Restoring Your Off-Road Vehicle's Cloudy Headlights

Fixing cloudy, yellow, oxidized clear plastics

May. 12, 2010 By Jaime Hernandez


plastic headlight repair
Oxidized and dull polycarbonate headlights is a common problem found on newer Trucks and SUVs

By now, most people own a vehicle that uses plastic headlights instead of glass. The plastic headlights found on most cars made after 1990 are made of polycarbonate. This plastic material allows for very fluid designs outside of conventional round and square headlights. In addition to design properties, they also work really well for off-road use since the polycarbonate will not break when hit by small rocks or mud on the trail.  

Meguiar's PlastX - Headlight RepairAlthough plastic headlights have nearly unbreakable properties, they do have a downside that shows up and won’t go away—we’re talking about oxidation. The oxidation can start forming on polycarbonate lenses as early as two years after production. It usually shows signs of cloudy, yellowing, dirty lenses. Not only does it look bad, but it also limits the amount of light that can pass through the lens. This can make it difficult to see the road and pose a safety hazard.

After a few years of dodging the bullet, we finally got hit with a truck light that turned yellow on us. We did much research, talked to different people with similar problems, and consulted professional detailers. We’re here to tell you that there is hope -- most oxidized headlights can be saved.

Before you go out and buy cheap reproduction lenses or spend a fortune on factory replacement headlights, try giving your OEMs a second life. We found a great product from Meguiar’s called PlastX that will help bring back clarity to your vehicle’s headlights.

Meguiar’s PlastX claims to restore clarity to clear plastics using micro-abrasive technology. It also adds vital conditioning oils to restore optical clarity, and it includes highly water resistant polymers that provide long lasting durable protection. PlastX is non-toxic and does not contain any harsh solvents.

We tested the product on our Toyota Tacoma that has been exposed to hot desert weather for over eight years. It had cloudy plastic headlights with areas of visible oxidation and yellowing.

To test the Meguiar’s product, we only did one headlight. After 45 days, it still looked cleaner and had higher optic clarity than the side that was not cleaned and polished.

We are very pleased with the Meguiar’s PlastX. Not only did it fix the cloudy, oxidized headlights, we also saved tons of money by not having to replace them. The 10oz bottle of Meguiar's PlastX will run under $10—which beats spending over $500 on new headlight housings/lenses.

Here is the step-by-step process taken to fix our dull headlights from cloudy, yellowing, oxidation using Meguiar’s PlastX.

Plastic Headlight Repair
We put some painter’s masking tape around the headlight to protect both paint and chrome on the grille. We didn’t know how abrasive this stuff was—even though it said it was micro-abrasive.

Restoring Your Off-Road Vehicle's Cloudy Headlights - Page 2

The job is best done in the shade, not in direct sunlight. Test a small area first using a cotton terry cloth. Rub the PlastX into the plastic lens, working in the same direction (we did horizontal).

Plastic Headlight Repair

We followed the process recommended in on the packaging and it did take out some of the oxidation. Unfortunately our lights were a little too baked for just the liquid cleaner. We needed more help.

We heard from a Trucker that they sometimes use fine-grit sandpaper to remove stubborn yellowing oxidation from their plastic headlights. At first we weren’t very convinced, but after some additional research we found that this method is actually widely used in cases where the oxidation is really bad.

This method is not endorsed or recommended by Meguiar’s, but for us it was either give it a go, or replace the badly oxidized headlights. We tried the extreme before spending a few hundred dollars on new headlights. We figured it would be a good second experiment and validation for the Trucker’s advice.

Plastic Headlight Repair

We started with a fine, 1000-grit sandpaper, using water and sanding in a horizontal direction across the lens.

After sanding with the 1000-grit sandpaper they will have a milky-white color. Don’t freak out, it's normal. The next step is using 2000-grit sand paper. Follow the same sanding direction as you did the 1000-grit to make sure you get an even and smooth job. You don’t want to sand in circles, as this will create swirl marks.

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During sanding, make sure to use plenty of water to help get rid of the dirt and oxidation coming off the lens. Once you’re done sanding, it’s time to use the Meguiar’s PlastX cleaner & polish. This will fill in all the small imperfections on the surface and polish the headlight lens. Make sure you apply the liquid and work in the same direction as you sanded. Use a clear, white cotton cloth to do this, and clean off any oxidation by turning your cloth. Keep working it until you are happy with the clarity of the plastic.

Plastic Headlight Repair
Plastic headlights after being cleaned and polished using Meguiar's PlastX.

The same process will also work on plastic tail lamps and dashboards that have been dulled by the sun or scratched by the elements. Below are some pictures of before and after of our Chevy Z71 that had really dull taillights.

Plastic Tail light Repair Plastic Tail light Repair Plastic Tail light Repair

The PlastX product is great. It also works on scratched CDs and DVDs—minus the sand paper. Not only did our truck get some of its optical clarity back, we even got some tunes to go along with it. It really is a great fix.

We hope this article helps inspire some of you to take action on oxidized headlights. Don’t give up on them; you might be surprised what a bottle of Meguiar’s PlastX, some cloth terry cloths, sandpaper and 20 minutes of your time can do for your truck.


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