Did you know dirty headlights can decrease visibility by 90%? It is easy to see (pardon the pun) why that’s dangerous. According to several studies, when traveling at 60 mph, drivers need a minimum of 200 feet to see something, react, and brake. Heavier trucks and SUVs may need even more. Good visibility in the dark is critical.
After four or five years, the brightness level of your headlights can decrease dramatically. It is hard to gauge the decline of your headlight performance because, unlike your vehicle’s fluid levels or tire pressure, headlight strength is not easy to measure. So, what causes foggy, dim headlights? There are multiple reasons.
- Oxidization. Today, new cars come with a UV coating to protect them from sun damage, but the coating fades over time. That makes your headlights susceptible. Headlights used to be made of glass, but in the past few decades, car manufacturers began making them from plastics because they’re lighter, more cost-effective and shatterproof. The downside is that plastics can oxidize the same way metals do. Instead of rusting, oxidization in plastics causes that yellow, foggy haze.
- Moisture. Headlights are not airtight by design, so heat from the bulbs can escape. Unfortunately, that can allow moisture inside the headlight casing, affecting how the light shines through.
- Pollutants and debris. Oil and dust from the road can collect on your headlights over time. Dirt adheres to the exterior of the plastic, creating a hazy film, and small debris can cause abrasions on your headlights. All these factors can make the plastic on your headlights more opaque.
So how can you make your headlights brighter? There are several cost-effective ways to restore them.
- Prevention. First off, try to keep your headlights away from direct sun exposure as much as possible. If you don’t have a garage, park your car in the shade or facing away from the sun. This will reduce UV exposure and stave off the oxidization process.
- Toothpaste. Yep. The same toothpaste that gets your teeth clean can do the same for polycarbonate plastic, thanks to its plague removing ingredients. Just apply with a sponge or toothbrush, rinse and wipe dry.
- White vinegar. If you know how to remove your lenses, let them soak in a vinegar bath for one hour, then scrub away the grime with a sponge. If you don’t know how to take the lenses out, mix a solution with three parts water and one-part vinegar in a spray bottle. Leave the solution on for a few minutes and wipe away with a clean microfiber cloth.
- Baking soda. Mix six tablespoons of baking soda with water to make a coarse paste. Apply with a microfiber cloth in a circular motion using a good amount of pressure, then rinse.
- Sandpaper. This is a longer-lasting solution than the others, but it needs to be done carefully. Wet your headlights with clean water and dampen 400 (or 600) grit sandpaper in a bucket. Sand the headlight with straight, horizontal strokes. Keep splashing water throughout the entire sanding. Rinse the headlights off and dry with a clean towel. Apply rubbing alcohol to a paper towel, then wipe down the headlights with a clean rag to ensure they’re dust-free. Add a clear coat of plastic UV protectant like this these.
It is highly advisable when applying any chemical solutions mentioned to use painter’s tape around the edges to protect your vehicle’s paint finish.
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