Clearly Seeing the Road Ahead: How to Clean Oxidized Headlights

If you’ve noticed your headlights getting cloudy looking over time, this is called oxidized headlights. Not only is having oxidation on your vehicle’s headlights unsightly, but it can also be unsafe if you let it progress too far.

Dimmer lights on your car can cause you to see less on the road, risking accidents, pedestrian injuries, and raised insurance rates if you hit an object or end up in a fender bender. So, if you have foggy headlamps, consider the way your store your vehicle—it can affect how quickly they cloud over—and one of the methods below to remove the haze.

Why Do They Oxidize?

Interestingly, you may notice classic cars don’t get oxidized headlights. The reason for this is because car manufacturers used to make this part of the vehicle out of glass. For obvious safety reasons, lights were changed over from glass to a polycarbonate plastic around the 1980s.

While the plastic is safer, it does not always hold up the same way glass does. These plastic lights are covered with a protective film to slowly wears down over time, and when UV rays and the heat of your headlamps combine with the plastic, it becomes porous, and oxidation occurs. Regardless of the exact source of your oxidation, you’re probably wondering how to clean oxidized headlights. There are four primary ways to tackle the problem. With each exterior method, clean your lights before buffing.

Toothpaste

It might sound crazy, but toothpaste is a well-known polishing agent, and not just for your teeth. Toothpaste is a favorite among those who have to polish silver, as it removed the tarnish from silver quickly and without damaging it. The fine grit in the paste removes buildup safely.

You’ll want to use a paste form toothpaste, not the gel style. Using a buffer or dense sponge, buff the toothpaste on your headlights in a circular motion. It is best to protect the surrounding area with painter’s tape before doing this. You can do a few rounds of toothpaste if you do not achieve the desired result in the first round. Simply wash the toothpaste off with a car-safe detergent (not dish soap) and water.

Oxidation Remover Kit

If you don’t want to use toothpaste and would like a more professional approach, you can buy an oxidation remover kit from your local auto parts store or online. Many of these will come with buffing pads or even an attachment for your corded drill to turn it into a buffing tool.

Follow the instructions, which is often similar to the process of using toothpaste but uses a type of solvent to remove buildup, and finish with the protective sealant if included.

Sandpaper

In more extreme cases of exterior headlight oxidization, you can use very fine grit sandpaper—the emphasis being on an extremely fine grit. Light pressure should be applied, on test this method in a small area before doing it on the full headlight.

Use a circular motion to remove the oxidization, and wipe with a microfiber cloth periodically to check your work. Again, this should only be used for severe cases of oxidized headlights. Finish by washing the light down with water and sealing with a UV protectant.

Replacing the Headlights

Unfortunately, there happen to be two type of oxidation that can occur—on the outside and on the interior of the light. Interior oxidization tends to occur because of moisture getting inside the lamp. When this happens, the headlights will usually need to be replaced.

Replacing them can run anywhere from $250 to $700. So, if you’re in the market for a vehicle, compare used car values along with potential maintenance alongside new car prices. When you add up a few repair issues and see things such as interior oxidization on a prospective vehicle, plan the replacement into your budget.

Seeing Clearly

It’s easy to put aside issues such as foggy headlights and think of them as only an aesthetic problem. While cloudy lights will make your car look more run down or prematurely older, this can be a genuine safety hazard. Headlights are not only for your vision but for others on the road to see you, as well. When the fog on your lights is on the exterior, it only takes about 20 minutes to a half hour of your time to buff them out, and you can do so with something as simple as toothpaste.

Whether you used a car finder for a used vehicle or have a newer car that sits in the sun all the time and experiences the toll of UV rays, foggy lights can be a problem for a lot of drivers. Luckily, this is usually a straightforward fix that can typically be done at home by even inexperienced drivers.

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