Turn Faded Lenses Into Bright Beacons

Those bright bulbs in your headlights don’t help much if the plastic guarding them is cloudy and stained.

Summer sun turns clear composites into hazy lenses and can dramatically reduce visibility. It makes night driving potentially hazardous as drivers encounter autumn’s shorter days and longer, darker nights.

“It doesn’t matter how high-performance the bulbs are if there is yellowing on the outside of the housing,” said Michael Pennington, the global director of training and consumer relations for Meguiar’s. “Dimmer lights make it harder for cars to see you, and it’s harder for you to see the road ahead at night.”

Headlights get that yellowish, cloudy look from ultraviolet light slowly degrading the cover’s protective coating. Add that to temperature changes, humidity and the other assorted elements of the open road, and there’s no mystery why so many headlights start to tinge.

Fortunately, professional auto technicians can typically remove even the most stubborn oxidation stains.

Some products are a liquid-based polishing compound, while others combine abrasive pads to be used in a drill with a finer polishing liquid for finishing work. The level of oxidation typically determines what cleaning technique is used, Pennington said.

Sanding the headlights manually is ideal for light to moderate discoloration, while more significant build-up will require a more labor-intensive process, he said.

“The more oxidation you have, the more involved the cleaning process is going to be,” Pennington said.

Pennington offers the following tips routine for headlight safety, cleaning and restoration:

  • Remove dirt and road grime weekly to prevent build-up during autumn and winter months. As a reminder, clean headlights every time you clean the windshield.
  • Headlight bulbs dim significantly after one year and keep degrading slowly after that. Ask your service advisor if it’s time for new bulbs--they’re less expensive than replacing headlight fixtures. Change out both headlights at the same time.
  • Headlights discolor with age and exposure to sunlight. Ask your repair technician how to restore headlights to their bright former selves.
  • Put wax or a protectant on your headlights after they are restored.
  • Check them every month for new stains and remove them quickly before they impair your night vision.