is that it gives off a strong and unpleasant odor, something like ammonia blended with hydrocarbon solvents. We advise that you either use this outside or put on a cartridge respirator. Wiping the surface with the towelette converts it from slightly hazy to shiny and clear.
Easiest To Use
Rain-X Headlight Restoration Kit
Rain-X was a breeze. Directions were clearly printed and included graphic instructions. The kit did a decent job of clearing up the test headlight, but didn’t impress as much as the Sylvania. The sanding squares are easier to grip than traditional sand paper, too. You’re getting a good product for a low price here.
3M Headlight Restoration Kit
The 3M Headlight Restoration Kit is compact and nicely designed; even after your headlights are done, you could keep it around to do them again or touch them up if needed. It contains masking tape, gloves, clear coat, and a foam block to which you mount abrasive discs. Protect the area around the lenses with the tape provided, clean them, then abrade them using the abrasive pads that attach to the block with hook-and-loop fastening. Wipe the lens clean and apply the clear coat. It does require a fair amount of work; experience with using abrasives—either in wood or metal work—is also an advantage. Since the abrasives cut away the surface of the lens so thoroughly, the process is fairly dusty. We recommend you wear a dust mask.
Turtle Wax Headlight Lens Restorer Kit
Turtle Wax amazon.com
The Turtle Wax kit is thorough and a good buy in so far as it contains everything you need for any level of headlight lens degradation. Each lens restorer kit has abrasive pads, abrasive liquid compound, clear coat, sealant, and abrasive lubricant. This allows lens repair from the most severe to those that don’t need much more than a spray and a wipe. The only thing it doesn’t include is a microfiber cloth. The instructions are such that they help you determine what level of care your headlights need.
Least Elbow Grease
Mothers NuLens Headlight Renewal Kit
The Mother’s headlight restorer is the only one that required us to use attachments for a drill. While the process requires a lot less elbow grease, it didn’t actually leave our headlight in any better condition than the others. You’re paying for the heavy-duty attachments in this kit, and if that’s the kind of thing you’re into, then it might be worth the splurge. If you’re confident using a drill, this is the easiest kit for getting solid results, even if those results didn’t quite match the top performer.
Meguiar’s Two-Step Headlight Restoration Kit
We’re pretty sure that anybody could use this kit and come out with great looking headlights. Our test headlight had a distinct oxidized band of plastic going across its top half that was easily stripped away by the abrasive cleaning solution applied with the plastic abrasive pad supplied with the kit (it comes with two). The solution is a slightly gelled material almost the consistency of yogurt. Place a glob on the pad, and rub back and forth straight across the lens. Wipe off with a paper towel occasionally to check your progress. You’re done when the headlight has an evenly fogged appearance. Then make two passes over the light with the spray lens coating included. The second pass overlaps the first. Repeat after the coating has dried in about five minutes. Our result was a clear and lustrous lens.
Blue Magic Headlight Lens Restorer
Blue Magic amazon.com
Sure, the Blue Magic lens restorer is the least expensive, but you get what you pay for. If you were to wet-sand the lenses like all the other kits had us do, then it would probably be just as good. However, we tested the product exactly as it came to us and according to the instructions. The lens was better than it was at the beginning, but the improvement was so modest that we think it makes sense to spend the extra money on a more fully equipped kit. We’d probably reserve this for use only where the headlight lens is not in terrible condition.
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