Little Things You Can Do to Make Your Car Look New

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In the past, it was usually the paint that was the problem.

New car finishes tended to fade fast unless fairly frequently waxed and polished. The clear-coat finishes in use today seem to be a lot more durable. Even if the car is left outside and waxed only occasionally (if at all) the paint usually still looks shiny for many years.

But the plastic headlight assemblies used in nearly all modern cars are a different story.

Unlike the glass headlamps used in the past, plastic headlight lenses yellow over and become rheumy-looking after as little as three or four years. Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight as well as exposure to ozone and acid rain gradually oxidizes the plastic’s outer layers, which turns them yellow-looking, or cloudy. This makes your car look old. It’s also a potential safety issue as the hazed-over plastic can reduce the light output of your car’s headlights by as much as 5-10 percent.

The good news is you can rejuvenate plastic headlights to near-new look and function in about 10-15 minutes with a little bit of elbow grease and the right cleaner/polisher – which you can either purchase at your local auto parts store or via an online retailer. (Numerous choices here; a Google search will turn up dozens but some of the better-known name brands and outlets include meguiars and Mothers.)

The cost averages around $20 for most kits – which is a fantastic bargain compared with the cost of buying a new plastic headlight assembly for $150 or more each from your dealer.

It is not necessary to remove the headlights from the vehicle to clean them up – and you don’t need special tools or skills, either.

If you can wash/wax your car, you can bring back the clear-eyed look and function of your car’s plastic covered headlights.

The cleaner in the kit contains a fine abrasive; you’ll use it to gently rub away the UV-damaged upper layer of plastic, very much in the same way that you’d buff out a no longer shiny paint job.

The second step is a polish-wax (the better kits will include a UV sealer) that protects the surface from further deterioration.

You can also use a good-quality general automotive cleaner wax such as those sold by Meguiars or Mothers but for best – and quickest – results, I recommend buying a kit/product specifically designed to clean plastic headlight assemblies. It will have both the cleaner as well as the polish/UV protector, which should keep the cleaned-up lenses looking great for longer.

Some kits also include special pads to work the cleaner/polish onto the headlights – as well as detailed instructions on how to proceed.

Kits available for purchase online include:

Headlight Clear or call 801-557-466)

Headlight Solution

Or, look for these products at your local auto parts store:

Permatex Headlight Restoration Kit (appx. $12.99)

Meguiars Professional Headlight Restoration Kit (appx. $29)

Blue Magic Headlight Lens Restorer (appx. $10)

I’ve personally used and had excellent results with the Meguiars kit but probably any of these products/kits will do a great job of bringing your currently cloudy headlights back to near-new look and function.

Other “little things” –

* Use Mothers Back to Black rubber trim restorer to get rid of the faded, chalky look of exterior weatherstripping and black plastic such as bumper trim. This product is literally wipe on, wipe off. Cost: Less than $10 at any auto parts store.

* Clean and polish your car’s windshield (and other exterior glass) with plain water and old newspaper. Newspaper doesn’t have lint (unlike paper towels) and the ink in the paper works like a polish. It sounds fishy, but this trick has been used by professional detailers for decades. Try it yourself and see. Cost: Free.

Throw it in the Woods?

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Do those “tire wet” treatments actually protect the rubber, or do they just improve the appearance? My newer Michelins look like they are starting to crack after just a few years. The original set (also Michelins) lasted 8 years with no cracking.

    • Not sure on that, but I think anything that would moisturize a tire would prevent cracking. I remember when an old buddy of mine named Dezzi first taught me how to put the gangster shine on my tires using Armor All. He started by scrubbing the tires down really good with soap and a strong hand brush, then let the tires dry, then sprayed the heck out of them with Armor All and did not wipe it off. Talking super shine!

  2. I’ve used Mother’s Back to Black, with middling results. I now use a pro-grade product called Black Again, which was just reintroduced to the market after a multi-year absence.

  3. A lot also depends on your particular location such that even parking I. A garage may not be an answer. I lived in an area of Lousiana for a while that was heavy in petrochemical manufacture. The air was particularly rich with solvents that would pock-mark clearcoats and fade plastics. Keeping a good coat of wax was a must, as was maintenance with things such as what has already been mentioned.

    I’ll definitely try the newspaper trick, probably today. Another trick I picked up is that using the clay bar, especially an old one, on the windshield will take a lot of the scratches and marks out that no cleaning solution will. Just use the included spray or soapy water to glide it across. I hear you’re not supposed to use it on paint after it’s been on glass. Probably because it will increase the clay’s abrasiveness. I had hail hit my truck and left what I thought were hundreds of small marks on the glass that wouldn’t come out any other way. The. Lay bar trick worked perfectly.

    • That news paper “trick” is an old one, and these days not very well known. My late father-in-law(1910 to 1990)was a newspaper pressman for most of his working life and he told me about it nearly 40 years ago.

      I’ve been cleaning windows with his method for all of those 40 years, and it works. The only difference was; instead of water, he recommended regular white vinegar. The slight acidity of the vinegar helps remove mineral residues that are left when the water evaporates — like when you get dirty water splashed on your car from driving in the rain. And in some places, minerals in the rain water itself.

      • Yup!

        And: If this is “the” KV of V1 fame, I have a question for you… my unit and some technology-heavy new cars (such as the 2012 Acura RL I have this week) do not get along. What I mean is, the car’s systems trigger the V1, giving me a constant false K warning (sometimes multiple K warnings) of varying strength. I know it’s the car because the warnings come on immediately (and remain on perpetually) even in my driveway, in the middle of The Boonies, where I know there is no external source of radar painting me. I’m assuming the car itself is transmitting, perhaps leakage from its radar-using “active” cruise control, Park Assist or some other similar system. It does not matter where I mount the unit. The warnings (LED readouts and audible K alarms) are constant.

        It makes the unit pretty much unusable with this car. I’ve had the same issue with some Audis, for the same reason.

        Any thoughts? (If this is “the” KV, anyhow!)

  4. On my nearly 200k mile ’97 the black trim is still like new. I’ve kept it that way using Vinylex (Lexol product) and many years ago used Back to Black. I prefer Vinylex. For the headlamps there really isn’t anything that can be done to prevent it. It’s the nature of the material. A UV hardcoat protects the plastic. But it doesn’t last forever. The factory headlamps started to cloud and I would polish them with “show car glaze” and get them clear again… I could tell I wasn’t going through the hardcoat, the actual plastic was still protected, but they would cloud up again. This would happen faster and faster even though I was careful about the hardcoat and not to go through it. I eventually replaced the lamps after one was unfortunately cracked in a minor bump. I would guess applying new material that acted like the hard coat would be required to prevent it. Thinking of it now, Vinylex also works on plastic and I use it for the interior plastics. Perhaps it could give the lamp lenses UV protection too? Not sure what the bulb temp optical effects might be.

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