Plastic headlight restoration
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Headlight restoration or plastic headlight restoration is the act of refinishing aged headlight lenses that have become discolored or dull due to oxidation primarily due to UV light and other environmental factors such as road debris impact (stones, sand, etc.) rain, and exposure to caustic chemicals. Over time the protective hardcoat breaks down with UV degradation and wear from abrasion, etc. If left untreated the headlights will eventually develop small surface cracks, a condition referred to as crazing. The effectiveness of the headlight in terms of light output measured by LUX can be significantly reduced. This condition which results in hazy and discoloured lenses is known for causing reduced night time visibility for travelers as the condition becomes worse. It is possible for cloudy and hazy headlights to be restored to a like-new condition and represents typically a far more economical alternative than replacing the lens.
Additionally, headlight restoration extends the usable life of the headlight assembly, can be repeated if necessary and is considerably "greener" than disposal and replacement of headlights.
Professional headlight restoration services
There are a number of professional headlight restoration services that charge approximately US$60 to US$250 to restore both headlights on a vehicle. Replacing the lens can be much more expensive. There are many do it yourself headlight restoration kits available on the market, however, most of the kits do not restore the headlights nearly as well as an expert headlight restoration service. The main reason for this is because most of the do it yourself kits do not include the proper tools needed for professional results. Furthermore, some professional headlight restoration shops are applying a urethane or acrylic clear coat to help protect the plastic lens from UV exposure after the headlight lens is restored.
DIY headlight restoration products
There are many "do it yourself" headlight restoration kits available for purchase. A few of the major brands that produce these "kits" include 3M, Turtle Wax, Sylvania, Headlight Wizard, Meguiar's, Mothers, and Rain-X. Most of these kits require multiple stages of wet sanding to remove the oxidation of the headlight lens, usually with descending level of grit (coarse to fine). Some kits include a UV sealant which is said to protect the lens of the headlight longer. Kits with the UV sealant include some of the 3M, Sylvania, and Headlight Wizard. It should be noted that typically the DIY sealant requires regular periodic reapplication and is not equivalent to the original OEM hardcoat applied during manufacturing. Another common option to delay the aging process of headlight lenses, is the use of press and snap-on headlight covers, or laminates with adhesives that can be applied over the headlight lenses, such as Paint Protection Film sold by 3M.
In the US, a number of patents have been filed for headlight restoration products.