Author Topic: Defogging my car's headlights  (Read 1667 times)

kms

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Defogging my car's headlights
« on: October 29, 2018, 10:01:14 AM »
My 2006 Sedona's headlights are pretty foggy, and have been ever since I've purchased the vehicle in 2016. It never really bothered me but it does make to car look older, scruffier, and run-down than it is. I was thinking about de-fogging them but don't have any experience yet. Researching this online turned out a lot of sites with the usual "toothpaste works, but you should really buy this or that defogging kit". Thus, I'm turning to the collective mustachian swarm intelligence of these forums: how did you defog your headlights - toothpaste, bug spray, baking soda, defogging kit, or sandpaper - and how log did it last until they were foggy again?

EricEng

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2018, 10:10:04 AM »
Refinished mine at a shop when they were 8 years old. Lasted about 2 years before being just as foggy as before.  At 4 years post treatment they are worse than ever.

BeardedMustache

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2018, 10:11:16 AM »
I've used one of the 3M kits (by hand, not the drill bit type), and would recommend it. Just follow the instructions to the letter and be sure to coat the headlights afterward. If you don't, the finish will not last long.

CRG

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2018, 10:33:29 AM »
Search 'ChrisFix headlight' on YouTube. I followed his instructions and mine have stayed looking good for about a year. It remains to be seen how long it will hold, but there are lots of positive reviews since he posted 4 years ago.

Dave1442397

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2018, 11:12:10 AM »

vern

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2018, 11:39:13 AM »

MilesTeg

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2018, 11:50:06 AM »
My 2006 Sedona's headlights are pretty foggy, and have been ever since I've purchased the vehicle in 2016. It never really bothered me but it does make to car look older, scruffier, and run-down than it is. I was thinking about de-fogging them but don't have any experience yet. Researching this online turned out a lot of sites with the usual "toothpaste works, but you should really buy this or that defogging kit". Thus, I'm turning to the collective mustachian swarm intelligence of these forums: how did you defog your headlights - toothpaste, bug spray, baking soda, defogging kit, or sandpaper - and how log did it last until they were foggy again?

The "kits" are generally just small scraps of cheap sandpaper, a foam sanding block and some instructions sold for a huge markup. There's nothing special about them. You just need to find a you tube video that will help you select the right series of grits (you'll want to finish with 1000 grit or so, but where you start depends on the state of your lens) and the right technique. It's no more difficult than sanding wood, I've refinished a lot of clear plastic surfaces. But, you need to apply a sealant or protectant of some kind to the refinished lens or it will just fog up again.

JLee

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2018, 11:59:42 AM »

Xlar

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #8 on: October 29, 2018, 04:29:31 PM »
I used toothpaste and newspaper/my fingers to polish the lenses clear.

The most important part: Use a UV protective clear coat over the lenses! If you don't do this step all your hard work is for nothing. From the factory there is a UV protective layer on top of the headlights. Once this breaks down the UV light turns the top surface of the plastic headlight housing yellow. If you just polish off the yellow layer and don't replace the UV protective layer then your headlight will re-yellow very quickly.

MissNancyPryor

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2018, 05:01:09 PM »
I like the Sylvania kit.

https://squashingrocks.com/diy/body-headlight-refinishing/

Yep, that is the one.  I used it and it works really, really well.  Consumer Reports agrees. 

MicroRN

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #10 on: October 29, 2018, 05:05:36 PM »
I tried toothpaste and baking soda on my '04, and they just didn't do anything. Then I tried a kit from advance auto.  I could see some improvement but they were still pretty foggy.  I ended up buying replacement fixtures on Amazon for about $100 total and swapping them out  using a you tube tutorial.  It was pretty simple,  no special tools or skills required.  My headlights are so much brighter now,  and the car looks a lot better.

acepedro45

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #11 on: October 30, 2018, 09:12:20 AM »
Another ChrisFix acolyte here. I only did mine a few months back so I have no data to add on the longevity (unfortunately that's a key piece of information) but people online say his method lasts pretty well.

I polished up an '03 and '05 car. They both look much better. Before the polishing, the buildup on the '03 was so bad, my mom would usually drive with the bright lights on just to be able to see at night!

secondcor521

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #12 on: October 30, 2018, 10:02:31 AM »
I did mine (1993 sedan) about a year ago using a progression of sandpaper up to about 600 grit then spraying them with a clear coat that came in like a spray paint type of can.  Worked beautifully and is holding up well.  I did tape off the headlights before sanding and spraying so that the paint on the surrounding area wasn't affected.

Cost overall was pretty low - maybe $20 for everything - sandpaper, tape, clearcoat, plastic bags.

nereo

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #13 on: October 30, 2018, 10:17:15 AM »
I tried toothpaste and baking soda on my '04, and they just didn't do anything. Then I tried a kit from advance auto.  I could see some improvement but they were still pretty foggy.  I ended up buying replacement fixtures on Amazon for about $100 total and swapping them out  using a you tube tutorial.  It was pretty simple,  no special tools or skills required.  My headlights are so much brighter now,  and the car looks a lot better.

+1 to just replacing the fixtures.  Over time the plastic oxidizes and creates the 'fog' - you can buff it out with kits and those generally work for several months to a year or so, but the underlying plastic is still brittle and will fog again.   They are also way more prone to cracking from road debris

For $15-30 you can buy a kit (or your own set of high-grit papers, steel wool and rubbing compounds) and re-polish your headlamps every year.  Or you can replace both headlamps for ~$100 on most cars and be good to go for another 8+ years. I guess it depends on the person, but here's one instance where I'll spend a bit more to not have to re-do it every year.
YMMV

kms

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #14 on: October 30, 2018, 10:33:44 AM »
ChrisFix was a great idea, thanks everybody. I do have tons of sandpaper up to 3,000 grit so I'll probably attempt to fix, polish, and then coat it with a UV resistant layer myself next week.

Cadman

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #15 on: October 30, 2018, 10:54:31 AM »
I've gone the headlight polish route with good results on polycarb assemblies, but my vehicles are old enough now that the lenses are either glass, or they're sealed beam, so I get fresh optics for the same price as replacement lamps on the new cars for the few times I've replaced any.

Just a word to the wise, it's not unusual for a car company to spend 100's of thousands of dollars in testing and development on headlights alone; that, in addition to the initial design cost. The cheap aftermarket ones are poor quality knockoffs in every sense of the word and you do get what you pay for. I'm running a pair on an old work truck that started out looking better than the smashed up ones they replaced, but are now so faded and dim as to be almost useless.


saveysavesalot

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #16 on: October 31, 2018, 11:34:25 AM »
The most important part: Use a UV protective clear coat over the lenses! If you don't do this step all your hard work is for nothing. From the factory there is a UV protective layer on top of the headlights. Once this breaks down the UV light turns the top surface of the plastic headlight housing yellow. If you just polish off the yellow layer and don't replace the UV protective layer then your headlight will re-yellow very quickly.

x2.  Took me a few years to figure out, but this is the key.  And if you want to go over the top, wait 60 days and then wet sand the clear coat to get all the orange peel out :)

Alex239

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #17 on: November 01, 2018, 12:08:47 PM »
I tried toothpaste and baking soda on my '04, and they just didn't do anything. Then I tried a kit from advance auto.  I could see some improvement but they were still pretty foggy.  I ended up buying replacement fixtures on Amazon for about $100 total and swapping them out  using a you tube tutorial.  It was pretty simple,  no special tools or skills required.  My headlights are so much brighter now,  and the car looks a lot better.

+1 to just replacing the fixtures.  Over time the plastic oxidizes and creates the 'fog' - you can buff it out with kits and those generally work for several months to a year or so, but the underlying plastic is still brittle and will fog again.   They are also way more prone to cracking from road debris

For $15-30 you can buy a kit (or your own set of high-grit papers, steel wool and rubbing compounds) and re-polish your headlamps every year.  Or you can replace both headlamps for ~$100 on most cars and be good to go for another 8+ years. I guess it depends on the person, but here's one instance where I'll spend a bit more to not have to re-do it every year.
YMMV

I will also +1 to replacements. I have sourced replacement from different places online but my best success has been with Certifit in person. They do most of their business to autobody repair shops but have a huge depth of inventory and experience providing OEM quality exterior parts. The one here in Salt Lake is Interstate Auto Body Parts but the website redirects to www.certifit.com check and see if there is a location near you. I like that you can order something, inspect it to see if its indeed the correct part and return it immediately right there if its not. I only had one snafu where someone made a return before me and put a slightly newer design headlamp in an older box. It was only off by a year but it took 2 tries to figure out it was the wrong year part not a defective housing.

trollwithamustache

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #18 on: November 06, 2018, 07:10:59 AM »
Add my vote to replace.

sub 10 years old I had some luck extending the lights with the 3M light refinish kit. But they kept refogging.

new good lights are like safer or something.

kms

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #19 on: November 07, 2018, 03:58:45 PM »
Those of you who say your lights kept fogging: did you add one or several layers of UV protectant after defogging? I've talked to a friend recently who interestingly enough used a method very similar to ChrisFix but the same UV protectant on his Chevy around 4 years ago, and his lights still look brand-new despite daily exposure to the Texas sun.

I'm asking because replacing them with aftermarket parts is not an option due to what @Cadman already mentioned: more often than not they are cheap knockoffs that aren't worth the hassle and money, and original OEM parts are either ridiculously expensive or as old and fogged as mine.

At this point I got almost everything I need to get going, just waiting for the UV protectant to arrive tomorrow. Hopefully I should have some time on Sunday. I can keep posting photos of my headlights every 6-12 months or so in order to document how well they've lasted after defogging. The car is parked outside and exposed to the Texas sun 365 days a year, so it should be interesting to see how well they hold up.

nereo

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #20 on: November 07, 2018, 05:13:53 PM »
intersting (but perhaps predictable given some auto forums) the resistance to non-OEM parts.  Personally I've never had a problem, and plastic (polycarbonate) isn't exactly a material that requires advanced manufacturing skills.  Your headlamps are just a bunch of plastic with a simple wiring harness inside. Many 3rd party parts even come with return policies and/or are sold through companies that offer money back guarantees.

To each their own, but my take on (most) OEM parts is that they are unnecessarily marked up because people have bought into the "only use Genuine XXX-brand parts!" marking BS - similar to having your vehicle serviced only at the dealership.

kms

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #21 on: November 08, 2018, 05:54:11 AM »
Don't get me wrong, I don't mind non-OEM parts at all. In fact when given the choice between an expensive OEM part and a cheap non-OEM part I will more often than not opt for the cheaper option even if it is know to be of lesser quality. There are, however, certain aspects where I don't gamble, and my vehicle's safety features are chief among them. That includes brakes (I don't go for OEM brake pads but for high-quality non-OEM parts, like Lucas), tires, lights, and more. I have once purchased an aftermarket headlight for my motorcycle that I had to return. It was so cheap the reflectors on the inside rattled and the cone of light was not just all over the place instead of forward-facing and focused because of the seemingly randomly placed reflectors but also shaking and vibrating violently. So no, the headlamps are not just "a bunch of plastic with a simple wiring harness inside". There's a lot of research and engineering going into designing the reflectors so that you get a focused and clear-cut cone of light on the road ahead of you instead of blinding oncoming traffic and/or deer in the woods far to the right.
« Last Edit: November 08, 2018, 05:55:52 AM by kms »

nereo

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #22 on: November 08, 2018, 08:15:35 AM »
Don't get me wrong, I don't mind non-OEM parts at all. In fact when given the choice between an expensive OEM part and a cheap non-OEM part I will more often than not opt for the cheaper option even if it is know to be of lesser quality. There are, however, certain aspects where I don't gamble, and my vehicle's safety features are chief among them. That includes brakes (I don't go for OEM brake pads but for high-quality non-OEM parts, like Lucas), tires, lights, and more. I have once purchased an aftermarket headlight for my motorcycle that I had to return. It was so cheap the reflectors on the inside rattled and the cone of light was not just all over the place instead of forward-facing and focused because of the seemingly randomly placed reflectors but also shaking and vibrating violently. So no, the headlamps are not just "a bunch of plastic with a simple wiring harness inside". There's a lot of research and engineering going into designing the reflectors so that you get a focused and clear-cut cone of light on the road ahead of you instead of blinding oncoming traffic and/or deer in the woods far to the right.
I have no doubt that there's a lot of research which goes into developing them - just that this research is done by the company during the design phase. What I meant was simply that replacement parts (and the companies who make replacement parts) are essentially copies of the existing design. There are reputable companies that do this very well (and in sometimes better than OEM). These companies have warranties on their products and sell them through well known auto-parts stores.
Just my preference - others will only buy original OEM parts for their vehicle. Personally I've had noticed no difference replacing a large number of parts on several cars of different makes all bought very used, but apparently others have. YMMV (pun intended).

Cadman

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #23 on: November 08, 2018, 09:56:24 AM »
*Raises Hand* I'm the guy that has cheap headlights for my knock-around farm truck (and it shows). But I also specify and hold-accountable electrical and environmental testing on a multi-million dollar headlight program in my day job. I have no doubt that OEM test cost alone exceeds total production cost on some of the knockoffs out there.

Now, do you need headlights that meet e-mark regulations for brightness and cutoff? Or are compliant to local EMC regulations? Or self-clear from internal fogging on a cold morning within x-amount of time? Or will survive an accelerated random vibration profile to make sure mounts don't break, reflectors stay put and adjusters don't back out, mimicking day after day or driving on rough roads and hood slams? Let alone the UV fogging issue. And then there are the thermal shocks.

That's not to say there aren't good aftermarket parts available; even if they get 50% right, they're a far cry better than the bottom 10%. I've seen 'competitive lights' come in for evaluation that were so cheap, the supplier made a mold of an OEM light, not only illegally copying the e-mark, but the competitor's logo!

kms

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #24 on: November 11, 2018, 10:00:46 PM »
Quick update: I've been working on the headlights Friday afternoon and, after the first attempt botched them up real bad, all day today. On Friday, I used Mothers Mag and Aluminum Polish on the right headlight, which got around 85% of the fog out within 5-10 minutes. It was good enough that I decided to keep it that way. The left headlight was in much worse condition, and I decided to use sandpaper instead. It took me about 45-60 minutes of wet sanding, going from 600 -> 1,200 -> 2,000 -> 3,000 grit, and some plastic polish afterwards, and the results were amazing. Unfortunately, things went horribly wrong after I applied the clear coat recommended by ChrisFix (Rust-Oleum 249117). In addition to leaving a horrible orange peel much worse than can be seen in his video it started cracking about an hour after applying the third layer. Thus, after letting it sit for almost 40 hours I had to get out the sandpaper again today and redo both headlights from scratch. This time, I had to go much lower in order to remove the fresh layer of clear coat, and more granular to avoid scratches: 400 -> 500 -> 600 -> 800 -> 1,200 -> 2,000 -> 2,500 -> 3,000 grit. After applying much less clear coat I let it sit for 15 minutes, then started buffing out the orange peel with plastic polish. And it worked like a charm.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a before shot of the right headlight. I hope there is still enough clear coat left for at least some UV protection. If not I will have to get a better clear coat because the stuff that ChrisFix suggested is horrible, and the orange peel is unacceptable.
« Last Edit: November 11, 2018, 10:05:03 PM by kms »

SnackDog

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Re: Defogging my car's headlights
« Reply #25 on: December 01, 2018, 05:47:25 PM »
All that sanding is horseshit. Just think about it.  I just wiped mine for five minutes with Meguiar's G12310 PlastX Clear Plastic Cleaner & Polish and they are 90% clearer. Good enough for me.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0000AY3SR/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1