Low Budget Headlight Recon

Dave LeGear

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What's left of Pine Island
Good Afternoon!
The Xterra is starting to get a case of Cataracts as the Sun is slowly cooking the UV inhibitors out of the plastic. So before it gets much worse and while making a Maintenance Wash, I thought I would try something to help address the condition with the supplies I already had on hand :)

Here are the steps I took and see if they could help you also slow down this condition on your Truck or SUV?

1. Went though my normal wash process with 2 buckets and soaps. 1 Bucket was with dish de-greaser soap for the tires and rims. The other main bucket / grit guard combo with my normal car soap so it does not strip off the Bead Maker on the Paint, but the same applies to whatever you use to protect your paint... You need to use a PH neutral soap (Car Soap) so you do not undo all the work you put into making it look good and sealing the paint last detailing.
2. Then I grabbed a clean wash cloth, got it damp and then shook some Bar Keepers Friend onto it and used it to buff out by hand, the parts of the headlights that were starting to discolor. I am going to say I spent about 5 min using this combo to help polish out some of the discoloration in the headlight lens for each one.
3. Then I finished out the rest of the truck wash, blew it dry with my leaf blower, and applied a second coat of Bead Maker as a drying agent, for the rest of the towel drying process. I just did NOT apply any to the headlights since I was not done just yet... I wanted to see how they looked after totally drying.
4. Now the that headlights were dry I saw that it help some, but they still needed some more work to help buff them out more and try and make them look the same across the entire lens. The Bar Keepers Friend did a good starting job to the process (much better than I 1st expected) but time to unleash some more products to help with the level of the finish.
5. So I grabbed some Glaze / Polish and applied it by hand. This was to help "fill in" the lens micro scratches and then buffed them both out using my RO Buffer on speed 5 with a lamb's wool pad. I did that step 2 or 3 times to help polish them out and make them look as new as possible. Now on mine I did not have to worry about taping anything off, you though you might want to take that step pending how flush your headlights are to other body panels or other plastic parts ;)

Here is the Before pictures and hopefully you can see how cloudy they had become near the top of each lens...



And here is the After shots so you can see that a little time invested (maybe 15 min in total) helped quite a bit and was with products and tools I already had on-hand ;)



Lastly I put some Bead Maker on them, but these pictures did not include that step and that was done more than anything, to help keep the Love Bugs from sticking as much and give them a tab bit more UV protection.

Now they are far from perfect, but I did not have to spend any extra money to get one of those Head Light Restore kits that use stuff you need to mask off all the nearby body panels, this and use gloves and maybe even a respirator to even be around? :confused:

And I am quite sure, they will not stay that way very long since the damage is already done to the plastic... But if it only takes a little Bar Keepers Friend as a compound agent, and some polish with my RO Buffer every 6 months or so to keep them at that level of clarity no big deal! :cool:

Hope this helps, and let us know if this process also helped yours?
I have been advised that this product will work even better on them:


This as well as some other Detailing / Buffing compound needs I have (interesting product reviews posted on it for sure) So, I might give this a try on them as well as some other paint correction projects that I have pending, and let you know those results also!
The past process held up for some time, but was not perfect and was starting to return and it really detracted from the rest of the Xterra. This round it was time to do them correctly, since the head lamp bulbs need replaced (original and more on that later) but it was getting easy to overdrive them at night now from being so dull and getting hard to see very far down the road... Does not help my eyes have not gotten any younger either LOL :D


So I washed it and went ahead and used some VRT (Vinyl, Rubber, Tires) from Adam's to help protect all the plastic on the front end in case some of the compound got slung on them so it would not stick.

Next, it was time to open the hood and tape up all the edges with some low contact blue painters tape, in case the 3 inch buffer got a little close to any edges or other body work.


Next, using the following tools and chemicals I went to town on them using the new (great stuff and gives a long working time with little dusting) Turtle Wax Pro 1 and done compound. Now I have used this for some other paint correction needs, and really enjoy working with it!


Now, not the most heavy cut compound on the Market by a long shot... But it will keep you out of trouble by not making things looking like they got hit by a weed wacker on full throttle either! I would rather spend more time making more passes with the buffer, and change pads and reapply the compound as needed. This, than having to spend a lot more time finishing out work from cutting it way to deep and then, having to blend out all the swirl marks later.

If you have never worked with a buffer and compound in the past, this is the one to try 1st and consider it "Buffing Compound on Training Wheels" since it is that mild ;)

I figure between compounding and then cleaning from time to time to see how it was all blending out, I spent maybe 45 minuets on each headlight.

Now that little 3 inch buffer I got on Amazon has worked out well, but you better have some ear plugs in for it is no quiet 400 dollar Rupes unit for sure! Then again, I paid like 60 bucks for it and some extra 3 inch pads. I have more than gotten my ROI on it for sure with all the little jobs I have tackled with it... Has really come in handy getting into smaller places like headlights that my larger RO buffers simply cannot reach.

In this case, since this compound cutting amount, depends on the pad chosen for the job. I found that the orange waffle pad gave me the best results for these plastic headlights. Then I followed up with the regular flat one you see for the follow on Pro Polish passes to help blend out some of the smaller buffing marks in the plastic surfaces.

Between passes, I used an IPA wipe down so I could see how clear they were getting, and last I used (not shown) a little 3 inch wool pad to blend and take off the Turtle Wax Graphene paste wax


Follow up by some coats Turtle Wax Seal and Shine to help them even further by putting back on them, the UV inhibitors I took off them get them clear again... This (loosing the UV protection like clear coat on paint) is what causes them to fade and in time, turn yellow. So you have to put something back on and keep up with it, or it will just return even faster.

And here are the end results and very pleased! They have not looked that good since setting on the Lot the day I picked her up all those years ago :cool:



I think it looks pretty good for being over 9 years old now with I think a little North of 62K in miles on the clock. The Sun here, can cook things pretty quickly IF you don't take care of them for sure...

Next project is to pop out the grill and repaint it from the same condition, Sun-fade.

Hope this helps, and (as always) send me a PM if you have any questions on how to make yours look better!

The so called 20 minuet to install new LED headlights (simple swap with the stock lamps, right?) turn into a almost 2 hour royal pain! And I don't know which side was worse to install, the housing for the Air Filter, or the one near the battery, but I managed to get them both installed (yea)


And I can tell they are so much brighter than before, for sure :cool: