I just bought a 2001 Mazda Miata, which is my dream car, and it is undergoing reconditioning. It's no wonder that my new good ol' Buddy needs a lot of work, but safety is my top priority. Replace those yellowed and foggy headlights as a simple way to make an older car more secure.
The oxidation in a cloudy headlight is regarded as causing hazard as night vision is severely decreased. Headlight discoloration is caused by a combination of UV rays, pollution, ozone, and the chemicals used at some car washes. I find myself driving with my brights on all the time in Buddy, 20-years-old, and I still feel like I'm driving in the dark.
To determine which headlight restore kit is the most appropriate for Buddy and a pal's 2008 Subaru Outback, I selected six of the top sellers and tested them on them. The Subie's headlights were not particularly cloudy, so I decided to try two kits that don't require a drill for sanding, each with one kit for each headlamp. To overcome Buddy's hazy headlight lenses, I purchased four kits and split each lamp in half. These kits are more robust and require more than just elbow grease.
Buddy's and Subie'' shaky headlights are now a thing of the past, and the results were in many cases remarkable. If you're ready to leave yellowed headlights in the rearview mirror and aren't afraid to grab a buffing pad and work in, you should be seeing brighter clear headlamps within minutes. I will also note that these products were not tested on taillights or directional lights. Just the headlights.
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Best affordable headlight restoration kit without a drill.
The headlight cleaner kit includes a microfiber towel and scuffs, as well as lubricant, but like with all of these kits, you'll also need 'a spray bottle with water'. The first step is to wet the headlamp, then use the 2,000 grit side of the small polishing pad, and then flip it over to the 3000 g tip for more polish. Wipe dry with the included towel and apply the Wiping-It sealant over the plastic lens. The directions state that the lens will be dry to the touch within an hour and that it should not come into contact with moisture for 24 hours to avoid the formation of the finish streak or spot. The ceramic coating that chemically bonds to the headlights prevents hazing and faded headlamps.
The Rust-oleum kit made the Subaru's headlight lens clearer, but the little polishing pad was a bit difficult to hold. It's about 1.25-inches square and isn't very thick, so my fingers were often rubbing against the plastic headlamps as I used it.
Best overall headlight restoration kit without a drill?
This kit includes gloves and a sealant, but it does not include tampons. The first step is to wipe the dull headlights with the Oxidization Remover. It's really nice to see the yellowing off of the wipe. Next, use the Surface Prep Disc to wet-polish the lens. You'll do this twice: with 3,000 grit sandpaper and 2,000 git. After thoroughly washing and drying the lens, swipe the Clear Coat Wipe across and wait for it to dry. The directions state that the lens should not be exposed to any direct moisture for one hour. Due to its professional-grade ceramic coating, this headlight restorer offers UV protection and reduces UV damage.
Which non-drill headlamp restorer is the best? The Cerakote made the lens clearer than the Rust-oleum kit, and thanks to its applicator, it's easier to work with. It's bigger and fits better into my hand. Although the sanding discs are the same color, the gritty number is clearly visible on the other side. Plus, each step in the headlight lens restorer kit is organized in its own bag, making it easier to organize all the parts and pieces.
Next I needed to get a handle on Buddy's lamps, so I decided to go with products that use sanders. I used a Ryobi One+ cordless drill with two speed settings, 0 to 600 rpm or 0-800 retachable speeds.
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This kit does not include gloves, a towel, or scuffs for removing headlight coating sealants. The first step is to attach the backing plate to the drill just like you would with a drill bit and secure the 800 grit sanding disc. Wet-sand the plastic headlight lens and then switch to the 1,500grit disc. Final sanding involves a 3,000 grit foam disc. To polish, swap out the foam disc for the PowerBall 4Lights foam ball, apply a nickel-sized amount of the powerPlastic 4 Lights compound on it, and polish. Finally, buff with a clean and dry microfiber towel.
The Mothers NuLens Headlight Renewal Kit made the lens visible. However, the sanding discs are all the same color and the printing of the surface grit on the back is hit or miss. On some it's easy to read, on others it is printed off the disc, making me guess. The lack of a sealant means that the car's headlights may start to fade very quickly. I can, however, use a foam ball, buffing pad, and polishing compound to maintain the clarity.
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This kit does not include gloves or a towel, but it does include sandpaper and cleat coat sealant. The first two sanding passes of the car's headlight housings are done by hand with a 1,000-grit nitrile gritting oxford disc, followed by '3,000-grain rhodium ionized tungsten pad disc', attached to tethered hand pads similar to the ones in the Cerakote kit. To polish, attach the yellow polishing pad to the drill, add a nickel-sized amount of the PlastX lens clarifying compound, and polish to your heart's content. Apply the Headlight Sealant to the grey foam applicator and wipe the headlight by hand, after thoroughly wiping clean and dry with a microfiber towel. The instructions state that the product should dry to touch in 15 minutes, but that it must be kept away from moisture for a full 24 hours.
The Meguiar's Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit made my headlights clearer, but not crystal. The discs are colored slightly differently depending on their level of grit. However, the directions don't specifically refer to their colors, only to the numbers on the back. At the end, the instructions are a little confusing, with only stating to "apply the coating to the gray applicator pad." The only bottle I hadn't used was the Headlight Sealant, which was easy to follow, but it could have been more clear.
Best headlight restoration kit overall
This 3M headlight restoration kit does not include gloves, a towel, or sand. It also avoids as much wet sanding as it does. The first step is to attach the disc pad holder to the drill, use the 500-grit sandpaper on a dry lens, then switch to an 800-gritting disc, and then resander the vehicle's headlight lens. Finally, use the 3,000-grit foam disc and water for a fine sanding. Add a dime-sized amount of 3M Rubbing Compound to the holder to polish. To do this, use a microfiber cloth to buff and dry the lens.
The 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System was the most effective kit to restore hazy headlights out of the bunch. Each disc is color-coded and is then displayed as such in the directions. The instructions are very thorough, with tips and tricks, color photos, and larger print.
Best liquid headlamp restoration kit for headlights
Adam's headlight restoration kit includes two microfiber towels, a pair of gloves, and uses liquids rather than sanding discs like the other restoration kits. Here you'll find a Heavy Correcting Compound, Detail Spray, and Finishing Polish. It doesn't come with a protective coating sealant. The first step is to attach the backing plate to the drill and attach a "blue microfiber cutting pad" -- I'll talk more about this in ten minutes. Add 3-4 drops of the correcting compound to the cloudy headlight housings and sand away. When the lens is dry, wipe it with a microfiber towel, using the detail spray if needed. The second step is to repeat the process with the 4-inch blue foam pad. Lastly, wash the white foam pad and finishing polish thoroughly with a microfiber towel.
The Adam's Polishes Headlight Restoration Kit was my least favorite. It's a great looking product, but the directions are confusing. That "blue microfiber cutting pad" is actually a white pad resting on spongy blue foam. I decided to go for something blue, thinking the white pads were for a later date. To be fair, there is an instructional video online, but the directions shouldn't be bold when the pad is clearly white.
Kits and kaboodles are also available.
In my testing, the 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System is the best headlight restoration kit because of its clear directions and excellent results. Although the 3M kit does not include UV sealant, it delivered the highest quality of all the kits. Buddy's headlights will be examined with the 3M product as well.
If you don't have or want to use a cordless drill, the Cerakote Ceramic Headlight Restoration Kit is the best headlight kit of the two I tried. It was easier to apply than the Rust-oleum kit and there was no question as to which product to use at what stage.
Here are a couple of pro tips before you buy any headlight restoration kit. Be sure to first mask off the surrounding paint with painter's or masking tape. And opening your car's hood to have easy access to the entire headlight housing is also very helpful.
If your headlights are cloudy, a restoration kit can be used as hepherical and quick way to bring them up to spec. Restoring them offers a lot of value for your money. It's a cheap and easy way to make your car safer, and it should take you less than 30 minutes to restore both headlights. There are also other headlight restoration kits available in the market, including the Turtle Wax headlamp lens restorer kit, Sylvania headlit restoration kit and Philips head light restoration unit, as well as the Chemical Guys headlite restore kit.
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