Reader Question: Yellowed Headlights?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Casey asks: My car’s headlights look like my old dog’s eyes. They’re all clouded up and yellow!

Is there any way to fix this easily – without buying new headlights?

My reply: One of the (several, in my opinion) disadvantages of plastic headlight assemblies – which almost all cars built since the early 2000s came with from the factory – is that they inevitably get rheumy-looking over time, just like an old dog (or human’s) eyes. This because of oxidization of the plastic caused by UV light from the sun. There is no avoiding this – unless you keep the car parked perpetually in a dark garage.

Sealed beam headlights never yellow – because they are made of glass. My ’76 Trans-Am’s sealed beam headlights look as bright today as they did decades ago. They are also much less expensive to replace, but that’s another story.

It isn’t necessary to replace your plastic headlight assemblies in order to get rid of the yellowing/cloudy appearance. And it isn’t necessary to buy a kit to clean them up. All you need is a bottle of rubbing compound – available at any auto parts store – a soft cloth and some elbow grease.

Put a little of the compound on the cloth and rub it into the plastic, in a circular motion. This will “exfoliate” the “dead skin” – the oxidized layer of plastic. Use another soft towel to polish off the area.

Repeat until the headlight is clear.

Then follow up with a coat of wax – which help slow down the yellowing process, so you won’t have to do the polishing thing again … or at least, not for awhile!

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. You’d be surprised how well WD 40 cleans them. I have used Acetone on blue shop towels and wiped across them a couple times on really bad ones. Then a little compound on a buffing ball or polisher makes them look like new.


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