Why Headlight Restoration Kits Don’t Really Work

You see them advertised all over the place, but headlight restoration kits are just a bandaid for a bigger problem. We don’t often consider how headlights are a crucial safety element to our car, and as they dull over time, this increases our risk of a crash because it decreases our visibility at night. Unfortunately for us, all of the headlight restoration kits you see out there really won’t fix the problem.

Why our headlights turn yellow

Headlights dull over time because the protective coating fails, like our clear coat that covers our car’s base paint fails. As the lens starts to get cloudy or even yellow, the light behind it becomes less and less visible. Having aged headlights doesn’t only make the car look bad, it makes it more dangerous to drive at night. Headlight restoration kits have been on the market for decades, but they aren’t necessarily the solution to this problem, in fact, you have to start by establishing how damaged your headlights are.

A headlight shows damage where a jumper cable that was incorrectly attached, melted and burned a whole through the lens.
A headlight shows damage where a jumper cable that was incorrectly attached, melted and burned a whole through the lens | HJ Pizarro

Repairing your headlights

Most headlight restoration kits essentially work by buffing the surface of the headlight lens to remove the failing clear coat. While this is the correct way to repair headlights, the method used by most kits doesn’t typically get the job done. In order to remove the dull and yellowing clear coat on the lens surface, you must use varying grits of sandpaper, which sounds pretty scary if you aren’t a frequent DIYer.

There are many forums and YouTube videos that explain exactly what grit of sandpaper to use and explain the wet-sanding method required. It is methodically more intense than what is provided for by the restoration kits, but it works much more effectively. Then, of course, there is one area where people often stop after using the restoration kit, and that is the surface coating. Once the clear coat that has failed is removed, your lens is now exposed, which isn’t really great either. Replacing the clear coat is the important step people miss, but it is necessary to maintain all of the time and work you’ve done to get your headlights in good condition.

Antique automobile collectors worldwide gather to admire vintage vehicles of another period | John van Hasselt/Corbis, Getty Images

Preventing headlight aging

There aren’t a lot of ways that you can completely prevent headlights from aging, especially if the process has already begun. There are a lot of ways that you can reduce the effects, however, and the methods are definitely worth your time and money. The simple answer is to wax your headlights like you wax your car, and you can typically use the same exact waxing product on both surfaces.

As ceramic coatings gain popularity, the availability of ceramic coatings designed for glass does too. If you aren’t the type of person to wax your car every month, the ceramic coating is a long-term solution, and with a version of the ceramic coating designed especially for glass, it can keep your headlight lenses clear longer, just like it protects your paint’s clear coat.

2020 Ford Mustang headlight close detail shot
2020 Ford Mustang | Ford

How to Clean and Restore Foggy Headlights

There are many benefits to maintaining your headlights. From having a safe driving experience to mere appearance, having clear headlight lenses is important. On the used car market or even with collector cars, having clear headlights can make a world of difference, too, even if they seem like something so small. While most headlight restoration kits don’t typically get the job done, there are still plenty of ways to revive your headlights and start maintaining them.