Many of you know now that I was rear ended, at a complete stop, on the freeway this past St. Patrick's Day and was forced to say goodbye to my purple PT Cruise (aka my 'rolling sanctuary'.) After over a month of searching for a replacement car I came across a cream colored PT Cruiser convertible with an exceptionally low odometer reading for it's age. Those who know me well know I dislike white/off white cars, and convertibles- I was simply feeling beat down and decided I needed a familiar car with reliability more than 'the car of my dreams.' Besides, the car was in mint condition, except the headlights which looked as though they had been transplanted from a vehicle 10 years older.
The headlights had to go. Well, they had to at least look like new, as the rest of the car so brilliantly did.
I wasn't the only one who thought so either, both Jay and my father took one look at the car and pointed out the glaring (erm, dull) elephant in the room- the headlights were UV damaged and covered in layers of grime and stains. Weren't there commercials for some miracle product to fix this? Hadn't I seen, on TV, somewhere a woman wiping off her crusty old headlight to reveal a sparkling new one? Well, for about $20 you can own one of these magical products- but it's a kit- not some miracle single shot treatment.
Begin by taping off the liner and paint immediately surrounding your headlight with a durable painter's tape. The kit claims that the materials used will not harm paint- but the instructions suggest taping- and I certainly would for 2 reasons: 1.) We noticed the first solution we used took the color off our shop rags, so it seemed to have some sort of acid or bleach in it, 2.) You will eventually be sanding right up against your car's paint- not point in risking anything there. You will also want to start with a clean car.
Once the Activator solution has been cleaned off the lens, and the lens has been dried, it will quickly begin to cloud. This is normal and you will see this after every step from here until the final UV coat.
My father and I had some disagreement as to whether a mask should be worn through the sanding process- since this is a wet sanding procedure. I am going to suggest you do since we did see quite a bit of kickback debris on clothing and even in his ear after the sanding process.
To wet sand you will want a small bowl of clean water nearby, and a clean cloth (to wipe up any drips that may make their way onto your car's paint. Wet the lens with the wet cloth, and submerge the sanding paper into the water. Begin sanding (you'll start with the 400 grit for the first step) in circular motions from the top corner of the headlight inward. You should expect to continue sanding for approximately 5 minutes- though cars with less build up may require less time. You will be able to tell you are done when the headlight has reached a uniform, smooth, texture, and there are no clear sections visible.
We were worried this compound would dry out during a 5 minute buff, but it actually seemed to break down and glide even more the longer we worked it into the lens. Once you are done clean and dry the lens. You will begin to notice the lens will maintain a glossy 'wet' look as though it is holding water along the surface.
Now you'll treat with the activator once more- spraying evenly, approximately 1/4 of the original bottle fill. Allow the solution to sit on the surface of the lens for 30 seconds then clean thoroughly and dry. It's important after this step that you remove the tape, and any residue, and dry the lens, and surrounding rubber gasket. The lend and surrounding surfaces should be entirely dry before moving on to the final step. Of course Nora oversaw the entire process from the comfort of the cool garage.
It's important to note that all of the steps up to this point should be completed on BOTH headlights before moving onto the final step as to ensure one headlight is not disturbed while curing, etc.
For this final step you really can't 'go back' and add a second layer, or adjust it after the fact. The UV coat dries rapidly, so you'll want to try and get as much of the solution onto the provided shammy as possible so you can really drench the lens and apply in as minimal strokes as possible. Going back and 'swiping' through after even 30 seconds can leave tacky streaks and impurities in the final coating. It's also important to note you will not want to drive your car, or touch the headlights for a minimum of 4-6 hours- the surface of my headlights was still 'tacky' at around 4, so I suggest going the full 6.
I was not compensated, contact by, or in any way solicited for sharing this process- I'm just a DIYer who thought others might be on the fence about refurbishing their headlights too. I hopes this helps inspire you to tackle this task- for a $20, one hour, investment, I think it's well worth it!
What Daughter Says: Investing time into restoring my headlights has really helped me find some personal ownership and pride in my 'new to me' vehicle!