How Headlight Cleaning and Restoration Is Beneficial?

Published: March 3, 2022
Last updated: March 29, 2023

When most people think about headlight maintenance, the first thing that springs to mind is replacing burned-out bulbs. However, when a car gets older, another problem might arise foggy headlights. Cleaning off that fogginess (also known as headlight restoration) is a critical maintenance item for safety, especially as the average age of vehicles on the road grows to more than 11 years.

This loss of "vision" in cars manifests as a similar aging process on headlight lenses to cataracts: Plastic lenses usually used to cover headlight bulbs get cloudy and hazy with time, lowering the amount of light that illuminates the road.

Cars that spend most of their lives parked outside, where sunshine, oxidation, UV rays, and air pollution wreak havoc on headlight lenses, are particularly vulnerable to the aging process. Unlike bulbs, which are readily replaced when they burn out, lenses are permanent fixtures that are rarely replaced until they've been damaged in an accident — or when owners discover they can't see at night.

Although new bulbs can restore some headlight brightness, bulbs can also decline with age. However, unrestored clouded lenses will continue to diminish headlight efficiency, potentially posing a safety risk when driving at night or in low-visibility conditions. Furthermore, despite bulb manufacturers' claims, high-priced replacement bulbs may be brighter. Still, they don't necessarily illuminate more of the road than original-equipment bulbs, and they don't usually last as long.

Clouded lenses can't be cleaned with soap and water; they're clouded because the plastic, not just the surface, has darkened. You can attempt a few different methods at home to get rid of the fogginess. Using toothpaste as a DIY solution: To buff off the discoloration, place toothpaste in a towel and wipe it on the afflicted areas in small circles. However, this isn't always helpful, and if your headlights are extremely hazy, you'll need to take more radical actions.

You can try to clean up the fogginess yourself with one of the many headlight restoration kits available. The lenses are normally sanded with a light abrasive, polished, and coated with a sealant to clear them in a multistep procedure. The cloudiness on the lens and the kit used can affect the outcome. When using these kits, keep in mind that the surfaces of the headlight lenses are frequently near paint or other trim pieces, and scratching them can result in a significant repair charge.

Headlight restoration is becoming more common in repair shops and dealership service departments. Like the effectiveness and longevity of the products and services, prices vary greatly. In the end, restoring dull, foggy headlight lenses to their original or near-original state is akin to an older person having cataract surgery and regaining some of their vision.

Purchasing new or used headlight lenses from a salvage yard is an option to attempting to refurbish old ones, although the cost of replacement parts is usually higher. Although aftermarket lenses are less expensive, moisture can seep into the headlight housing and damage electrical connections if they don't fit or seal as well as original parts.

It's critical to keep your car headlights clean and clear if you want to stay safe on the road, so as soon as you see the performance of your headlights starting to deteriorate, it's time to get them cleaned.

If you love your car and want to protect it through insurance, read this blog post to get the best one.

Founder, Editor-in-Chief Carmelo Pickel is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Keep Driving, with almost 20 years of experience working in the industry. Before founding Keep Driving, Carmelo held leadership roles for over a decade on top automotive dealership corporations across North America, handling various leadership roles in Sales, Marketing, and Incentives.
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