I recently bought my dream car, a. As expected I’ve got a lot of work to do on ol’ Buddy, but my first priority is safety. An easy way to make your older car safer is to get rid of those yellowed, foggy headlights.
Cloudy headlights pose a safety concern as the oxidation can severely decrease visibility at night. What causes headlight discoloration? It’s a combination of UV rays, pollution, ozone and chemicals used at some car washes. In 20-year-old Buddy, I find myself driving with my brights on all the time, and I still feel like I am driving in the dark.
To find out which headlight restore kit is the best, I picked six of the top-sellers and tested them on Buddy and a pal’s 2008. The Subie’s headlights were not very cloudy, so I opted to try two kits that do not require a drill for sanding, using one kit for each headlight. To conquer Buddy’s foggy headlight lenses I picked four kits and divided each lamp in half. These kits are more robust and required more than just elbow grease.
The kit includes a microfiber towel and a pair of gloves as well as a sealant, but as with all these kits you’ll also need a spray bottle with water. The first step is to wet the headlamp, use the 2,000 grit side of the small polishing pad, then flip it over to the 3,000 grit side for more polishing. Wipe dry with the included towel and apply the Wipe-It sealant across the plastic lens. The directions state that the lens will be dry to the touch within an hour and should not come into contact with any moisture for 24 hours lest the finish streak or spot.
The Rust-oleum kit definitely made the Subaru’s headlight lens clearer, but the little polishing pad was a bit difficult to hold. It’s about 1.25-inches square and not very thick, so often the tips of my fingers were rubbing against the plastic headlamps as I used it.
This kit comes with gloves and a sealant but does not include a towel. The first step is to use the Oxidization Remover wipe over the dull headlights. It’s really satisfying to see the yellow oxidization come off on to the wipe. Next use the Surface Prep Disc to wet-polish the lens. You’ll do this twice, once with 3,000 grit sandpaper and once with 2,000 grit. After thoroughly rinsing and drying the lens, swipe the Clear Coat Wipe across and wait for it to dry. The directions say the lens should not be exposed to any direct moisture for one hour.
Which non-drill headlamp restorer is the best? The Cerakote made the lens more clear than the Rust-oleum kit and it is easier to work with thanks to its applicator. It’s bigger and fits easier into my hand. Although the sanding discs are the same color, the grit number is clearly printed on the other side. Plus, each step in the headlight lens restorer kit is arranged into its own bag, so it’s easier to get organized with all the parts and pieces.
Next I needed to get a handle on Buddy’s lamps, so I chose products that use a drill for sanding. I used a Ryobi One+ cordless drill with two speed settings, 0 to 600 rpm or 0 to 1800 rpm.
This kit does not come with gloves, a towel or a headlight coating sealant. The first step is to attach the backing plate to the drill just as you would any drill bit and secure the 800 grit sanding disc. Wet-sand the plastic headlight lens and then switch to the 1,500 grit disc. Finally, there is a 3,000 grit foam disc for the final sanding step. To polish, switch out the foam disc for the PowerBall 4Lights foam ball, put a nickel-sized amount of the PowerPlastic 4Lights compound on it and polish. Finally, buff with a clean and dry microfiber towel.
The Mothers NuLens Headlight Renewal Kit definitely made the lens clearer. However, the sanding discs are all the same color and the printing of the grit on the back is hit or miss. On some it’s easy to read, on others part of the number is printed off the disc, making me guess. The lack of a sealant means the car headlights may cloud up again very quickly. However, the directions say I can use the foam ball or buffing pad and polishing compound to maintain the clarity.
This kit does not come with gloves or a towel, but it does have a clear coat sealant. The first two sanding passes of the car’s headlight housings are done by hand with a 1,000 grit sandpaper disc, then a 3,000-grit sanding pad disc, attached to a hand pad much like the one in the Cerakote kit. To polish, attach the yellow polishing pad to the drill, add a nickel-sized amount of the PlastX lens clarifying compound and polish to your heart’s content. After thoroughly wiping clean and dry with a microfiber towel, apply the Headlight Sealant to the grey foam applicator and wipe the headlight by hand. The directions say the product dries to the touch in 15 minutes, but to keep the lens away from moisture for a full 24 hours.
Again, the Meguiar’s Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit made my headlights clearer, but not crystally so. The discs are different colors depending on their level of grit. However, the directions don’t refer to their colors, only the numbers printed on the back. The directions are a little unclear at the end, saying only to “apply the coating to the gray applicator pad.” The only bottle I hadn’t used was the Headlight Sealant, so it was easy to figure out what the directions were talking about, but it could have been more clear.
This 3M headlight restoration kit does not contain gloves, a towel or a sealant. It also does not use as much wet sanding. The first step is to attach the disc pad holder to the drill, use the 500-grit sandpaper on a dry lens, then switch to an 800-grit disc and again sanding the vehicle’s headlight lens dry. Lastly, use the 3,000-grit foam disc and water for a fine sanding. To polish attach the large foam pad to the holder and add a dime-sized amount of 3M Rubbing Compound to it. Polish and use a microfiber cloth to buff and dry the lens.
The 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System was the best kit out of the bunch to restore hazy headlights. Not only did it make the lens the clearest, each disc is color-coded and referred to as such in the directions. The directions are very thorough, offering tips and tricks, color photos, and larger print.
Adam’s headlight restoration kit comes with two microfiber towels, a pair of gloves and uses liquids rather than sanding discs like the other restoration kits. Here you get a Heavy Correcting Compound, Detail Spray and a Finishing Polish. It does not come with a protective coating sealant. The first step is to attach the backing plate to the drill and attach the “blue microfiber cutting pad” — I’ll talk more about this in a minute. Add 3-4 drops of the correcting compound and sand away on the cloudy headlight housings. When finished with this step, wipe the lens with a microfiber towel, using the detail spray if needed. Second step is to repeat the process with the four-inch blue foam pad. Lastly, use the white foam pad and the finishing polish and wipe dry with a microfiber towel.
The Adam’s Polishes Headlight Restoration Kit was my least favorite. It comes in a great-looking package, but the directions are confusing. That “blue microfiber cutting pad” is actually a white pad resting on a thin layer of blue foam. I just reached for something blue, figuring the white pads were for something later down the line. To be fair, there is an instructional video online, but the directions should not say “blue” when the pad is clearly white.
Comparison of the best headlight restoration kits
|Rust-oleum Wipe New Headlight Restore||yes||yes||yes||no||$10|
|Cerakote Ceramic Headlight Restoration Kit||yes||no||yes||no||$25|
|Mother’s NuLens Headlight Renewal Kit||no||no||no||yes||$22|
|Meguiar’s Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit||no||no||yes||yes||$23|
|3M Headlight Lens Restoration System||no||no||no||yes||$13|
|Adam’s Polishes Headlight Restoration Kit||yes||yes||no||yes||$30|
Kits and kaboodle
In my testing the 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System is the best headlight restoration kit thanks to its clear directions and excellent results. Although the 3M kit does not come with UV sealant, it clearly provided the best result of all the kits. I’ll be going over the rest of Buddy’s headlights with the 3M product.
If you don’t have or want to use a cordless drill, the Cerakote Ceramic Headlight Restoration Kit is the best headlight kit of the two I tried. It was easier to apply than the Rust-oleum kit and there was no question of which product to use at what step.
Before you use any headlight restoration kit, here are a couple of pro tips. For starters, be sure to first mask off the surrounding paint with painter’s or masking tape. And opening your car’s hood to have easy access to the entire headlight housing is also very helpful.
If your headlights are cloudy, using a restoration kit is a quick and easy way to bring them up to spec. Restoring them offers a lot of bang for your buck. It’s a cheap and easy way to make your car safer and it should take you right around 30 minutes to restore both headlights.