For the last six years, since my 2014 Subaru Outback rolled out of the factory, that yellow orb in the sky we affectionately call the sun has conspired to destroy my car’s headlights. You see, despite the sun being 93 million miles away, it emits harmful ultraviolet rays that burn my fair Irish skin and erode the plastic on my car’s headlights giving them a hazy, foggy appearance.
Fortunately my fellow homosapiens have developed easily accessible technology to cure ailing headlights. With this in mind, I headed down the road to my friendly neighborhood auto parts locale and picked up a headlight restoration kit.
If you get the same rig I purchased—the 3M Headlight Restoration Kit—you’ll also need to purchase a bottle of headlight lens sealant to ensure that nasty old sun can’t undo your hard work with its rays. For some odd reason, the instructions in the kit I purchased mentions that you’ll also need UV sealant, which must be purchased separately… Thanks 3M!
Also, you’ll need a drill, a corded drill if at all possible so you’re not being interrupted by dead batteries like I was. To be fair, 3M did recommend I use a corded drill, so maybe I’m being a bit hard on them.
As you can see from the picture below, the lens restoration kit worked quite well and can potentially save you from unwanted nighttime driving collisions due to headlight haze.
Step 1: Wash Headlights
This is really a no-brainer. If you’re going to start sanding your headlight lenses, you need to make sure they are free of dead bugs and whatever else you’ve been driving through on your daily commute. A washcloth, soapy water, and a clean towel work just fine.
Dry your headlight lenses well since you’re going to be sanding them soon.
Step 2: Apply Masking Tape
You’ve no doubt toiled countless hours to keep your vehicle’s coat of paint sleek and shiny. Don’t blow it on some headlight restoration. Apply masking tape on the paint around your headlights so you don’t damage your vehicle’s paint with sandpaper.
Apply masking tape thoroughly and liberally for optimal protection.
Step 3: Apply P500 Sandpaper & Start Sanding
Now let’s get into the nitty gritty, so to speak. Attach the P500 sandpaper to your drill attachment and start sanding your headlights using long slow strokes. Don’t hover over spots for too long as those spots can be hard to buff out later. The goal is to sand all of the surface area evenly so your headlight lenses sparkle when you get to the buffing stage.
Sanding unevenly will leave marks on your lenses and make you the laughing stock of your overly critical neighbors.
Step 4: Apply P800 Sandpaper & Continue Sanding
This finer grit sandpaper will take out the deeper grooves left by the grittier, P500 sandpaper. The same rule applies as before: go slow and even, covering all surface area. This step can be repeated after you do some buffing if you’re not satisfied with the clarity and smoothness of your lenses.
Don’t worry, I’ll remind you.
Step 5: Start Buffing (and Repeat Step 4 if Desired)
Throw on the rubber buffing attachment and fill a spray bottle with water. The buffer must be wet at all times during this step. I recommend wetting the rubber buffer and coating each lens in water before you begin. Same as sanding, use long smooth strokes to remove the smaller marks made by the P800 sandpaper.
You’ll notice a white slurry forming on the surface of the lenses. No, your headlights don’t have a bacterial infection. That’s just those tiny particles of plastic left over from sanding.
Wipe the lenses regularly with a dry towel and keep buffing until the slurry no longer forms. If you’re noticing that the lenses aren’t as smooth as you’d like, use the P800 sandpaper to repeat step 4, then rebuff each lens.
Step 5: Open and Apply Polish
This stage makes your headlight’s gleam and invokes irrational jealousy on behalf of my neighbors. Open the polish pouch and rub a thin amount over each lens. Then attach the microfiber polisher and make smooth, even passes over the lenses until no more polish remains.
There’s plenty of polish to go around, so you can repeat this step three or four times on each lens. I don’t recommend putting any polish directly on the microfiber attachment since it causes the polish to splatter, and in my case, I had to wash my favorite jeans praying they’d survive the ordeal unscathed.
Step 6: Apply Lens Sealant & Display Smugly
Skip this step and all of your hard work will be for naught. You’ve removed whatever was left of the UV blocking sealant on your lenses during the sanding process, so you need to apply another layer of sealant to foil the sun’s plans to ruin your beautiful headlights.
I sprayed the UV blocker directly on the lenses and slowly rubbed the substance over the lenses in an even layer, allowing the lenses to dry before adding another layer. In all, I applied three layers because I wasn’t about to let mother nature spoil my beauties.
Now you have lenses that look as good as they did out of the factory. Take time to drive around your neighborhood flashing your headlights and honking your horn, preferably at 3 a.m. This display of dominance will illustrate your place at the top of the headlight hierarchy and garner you the respect you deserve.
Also, no you’ll be far less likely to run over pedestrians during night drives.
Additional Video Resources
Do you think my method was awful? Fine. My feelings are deeply hurt and I’ll likely never recover. Check out these methods instead: