For many decades, headlights were made with glass lenses. When they cracked or broke, car owners simply bought a new headlight, made sure not to alter alignment screws, and got back on the road. These days, car manufacturers use plastic lenses and frames to cover pricey bulbs. Unfortunately, daily exposure to the sun and road grit results in milky, yellowed, and scratched plastic lenses.
A single replacement lens can cost more than $300. However, there is a great selection of lens restoration kits to bring new life to an old lens. We’ve tried a bunch of them over the years. The Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit has produced satisfying and long-lasting results—beating competitors’ kits, which can leave you with a dull and weathered lens in a matter of months.
The kit from Sylvania comes with nearly everything you need. Your contribution will be a spray bottle filled with water and a few drying cloths. The kit comes with full instructions, three sheets of sandpaper (in 400, 1,000 and 2,000 grits), a spray bottle of their surface activator, a packet of clarifying compound, and a vial of UV Block Clear Coat. The package also includes a white polishing towel, a blue applicator towel, a protective vinyl glove, and a roll of protective tape.
In Six Easy Steps
Step 1: Clean off the lens and apply the black plastic tape on the body panels adjacent to the headlight lens. Because you will sand the lens, you should protect the painted metal from an accidental swipe. You can also use painter’s tape if you want a wider safety margin.
Step 2: Spray the Surface Activator on the lens. Be prepared for some yellow streaks to drip down, but they won’t harm the paint. After 30 seconds, rinse off the lens and the adjoining body panels.
Step 3: Starting with the coarsest grit (400). Apply a light coat of water from your spray bottle on the lens, and start sanding with half of the sandpaper—reserving the second half for the second headlight. Keep the lens and sandpaper wet as you sand the entire surface for five minutes in light, circular motions. Rinse off and repeat with the finer grits—1,000 and 2,000. Expect the lens to look cloudy white, which is normal, but it should feel smooth to the touch.
Step 4: Now use half the clarifying compound on the white towel and rub it on the lens for another five minutes. Continue to use a light, circular motion to further smooth the surface. Rinse and dry the lens.
Step 5: Use the surface activator spray again to totally clean the lens. Let it set for 30 seconds and rinse off. Now thoroughly dry the lens and remove the protective tape from the car.
If you are doing both headlights, Sylvania recommends that you repeat all the above steps for the other headlight before moving to the final step.
Step 6: Wear the protective glove provided in the kit. Soak the edge of the blue paper towel with the UV block clear coat and apply it with one side-to-side stroke in one continuous motion. Repeat this process as you work down the lens and apply more liquid to the towel as necessary. Be careful not to use a swirling motion—instead, use one long swipe. It’s this liquid that brings back the full clear coating to the lens and prevents it from aging again.
Before the liquid evaporates from the applicator, repeat the application of the clear coat for the second headlight in exactly the same manner.
Finally, let the coating cure and dry for at least one hour. Don’t wash the car or touch the lens during this time. A full curing takes up to six hours.
We’ve used the Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit on a few cars and have been pleased with the long-lasting results—all for a modest investment and about an hour of easy work.