Sure, the shiny paint is what most people focus on when checking out your ride, but all the little details add to, or take away from, its overall appearance. Just like rusty and pitted chrome can drag down an otherwise clean ride, pitted and cloudy plastic headlights can diminish the appearance of an otherwise sweet later-model Camaro.
From a functional standpoint, cloudy headlights don’t shine nearly as bright as they did when new. So, for those who are too cool to worry about lookin’ good, this is as much a function of safety as it is about form.
After 120,000 miles the lenses of our ’01 Z28 were looking a bit cloudy and sandblasted. Add in the effects of UV damage and the end result is headlights that just look tired and beat down.
There’s myriad products on the market these days that claim to be the “end all, be all” in terms of headlight restoration. Some certainly work better than others, and in this case it seems like you do get what you pay for. Since we’ve had good luck with Meguiar’s products in the past, we decided to try out their Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit, which runs around $28.
We had two options here in order to avoid potential damage to the painted areas around the headlights. The first was to remove the headlights from the car, which isn’t rocket science, but does take time. We went with the second option and taped off the painted area around the lights.
The sanding process is done wet. You can use some water with a little dish soap added or a good quality detailing spray. The detail spray didn’t come in the kit, but a nice microfiber towel did.
To get a good idea of how well the kit works, we divided the headlight into “before” and “after” sides. We then misted the right side with some detailer and went to work with the 1,000-grit paper. The idea was to get rid of all the small micro pits in the surface of the plastic.
At this point the headlight didn’t look any better, but the deep pits had now been replaced with smaller scratches.
Using more detail spray, we then attacked the headlight with the 3,000-grit pad. The overall process was much like color-sanding a car, where large imperfections were replaced by progressively smaller and smaller ones until something resembling perfection was achieved. And just like most things in life, the final result is directly proportional to how much effort is expended.
After working over the area for a good 10-15 minutes we were left with a smooth but cloudy headlight. If you’re especially industrious and quite careful, you could take this moment to remove the three large casting “dimples” on the headlights. Just grind them down smooth and work them over with progressively finer grits of paper. We’re not building a show car, so we just left them in place and worked around them.
Next, we used the included buffer along with their Plastix polish to turn the fine scratches and cloudiness into optically clear plastic. This is also a great product for occasionally maintaining our lights after they are restored.
The headlights originally came from the factory with a UV coating, but time, and not to mention our sanding, took it away. To help our lights stay looking good longer, we went over them with some UV ray-blocking headlight protectant.
And with that we were done. The whole process for both lights took around an hour, and the “after” side looked like new compared to the “before” side of the headlight. Aside from looking better, we should also notice better light throw on those dark nights when Black Betty is plying through the local canyon roads.