6 On Your Side: Should you clean cloudy headlights?


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – If you want your vehicle to run properly, routine maintenance is critical.

While many people regularly check oil level and tire pressure, most drivers ignore doing something to clear up cloudy headlights.

The foggy lenses create poor visibility and half of all accidents across the country happen at night.

The price of the vehicle you drive doesn’t matter, when it comes to the yellowing headlights on a car or truck.

What happens is that both time and the environment create oxidation on the plastic lens. There’s also road damage, like gravel, that creates dents and pits on the lens.

And, if your vehicle is on the road over years, a layer of dirt builds up, then the headlight clouds over, and it’s hard to see the road at night.

Cloudy headlights reduce light

Research from AAA reveals that clouded headlights generate only 20% of the amount of light that new headlights do, leading to dangerous nighttime driving conditions.

“So when you have these cloudy or deteriorated covers it can reduce your visibility by up to 80 percent. We need all of the light we can especially at night and in the winter when it gets dark earlier,” says Stephanie Milani of AAA.

Headlights on modern cars are plastic — less fragile and brittle than glass, but the lenses become cloudy over time.

“The lights are designed to reflect all the light out of the bulbs. They’ve changed bulbs in lights in recent years going to a higher intensity bulb. They create a lot of heat,” says John Thornburg of Polish Masters. “And between the two of them, it sets up the perfect situation to cause oxidation on them.”

At Polish-Masters in West Knoxville, John Thornburg has the right tools and knowledge to restore deteriorated headlights.

Cloudy headlight restoration kits

We showed John three different headlight restoration kits taken from the garage.

One of the kits includes a “super” gritty pad … then, a not-so-gritty pad … and some polish. Once you tape off the headlamp, the process requires sanding the lens with a firm hand, each time with a less abrasive pad.

Following the directions after 15 or 20 minutes… you wipe it clean with a clarifying compound. Then you apply what’s called a surface activator … the final step.

It takes a lot of time. They’ll give you a pad and they’ll want you to use a drill,” says Thornburg. “You just can’t get the speed out of it that you need to get. It can be done, but it’s time consuming to do it.”

The cost of restoring your headlights by a professional like Thornburg costs $65.

The price of the most expensive restoration kit from the garage was about $14-20, plus about two hours of work. For the professional who has the right tools, after a little sanding is done … restoring a yellowed lens takes about 20 or 25 minutes — give or take.

The final step is adding a sealant or bonding solution that helps restore the original luster to a brand new looking clear headlight in less than half-an-hour.

DIY techniques for cloudy headlights

There are other do-it-yourself techniques to clear cloudy headlights; turns out toothpaste is a bit of a cure-all. Apply a dab of toothpaste to your headlights with a soft, dry cloth, rub it in circular motions, rinse with water and wipe with a wet cloth.

There are other techniques as well, but restoring foggy headlights is important for your safety and that of your family.


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