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How To Clean Car Headlights

How To Clean Car Headlights

See and be seen; that should be the drivers’ mantra on our busy roads, especially during the darker, rain-washed months. That’s why a car’s headlights should be kept sparkling clean. Over time, thanks to the action of UV light, headlight lenses can fade and become foggy in appearance and that, along with road dirt obviously, will obscure the lens and reduce vision. This doesn’t mean that the lights have to be replaced fortunately, as it is a relatively straightforward fix.

How do I clean foggy headlights on my car?

The first step is to wash the vehicle thoroughly using a good car shampoo. We have covered the best way to do this in this article. Inevitably, the front of the car, including the headlights, will be blighted with insect strikes and other contaminants. Use a strong product designed to remove the dirt that washing alone fails to do, leaving a clean, smooth surface.

Wet Sanding

Not for the inexperienced perhaps but this is the finest way to make those headlamp lenses look new.

You Will Need:

  • Electric sander
  • Fine or super fine sandpaper
  • Water spray bottle
  • Polishing compound (optional)

Tape over a large area of bodywork, leaving just the lights exposed. Wet the surface and, using fine or superfine sandpaper and applying a compound, very lightly guide the sander over the headlight in large, circular motions, ensuring the surface is kept wet at all times. Rinse and wipe over, repeating the process if necessary. If in doubt, don’t. Headlight units are expensive to replace.

Top Tip: A little ceramic car wax applied to the lens after cleaning will give added protection.

How to clean yellow headlights on a car

Ageing and sunlight can ‘yellow’ a car’s headlamp plastic over time; it’s just another form of fogging. Use the same procedures as outlined above. If the DIY approach does not suit, there are branded products available from the local motor factor.

How to clean the inside of your car headlights

You will need:

  • Selection of screwdrivers, flat and Phillips
  • Penetrating solvent
  • Glass or plastic cleaning product
  • Bucket of clean warm water
  • Microfibre cloths

The days are long gone when a motorist could change a bulb just by opening the bonnet and reaching behind the light. Today’s modern headlights are likely to be sealed or composite units. These units are much more durable but, in the event of a blown bulb, the whole unit has to be replaced. So is it even possible to clean or defog the inside of a headlight? Yes, it is, but it’s not that simple.

Removing the unit

The issue here is that different manufacturers have different ways of securing the units in place. A workshop manual for the model, which can be found online although possibly at a cost, is a good idea. Once insight is gained into how the light is fixed then proceed. Working under the bonnet, locate the fixing points. This should not be a problem because the units are designed to come out.

Being mindful of any exterior trim, apply a little penetrating solution and unscrew the units, unplugging and removing the lights, separating them from the lens. Remember to keep the screws handy in a suitable container. Some units might retain the lens using clips. If so, unclip and separate from the lights.

Clean the lens

Carefully wash the lens and dry with a lint-free towel. Allow some time for full drying before moving on. Clean the inside of the lens with a good quality glass cleaner. This should be sufficient as the inside is not subject to the same abuse as outside. Allow to dry thoroughly and reassemble.

A Note About Condensation

Condensation on the inside of a lens is nothing to do with yellowing or fogging, although it will fog the lens. Obviously, damp ingress could be through visible cracks or damage caused by a stone thrown up by the car in front for example, meaning the unit must be replaced. That’s an MOT fail. If there’s no visible damage then condensation is probably caused by a worn seal, gasket or a drainage hole and no amount of cleaning will resolve this.

A car’s headlights are a vital part of safe driving. Keep them in tip-top condition as a part of your car detailing regime.

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