A how-to on headlight restoration to fix severe yellowing, pitting, scratching, or hazing. This is a last-resort repair as there are products out there to fix less severe damage.
Some before and after photos:
To start out with, I need to stress that this process is for badly yellowed, pitted, scratched, or otherwise damaged headlights/fog lights/tail lights/etc…
For minor damage such as surface scuffs or to simply make things look a little bit better you should just use some PlastiX.
This is a fairly time consuming and labor intensive process, but not terrible or particularly advanced. There is risk involved since you will be taking sandpaper to your lights, but if you take your time and are careful the end result is something that nothing else can come close to.
Ok, with all of that stuff out of the way, lets begin. This little quote section is from another post of mine over on the SVX forums.
First, If you need to open the head light for any reason (i.e. remove broken glass from broken bulb, clear corners, etc…)
1 – Remove headlight assembly from car
2 – Remove clips holding the front and back of the headlight together
3 – Pre-Heat your oven to 220 degrees F.
4 – Place headlight assembly on a cookie sheet and place in oven for 20 minutes
5 – Remove CAREFULLY. It will be hot.
6 – Gently pull the front and back of the headlight apart. This will take a good amount of force, just be slow and gentle so you don’t break anything. That glue doesn’t like to give.
7 – Do your cleaning. IMPORTANT: Use ONLY a microfiber cloth and cleaner WITHOUT Ammonia on the reflectors. Mild hand soap and water works the best and is generally safe. (that’s the same thing we use to clean professional lighting instruments)
8 – Place the two halves back in the oven for 20 minutes
9 – Remove CAREFULLY. Using oven mitts or something take both halves and press them back together fully
10 – Re-Install the clips holding the light together.
This is another process to do carefully as it can cause permanent damage to the headlight. Others have used a heat-gun around the seal and had great results as well, so if you’re not comfortable baking your light go that route.
The removal pictures and instructions are specific to the 2003-2005 Forester, but it shouldn’t be very hard to make the jump to another MY.
So lets begin.
To start with we’re going to need to remove the headlight. On the 2003-2005 this is a fairly painless process.
1. Remove the grill. There are two clips on the top of the grill that you need to undo will pulling the grill gently towards you. Use a flat-head screwdriver to press the latch in the middle of the clip, this will release the clip. Pulling the grill lightly towards you will also help release the other clips. This may take some finagling, but it will come off.
Now you need to remove the headlight surround molding. I can’t find the actual name for the part, so bear with me on the terms. Using a flat-head screwdriver undo and remove the two clips on the top of the surround. Then you will need to gently push on the lower clip (towards the outside of the car) until the piece pops off.
Here is what that piece looks like from the inside. You can see all of the clip locations.
With that removed we can now access all three bolts holding the headlight assembly in place. There are two bolts in the large tab on the inside of the light as well as one on the top. Ignore the third bolt to the right of the circled ones. This is not for the headlight.
With these three bolts removed the headlight should come loose. There is one clip thing that goes into the fender so you will need to do some gentle prying and pulling straight out from the car and the light should pop out.
If you are on the passenger side you may find it easier to remove the plastic air intake above the light.
There are four wires connected to the headlight. The one for the headlamp itself is quite large and obvious. Unplug this as well as the other three connectors on the assembly. Those final three will not be exposed until you’ve removed the headlight from the car. There is only one that is a bit strange to remove, you simply need to use a flat-head screwdriver again to lift up the locking tab and it should slide right out.
Here you can see the connector for the headlamp
And here you can see the remaining three connectors
Now that you have the light removed from the car the real fun can begin. Be advised that when you are wet-sanding the light you want to keep things nice and wet as well as making sure that nothing gets between the sandpaper and the plastic. If it feels like there is something under there stop sanding and clean the sandpaper off. Little bits of sand or plastic stuck between the sandpaper and the plastic can create nasty deep scratches. Also I find that replacing the water every once in a while helps too.
To start you will need a few items.
* 600 Grit Wet/Dry Sandpaper
* 1000 Grit Wet/Dry Sandpaper
* 1500 Grit Wet/Dry Sandpaper
* 2000 Grit Wet/Dry Sandpaper
* Plastic Polish (I use Meguiar’s PlastiX)
* Not required, but very useful is a random-orbital buffer of some sort with a terry cloth cover
*I have also found some glass scrub useful, as well as some paint swirl remover. These and the PlastiX are all just mild abrasives.
1 – Get some kind of container and fill it up with water.
2 – Start with the 600 Grit sandpaper. Make sure you keep everything wet! Sand down until the water stops turning yellow, or until the surface is how you want it. The lens will be very hazy at this point. I start going one way (side to side), then after I’m done I switch to the other way (top to bottom)
3 – Move on to the 1000 Grit sandpaper. Same procedure as with the 600
4 – Now move on to the 1500 Grit Sandpaper. Clean the lens up as smooth as you can get it.
5 – Clean the lens off. It will be somewhat hazy at this point, but there should be no major scratches, just very very fine scratches that make it look hazy.
6 – Apply some of the plastic polish (PlastiX from here out) to a rag and begin polishing the lens.
7 – To make this easier, if you have a random-orbital buffer, use a terrycloth cover and apply the PlastiX.
8 – Keep a generous supply of PlastiX on the terrycloth cover/lens and polish as long as you like. I’ve found it helps to clean the old stuff off once in a while and re-apply
9 – I usually do this for five to ten minutes
10 – Using some kind of glass cleaner and a microfiber cloth (doesn’t have to be microfiber, but I prefer them) clean the lens.
Now the more detailed information.
Begin with the 600 Grit sandpaper and start sanding. As stated above, I like to go side-to-side and then top-to-bottom. This is the real workhorse of the project, so make sure that you remove enough plastic to get below the pitting, scratches and/or yellowing.
The headlight after the first round
Move on to the next grit once you are happy with the surface that you have created. Once it’s all hazy any remaining pits and scratches will become very obvious to a close inspection.
When you move on to the next grit the idea is to sand down until the scratches from the previous grit are gone.
Here is the headlight after being hit with 1000 grit
And now after 1500 grit
And finally after 2000 grit
I ran into some issues with this project because I tried to move too quickly, and tried experimenting with a circular sanding pattern. I would avoid going in circles as it created scratches that were very hard to get out. I ended up having to back-track to the 1000 grit paper and redo the process prior to moving on. Avoid my mistake.
This time I started out with some glass scrub first, then moved on to some swirl remover, and then finally on to the PlastiX. I did this because of the circular scratches that were a lot of work to remove.
It’s worth simply starting out with with PlastiX and seeing how things go. This should be enough to make things look nice and great.
I like to start out scrubbing the PlastiX in by hand. I am able to get more pressure by hand than I can with a buffer. This process will work just fine without any power tools, but I find that a random-orbital buffer helps a lot and makes things go much faster. To be clear, I’m talking about a random-orbital, not a high speed orbital buffer. A high speed orbital if not used very carefully can/will burn or or damage the plastic.
Each application of the PlastiX will make things more and more clear. Keep a generous amount of the polish on the light to keep things moving smoothly. When I did this one I did the light in sections for the purpose of pictures, but I recommend doing the whole surface of the light at the same time.
Here is the light in multiple stages of being polished.
Once you have the light where you are happy with it you’re almost done.
As EvilDan pointed out, this process will remove the UV coating from the light. In I’m not 100% sure yet on the best way to seal the light is, but I will edit this as soon as I have a definitive answer. I believe that spraying the plastic with a UV resistant clear coat will do the job nicely, but I’m not sure. If anyone can shed some light on this it would be greatly appreciated.
(EDIT): I’ve heard people having good luck with any spray-on UV blocking clearcoat. This would be the way to go.
I like to finish up with a few coats of wax on the light to really make it sparkle.
Once that is done, simply re-install the light in the reverse of removal.
Enjoy your nice reconditioned headlight!