How to Fix Old Dim Headlights

It seems that Christmas presents for full-time RVers always tend to mean more work of some sort. They do for me at least. That was the case with the AirLift air bags I installed last year, and with the headlight restoration kit I received this year.

3M Headlight Restoration Kit

3M Headlight Restoration Kit

This may not sound like a big deal, but when you live full-time on the road like we do—and your truck is your lifeline like ours is—you take care of your equipment. Take one look at the dirt and dings on our truck, and you may question me, but I do take pride in keeping our Dodge in tip top shape—even if I do put a priority on function over form.

But this repair was not merely aesthetic. Once I completed the restoration of our old cloudy headlights, I noticed just how dim they had become after ten years. With clear lenses, the headlights are so much brighter! And it wasn’t even that hard…

How To Fix Old Dim Headlights

10 Year Old Corroded Headlight Lens

How To Restore Cloudy Headlights

I’ll admit it, I was a skeptic at first. I mean how badly could the cloudy plastic really affect the brightness of our headlights? And just how difficult would it be to sand and polish them? Well, as I like to say, it’s much easier when you have the right tools for the right job.

The 3M Headlight Restoration Systems come with everything you need to polish your plastic headlight lenses back to their original shine. Or at least damn close! The headlights on our 2006 Dodge Ram had become yellowed and corroded after ten years on the road. But it only took me about an hour to restore them both.

How To Fix Old Dim Headlights

Closeup of Headlight Corrosion

The first step is to clean the lights and tape them off with automotive masking tape to prevent any damage to the surrounding paint by the sanding discs you will use.

The 3M Headlight Lens Restoration Kit I used came with three sets of discs. Each one had an increasingly finer grit. It also included one polishing pad, and a small packet of polishing compound—just enough to do our two large headlights.

How To Fix Old Dim Headlights

Preparation of Old Cloudy Headlights

TIP: Use a 110v power drill. I had to repeatedly change the battery in my old 12v cordless drill, and wait a while before doing the second light.

Honestly, I was a bit concerned after my first pass. Our lights were in pretty bad shape, and the sanding didn’t appear to be doing much. But I was clearly applying a bit too much pressure. This causes the plastic to heat up under the pad and smear. Sure enough, just like the documentation says, these smears quickly harden and are very hard to remove.

3M Headlight Restoration KitTIP: Use wet extra fine steel wool and elbow grease to remove plastic smears or heavy corrosion before sanding with first disc.

To Avoid Plastic Smears:

  • Use long steady strokes with sanding discs.
  • Do not hold sanding disc in one place.
  • Keep sanding pad flat against the plastic.

How To Fix Old Dim Headlights

Sanded Headlight Restoration in Progress

After sanding with the second disc, I was still a bit skeptical about the results. The magic happened when using the third disc, dampened with water. After frosting the lens entirely with the second sandpaper disc, this third pass with the wet foam pad started to show promise.

How To Fix Old Dim Headlights

Polishing Headlights to Restore Shine

Wipe the accumulated plastic slurry off with a damp cloth, and the final step is to use the polishing pad. This is when you will really start to notice the shine!

This kit will not repair cracks, or affect any discoloring on the inside of the lens. But it did remove all the small scratches and corrosion we had on our headlights.

The true test was later that night, when we noticed a big improvement in the brightness of the beams after restoring the lenses. Another quick and dirty job well done…much cheaper than buying replacement headlights for our truck! And much easier than the next project I’ll tell you about soon. 🙂

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2 Responses to “How to Fix Old Dim Headlights”

  1. Very good information. Thanks. Which Dodge do you have? 3/4 or 1 ton? I have a 2006 crew cab dually sitting under the carport with 9600 miles on it. Six speed and Cummins. Love it. Just don’t drive it. Also a slick 97 2500 5 speed Cummins with 96000 miles on it sitting in the back yard. I need to have a sale.

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