When a car is new, the plastic lenses on modern vehicles are crystal clear. Over time, though, these lenses can become hazy or crackled. Not only is this unsightly, but it also can be dangerous. Headlights in this condition often work poorly, making nighttime driving unsafe.
Luckily, there are many products on the market that can restore these lenses to nearly their original clarity. We’re going to review our favorite to find the best headlight restoration kit, but first a word of warning.
There are many DIY tips online that suggest these kits are unnecessary. However, household using products for unintended purposes can lead to unintended consequences – like damaged paint. Plus, they don’t really work all that well and the results are fleeting. For lasting results, use the best headlight restoration cleaner you can find.
A Guide to Using a Headlight Restoration Kit
Almost all modern headlights come from the factory with a UV-protectant clear coat applied to their surface. Ultraviolet light from the sun’s rays eventually deteriorate the coating, causing the yellowing that is common when headlights age. The first step in restoring the headlights should be to clean any dirt or grime from the surface. Simple glass cleaner will work fine for cleaning. Next, the old coating should be removed.
Sanding is (Sometimes) Critical
Automobile headlight restoration usually requires sanding to some extent. Many kits have sanding pads or discs meant to be attached to a drill. Some may provide sheets of various grits of sandpaper for hand sanding, while others use chemicals to strip the old clear coat off a headlight. One way or another, the old surface must go.
Protecting Painted Surfaces
Whether you use a drill or sand by hand, be mindful of the painted surfaces around the headlight. Protecting this area can be as simple as covering it with masking tape. If the kit you select does not include tape, you should provide your own. This YouTube video from Sylvania shows the areas that need covering. Sanding can permanently scratch these areas, so take the time to do this step correctly.
Follow Instructions Carefully
It might seem obvious, but each restoration kit utilizes its own process and chemicals. Some kits are more simple to use than others, but each can produce lackluster results if the steps are not done precisely. If you don’t want to spend time on the procedure, select a kit that doesn’t ask for as much patience on your part rather than rushing the sanding process, for example.
The Top Headlight Restoration Kits
1. Meguiar’s – Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit
The Meguiar’s brand makes a few products that disappoint, but it also makes a few gems. The company’s Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit is a bright spot. In a crowded marketplace, this kit stands out, with results that are truly professional-like.
These kits come with two grits of sanding pads that connect to a molded sanding block.
The multiple sanding steps are labor-intensive but necessary. Things get easier after you move on to the buffing phase. The wool buffing wheel in the kit is top quality but requires a drill.
The final-step clear coat produces striking clarity. The results cannot be beat and can last more than the year Meguiar’s advertises if not left in the sun.
- Molded sanding block is comfortable
- Sanding pads are cleanable and outlast the kit
- Produces dramatic results
- Included PlastX plastic cleaner has other uses
- Buffing wheel is a pro’s tool
- Enough included to restore several cars’ lights
- Requires a drill for buffing step
- Requires more elbow grease than some others
- Only works on clear plastic
Meguiar’s products are hit-or-miss, but this kit is a winner. Its performance is the equal of any other kit on the market, and there is enough product for repeated uses.
2. 3M – Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit
The folks at 3M have a solid reputation for delivering products that work, and this Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit works well. This is the kit for users who don’t want to wear out their arms sanding. The included sanding discs attach to any high-speed drill, eliminating the need to use elbow grease.
The use of packets for the headlight clearcoat is confusing, as is 3M’s decision to include so little of it. However, a little bit of this compound goes a long way, and there is plenty to restore the headlights and tail lights on a single vehicle.
- Sanding discs attach to drill for reduced effort
- Comes with everything you’ll need (except a drill and spray bottle)
- Solid product from a trusted brand
- Sanding can be done with or without drill
- Works on any plastic lens, not just for headlights
- Using a drill shortens sandpaper life and may scratch paint
- Does not include permanent UV protection
- Non-sealable pouches of clear coat do not last very long
The 3M brand is well-respected, and products like this headlight restoration kit are the reason why. It is a no-nonsense solution to hazy headlights, and could have won this comparison were there more product included.
3. Sylvania – Headlight Restoration Kit
Sylvania is a name synonymous with headlights, so it would stand to reason that it would produce an effective headlight restoration kit. Like most others, this one comes complete with everything you need to restore the headlights on a single car, but it won’t do more than that.
Unlike most others, this kit does not require the user to have a high-speed drill or any other tools. It takes only 30 to 60 minutes to use this kit, as it has only three steps. It is more labor-intensive than some others, but it isn’t as prone to damaging the area around the light. The UV clear coat is a revelation, so much so that Sylvania sells it alone as a final step for use with any other restoration kit.
- One of the most effective UV-blocking clear coats available
- Spectacular results without a power tool
- Guaranteed for life of the vehicle
- Only three steps and you’re done
- The simplest, fastest way to restore a car’s headlights
- Really needs a finer-grit sandpaper for final sanding
- Only enough product to restore approximately two headlights (one car)
- Clear coat takes hours to dry, during which it must not get wet
Sylvania does headlights. This kit does what it is supposed to do and doesn’t require tools. The long drying time of the clear coat takes it down from the top spot, but you can’t argue with the results.
4. Philips – Headlight Restoration Kit
The Philips company has its hands in a lot of baskets, but it is doing something right with this headlight restoration kit. It has everything required – even paper towels – to bring faded lenses back to clarity. The chemicals effective enough to be used alone, but there are three grits of sandpaper included for extra-cloudy headlights.
Because the three-phase chemicals work so well, there is no need for using a drill or sander. And unlike some others, the UV-protectant clear coat – here called Shine Restorer – dries quickly to get you back on the road. This is the among the best plastic headlight restoration kits for people who don’t want to spend an entire Saturday tackling this job.
- UV protection can last up to two years
- Requires no drill or other power too
- Good for all lenses on a car
- Works and works quickly
- UV clear coat dries in minutes
- Only enough for one vehicle (two lights)
- UV protection won’t last if vehicle left in direct sun
- No power tools also means hard work sanding
Philips has a reputation for quality and intuitive use in its products. This kit lives up to that promise. It’s easy to use and effective, though the results are not as permanent as one might prefer.
5. Dupli-Color – Headlight Restoration Kit
Okay, so no one has all the time in the world to sand a headlight then repeat the process with gradually finer sandpaper. For people who just want to restore some clarity to their headlights without earning a degree in automotive restoration, there is Dupli-Color’s Headlight Restoration kit. For this one there are no tools required, because there is no sanding required.
Dupli-Color’s kit consists of two spray cans – similar to the company’s car spray paint cans. The big idea is really the Spray Polish, which strips away the old, yellowed factory clear coat. The second step is to apply the Dupli-Color clear coat. That’s it.
Admittedly, this kit is not as effective as some of the more intrusive and labor-intensive kits. But then, that’s not the point. In two simple steps you can have headlights that work well at night. Then you can go on about your day.
- Only two steps required
- No sanding and very little work
- Quickly gets the job done
- Spray stripper nearly as effective as sanding
- Enough product for several vehicles (and all lenses on each)
- Doesn’t work as well as sanding
- Clear coat not as long lasting as some others
- Is it really a “kit”?
Dupli-Color’s spray paints are industry standard for restoring cosmetics, and this little “kit” fits that mold. Simplicity defined and generous in value, this is the quick fix for those in a hurry. Results can be mixed, but what do you expect for such little effort?
You don’t have to put up with poor nighttime vision from cloudy headlight lenses. Unfortunately, short of replacing your headlight housings with expensive aftermarket units, you will have to work for lasting results. There are shortcuts to hard work, but they simply do not work as well as multi-step kits.
For nearly permanent results, the best headlight restoration kit on the market is Meguiar’s Heavy Duty kit. The sanding pads are unobtrusive and not prone to damaging paint, and the supplied sanding block is comfortable. The polishing phase does require a drill, but the process leaves headlights in immaculate condition. Best of all, each kit has enough product to do several vehicles, or to restore your car’s lights again when the results fade in about a year.