Cleaning your headlights is an important part of car care. Without them, the road won’t be illuminated well, and you won’t be easily visible to other traffic. That’s dangerous. Cleaning the headlights is worth it in the end, and it can be done at or by a professional for up to $200.
Having properly cleaned headlights is a must if you’re concerned about car safety.
Driving at night requires more than keeping a close eye on the road. It takes concentration. It takes focus. It takes head lights that cut clearly across the dead of night to make it from point A to point B all in one piece.
Have you ever seen a car driving the road without its headlights? It’s scary. Nobody knows if they’re coming or going. Accidents are likely, and that just goes to show how headlights are an important safety feature of a car – one that cannot be compromised.
Here’s a fun fact according to the AAA: Over 80% of the light that’s supposed to shine through a clean headlight can be lost when dirt, grime, and scratches block the beams.
Modern Car Headlights are Different
How to clean the headlights, as a topic, depends on what kind of car you have.
Super old cars had standard light bulbs, more or less. Then, headlights advanced over time.
Today, a lot of cars out on the road are taking advantage of halogen reflector headlight technology. This lens reigns supreme because of its protective coating, helping drivers avoid excessive problems due to scratches or UV light.
The sun is what causes those fissures, cracks, and yellow tint on the old headlight. Many people aren’t away of how much damage the sun can cause a vehicle. It’s better for your car to park it in the shade as much as you can – even for the headlights.
A headlight that’s missing a bulb is different than one that needs to be cleaned. However, it’s likely that many car owners don’t realize how the bad the headlights are until a bulb burns out and they have to take the light compartment apart to switch out the bulb.
Warning Signs of Dirty Headlights
Your car is advanced, but now advanced enough to tell when it’s time to clean the headlights. It might tell you when a bulb is out, though. Let that warning be the sign that it’s time to clean your headlights if nothing else.
Here are common signs it’s time to clean the headlights of your automobile:
- The lights appear dim when driving
- The headlights look like they have tiny cracks on them
- The headlights look like a film is developing or peeling off
- People joke about your headlights being dirty
- Your car looks really good except for the scratchy headlights
This is a problem in some older Chevys like the 2008 Chevy Aveo or 2006 Chevy Malibu. Even over a decade later, these cars don’t look bad on the road if they’ve been maintained. However, the dead giveaway about the age of the vehicle is how badly the headlights held up over time.
They are yellow, scratched, and dusty. This is reducing visibility at night, which is a major hazard.
Older cars are more likely to have this problem due to all the miles under their belt. Not all hope is lost, however. Some options are around the corner:
- Ignore the problem
- Clean the headlights
- Replace the headlights
- Send the vehicle to the junkyard and start over
Ignoring the Problem Doesn’t Help your Dirty Headlights
Here’s the truth on how to clean your car’s headlights – it’s not that hard. Ignoring the problem could make the situation a lot worse.
Like oil changes, regular fuel fill ups, and the occasional swapping out of an odd pine-scented air freshener, headlights require their routinely scheduled maintenance as well.
When you pretend a problem doesn’t exist, it doesn’t always magically go away. This is true when you don’t want to deal with busted or dirty headlights. You can drive around like that all you want, but you’re doing so with an increased risk or accident or injury. Just clean them!
How to Clean Your Headlights
Learning how to clean your headlights can give you some major adulting points. Now’s the best time to take up this new skill.
A cloudy lens is a common issue.
It’s so tempting to take on this problem as DIY project because it’s one of the few things that somebody can do to upgrade their car without dropping a ton of money on a garage visit. However, you get what you pay for. By avoiding the professionals, you might see subprime results.
Cleaning Your Headlights with Toothpaste
If you’re hot to try it anyway, here’s one approach that’s already lying around in your bathroom: the tried and true (but never guaranteed) toothpaste method.
This approach is best employed when the situation isn’t too bad yet. For heavier situations, or headlight lamp replacement, contact a mechanic.
First, remove the headlights according to owner manual specifications. Be sure to save all the bits and pieces in a cup or container, because you’ll really be kicking yourself if you lose some of the parts.
Then, clean the headlight interior and exterior with soap and water. Avoid cleaners as they sometimes leave residues that cause reactions to the paint or bulb inside the light.
Then, get that toothbrush out and start scrubbing the toothpaste onto the light. You only need a small amount to start (more is less), and pastes with baking soda come highly recommended.
You’re not done at this step. If you just clean it, the headlight lens will be dirty again in a week or two. You have to reseal the light. When you really clean the light, you’re taking of a protective coating which must be restored. Find the sealant at an auto parts store.
Headlight Restoration Kits for the DIY Fans
Everybody who hangs out in auto parts stores know that headlight restoration kits are on the menu at many major retailers. Learning how to clean your headlights sounds like a fun weekend project, and it may be more fruitful than the toothpaste method (if you are good at following directions).
The kit is a pretty easy route to go in some regards. You can buy the kit, use all the parts, follow the instructions, and have a cleaner headlight lamp before you know it.
When choosing a kit, find one that has all the necessary tools included – sandpaper, polish, and a cloth. If you’re going to have to hunt for pieces down the line, you may as well take the car to a professional.
- Take your time. It’s not uncommon to spend more than twenty minutes cleaning a single headlight.
- Use your sense of touch to identify bumps and defects.
- If you are taking sandpaper to the car’s exterior, look out for the paint. Don’t scratch it.
- Follow the directions. If it says to add water, do so. Don’t get creative.
- The coating is where the magic happens. Don’t give up if the cleaning makes it look worse.
- The sealant must dry (up to 24 hours). Don’t do this on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
- The effects only last a couple of years. Be on the lookout for your next cleaning date.
These kits are helpful for the productive DIY types. People who are detailed, organized, and like following exact procedures can see decent results. If you’re a procrastinator or someone who plays video games without going through the tutorial, then this is not the project for you. Call a pro!
The Cost of Replacing Vehicle Headlights
There are no real shortcuts in learning how to clean headlights. Sometimes, it’s better just to replace them. Replacement costs vary from $100 to $400.
Be ware of aftermarket parts – these are the parts that fit the car but aren’t produced by the manufacturer. They can offer cool effects and lower prices, but they aren’t always legal or reliable. They don’t offer 100%, either. They can be fun and affordable, but they’re not perfect.
You could always go the headlight restoration route. Expect a professional to charge towards $200 for the service. It might be cheaper just to replace the lights. It all depends on your needs and the cars’.
Repairing the headlights may not seem worth the cost at all. A lot of people give them a squirt with the hose and call it a day. Other people won’t even do that.
Driving around with dirty headlights is no joke, though. There are plenty of ways it’s costing you. You might be driving around town with only 50% visibility. On some of Chicago’s well-lit highways, for example, you might not even notice the difference.
Head into the country side or the far suburbs, and you’ll be quick to realize that the headlights on your car aren’t doing much to help illuminate the path before you. Not only does this make driving more difficult, especially for people who already find night time driving hard, but also dangerous.
Reduced visibility increases the chance of an accident that could lead to injury or death. Nobody wants to be in the newspaper for causing a wreck just because they refused to get their headlights repaired.
The worst part is that it’s not just night that poses a danger. Adverse weather conditions also make driving hazardous. In Illinois, for example, it is a state law that drivers must illuminate their headlights if they have their windshield wipers on. This covers lighting and visibility for fog, wind, rain, and snow.
The cost of getting the headlights up to snuff might be a few hundred bucks or an afternoon’s worth of elbow grease, but the cost of not doing, when it results in accidents, injuries, or death, is a lot higher.
On a lighter note, your dirty old headlights could be costing you money in other places, too. For example, if you sell a car with dirty and scratched headlights, the buyer will want a discount. You can make them look as good as new and charge more for the vehicle.
Maybe It’s Time to See the Light
Getting to know how to clean your headlights can be a rewarding or frustrating process. It depends on how much time you, how much it costs to do the work, and your tolerance for mundane tasks.
If you’re into this, maybe the DIY route will serve you. If not, call a professional.
If you’re sick and tired of dealing with old car problems altogether, you can send the car to a junkyard. The clean headlights of a new car operate at 100% as soon as you drive off the lot! That sure beats spending all that time and money getting the headlights cleaned.
This is especially true on older cars with other problems. It can be tempting to ignore major problems under the hood (or in the suspension, wheels, and brakes) and instead focus on keeping the car as clean as possible. In short, replacing the headlights doesn’t fix a failing transmission.
Drivers should think of their cars as investments.
Is the vehicle making you money (gets you to work, pays the bills via rideshare, etc.) or is it costing you money (breakdowns, repairs, parts)? If it’s costing you too much, it might be time to worry less about that instead of how to clean its headlights.