How To Restore Headlights Fast (6-Step Guide)

Want to know how to restore headlights fast? You're in the right place!

In this ProperMechanic.com guide, you'll learn:

  • When you should seek a professional vs. DIY
  • Typical price ranges for restoring headlights
  • Supplies you'll need to restore your headlights

And much more!

How to Restore Headlights

As the years have passed, glass has given way to polycarbonate as the material of choice for headlight assembly construction.

Although these modern assemblies offer the distinct advantage of being much lighter than the assemblies of old, they have one significant downfall.

As exposure to UV rays and aging take their toll on these polycarbonate plastic headlight lenses, discoloration and yellowing begin to become evident.

The result can be quite the eyesore to contend with!

This can be especially troubling when the presence of foggy headlights disrupts the overall appearance of an otherwise neatly detailed vehicle, leading to frustration at every glance.

However, with the purchase of a quality at-home headlight restoration kit, you can be well on your way to clean headlights and the show quality look you have always wished for your vehicle.

So, if you're looking to save some money and do an easy DIY car headlight restoration, keep reading to learn how!

DIY Restoration -VS- Body Shop Restoration

Some individuals worry that they are not capable of completing the task of restoring their headlights themselves.

This fear drives many to take their vehicles to body and detail shops to have such a service performed. 

However, a significant number of these same individuals would likely be surprised to know what goes into the process, as it is often far less extensive than they might have thought.

In fact, nearly anyone with an afternoon’s worth of time, and a willingness to learn, can restore headlights to a factory appearance with little difficulty.

Much of this process comes down to a matter of patience and attention to detail.

A willingness to slow down, work thoroughly, and remain diligent will serve anyone who seeks to restore their aging headlamps well.

Check out this article on headlight restoration.

Did you know: A standard halogen headlight uses about 55 watts of power. HID headlights, however, only use about 35 watts!

What Are The Price Ranges For DIY Headlight Restoration

The costs associated with DIY headlight restoration can vary quite substantially.

Many claim that household goods like toothpaste or baking soda can work miracles when attempting to restore headlights, at a fraction of the price of restoration kits.

However, there is little proof to suggest that these methods actually remove the seated in haze that only sanding will truly eliminate.

In order to perform a professional-grade restoration service on your vehicle’s headlights from the comfort of your own driveway, you will need a kit that completes the restoration process in its entirety.

Even kits of this nature can vary somewhat in cost, but the following figures will give you an average of the cost to be expected.

Low-End Cost: $8.79

Average Cost: $21.00

High-End Cost: $33.95

Tools/Equipment Need For Restoring Headlights

Outside of the contents of a headlight restoration kit itself, few additional tools or supplies are required to complete the job. However, it is important to be aware of what is included in these requirements.

Additional Tools/Supplies

  • Cordless Drill
  • Blue Painters Tape
  • Paper Towels
  • Clean Cloth or Microfiber Detailing Towel
  • Spray Bottle
  • Window Cleaning Solution

​What Are The Prices For Professional Headlight Restoration?

The most significant advantage of restoring your vehicle’s headlights yourself is that a significant amount of money can be saved over that of what would be paid for professional restoration.

As you have seen, the costs associated with DIY restoration are minimal, and well within the budget of most.

Professional headlight restoration typically costs much more than DIY restoration due to shop overhead. A shop must pay for utilities, supplies, and payroll obligations.

These additional costs are passed on to the consumer. A professional shop will typically have some form of markup on their products, and hourly labor rates generally fall into the $80-$110 range.

The following figures will give you average figures of what professional headlight restoration will cost across a range of scenarios.

Low-End Cost: $80

Average Cost: $115

High-End Cost: $150

Read More >> How to Install a GPS Tracker

How to Restore Headlights (6-Step Guide)

Though the exact steps taken during headlight restoration will differ from one kit to the next, the following steps will provide a general outline of the process itself.

As with any at-home restoration or repair, always follow the instructions provided with the kit that you have purchased.

  1. Clean Headlight Lenses
  2. Tape Off Painted Surfaces
  3. Prep and Base Sand
  4. Repeat with Finer Grit Sandpaper
  5. Wipe Free and Buff
  6. Apply Sealant and Remove Tape

Step 1 - Clean Headlight Lenses 

Before the restoration process can begin, you must first clean the lenses free of any dirt and debris.

Spray your headlight lenses with a quality window cleaning solution, and wipe them thoroughly with a paper towel.

Allow the lenses themselves time to dry before moving forward.

Step 2 - Tape Off Painted Surfaces

You will now tape off any painted surfaces surrounding your headlight’s exterior edges.

This is a vital step, as the application of this painters tape will be the only safeguard present against damage to paint in the case of over sanding.

Step 3 - Prep and Base Sand

If your kit specifies the use of a pre-sanding compound, you will need to apply it at this time. 

Once this is completed, or if your kit does not specify the use of a pre-sanding compound, wet the headlight’s lens with water from a spray bottle.

You will now proceed to wet sanding with the heaviest grit sandpaper provided with your chosen kit. 

Some restoration kits provide sanding disks for use with a cordless drill. In the absence of these disks, proceed with hand sanding.

Only sand as specified by your kit, as some dictate the need for a circular sanding motion, while others designate side-to-side movement.

Step 4 - Repeat With Finer Grit Sandpaper

The number of provided grits of sandpaper differs by kit, but most contain 2-3 different styles.

As you proceed, reapply water to your headlight lens, and repeat step #3 with the next finest grit of sandpaper.

Although this will appear to further cloud your lens, this is to be expected. Upon completion, continue on with the next finest grit of sandpaper if one is provided.

Step 5 - Wipe Free and Buff

Once sanding is complete, you will now wipe your headlight lens off with a moist paper towel.

Next, you will apply the amount of polishing or rubbing compound that is specified, to the headlight lens.

With the use of a drill mounted buffing ball or hand buffing mitt, apply ample elbow grease until the desired clarity is achieved.

Step 6 - Apply Sealant and Remove Tape

You will now apply the kit’s included sealant, and thoroughly buff it into the surface of the headlight lens with the help of an appropriate applicator.

Once this is complete, remove the masking tape that surrounds the vehicle’s headlight lens.

Read More >> How to Install HID Headlights

Bringing Old Headlights Back To Life

Although at first, the job of restoring your vehicle’s dingy headlights might sound intimidating, this is seldom the case once the job has begun.

By applying yourself, and remaining patient toward the task at hand, your headlights will show a level of clarity beyond that which you ever thought possible, all the while keeping more money in your wallet.

About Your Mechanic

About Josh Boyd

I’ve been an ASE Certified automotive/heavy equipment technician since 2010. I began my career performing basic automotive maintenance at a service center before working as a Toyota technician at my local dealership.

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