If you have a car or truck with plastic headlamp covers then you know that their inevitable yellowing with age is both an aesthetic and a safety issue. You could spend hundreds having a dealer or bodyshop gouge you with their “headlight rejuvenation service,” or with a product like the 3M Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit you could easily and quickly do it yourself, at a fraction of the cost.
Full disclosure: 3M wanted me to test their Headlight Restoration Kit so much that they sent me a sample. I just so happened to have a car that was in need.
The question is however, could a DIY kit do an acceptable job, or is it just a hold-off of the inevitable big money outlay? Let’s have a look at the job it does, and what it entails, after the jump.
First of all, while comprehensive, the 3M Kit does require that you provide some additional components to the process. One of those is a variable speed drill. Yes, mine is ancient. Fortunately it’s also pretty sturdy, and it has my name on it.
The other thing you’ll want to have is a spritzer bottle filled with water. I recommend distilled for its lack of potentially abrasive minerals, and pleasing aroma.
The 3M kit provides everything else you will need, including a roll of masking tape to keep your work from damaging the paint or trim surrounding your headlamps. Alternatively, you could always remove the headlamps. In that case you’d have to devise some way to securely hold the lamp in place, because as you’ll see we’re going to be putting some significant pressure on them. The instructions included with the kit are extensive and well worth reading before digging into the action. Your life will be much happier if you do.
The process is very straightforward—you apply the sanding and polishing discs on the included drill pad and work your way in stages from medium coarse to ultra-fine and finally a polishing compound (also provided) on a knobby sponge pad. The first level can be rather alarming as it results in a lens that’s much cloudier—albeit white now rather than yellow—and which might cause you to think you’ve done something wrong. Don’t worry, you haven’t, and as the polishing gets progressively finer the clouding goes away, replaced by a clear and almost like-new appearance.
The instructions call for a 1200-1600 rpm drill. More than that and you might burn the plastic of the lens cover, less and the pads not be able to do their job. I have a 2500 max-rpm drill and it wasn’t a problem to hold it at half-trigger and make the necessary passes over the lens. And yes, I added even more tape, thanks for noticing!
The result? The lights look almost brand new. Not only does that dress up the car considerably but the light output has returned to its original specifications. All in all it took me less than an hour to do both lights on the one car. That included an application of UV protectant (also included in the Heavy Duty Kit) to stave off future yellowing of the lens. The kit comes with enough material—sanding and polishing discs, tape, and polishing compound—to easily do a couple of cars if they are not too badly yellowed, or plenty for one it’s really badly compromised.
What are the downsides to doing this? Well, in my case I speckled the engine compartment, windshield, and surrounding bodywork with sanding residue and that needed to be cleaned off after the fact. Other than that, I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t want to rejuvenate your headlights yourself and hence save a bundle over having someone else do it. The 3M Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit did the job with little muss or fuss, and with excellent results. The only caution is to make sure you read the instructions before diving in. Otherwise I think it’s something anyone could tackle.
Images: ©2017 Redusernab/Robert Emslie, All Rights Reserved.