Tested: Headlight lens cleaning kits that restore shine

Consumer Reports News: January 31, 2012 12:08 PM

As people keep their cars longer, oxidation of commonly used plastic headlight lenses is an increasing problem. Oxidation creates a haze that is not only unsightly, but it can also reduce headlight illumination. This dulling happens over time, and it can be a true creeping danger. Fortunately, there are do-it-yourself products available to restore the shine. We recently tested four headlight cleaners to see how they measure up.

We tried the products on dozens of headlights, and our tests show that even the poorest performer of the bunch can dramatically improve light output, depending on how badly the lenses are weathered. All cost less than $25.

In our test:
3M Headlight Lens Restoration System 29008 ($15)
Fast Brite Auto Headlight Restorer Kit ($17)
Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit ($21)
Turtle Wax Headlight Lens Restorer ($9)

Most kits involve several steps for cleaning, and can take as much as an hour for both lenses. One kit, the 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System, also requires the use of an electric drill and sanding discs—a slip-up could result in scratched paint.

Using cars with clouded headlights belonging to CR staff volunteers, we evaluated products for their effectiveness and ease of use. We measured the change in light transmission with a light meter before and after working on them in one of our labs, using controlled room lighting. Mounted on a stand, the light meter was positioned in the brightest part of the light beam, and left in the same position for the ‘after-cleaning’ measurement. After returning the cars to their owners, we brought them back into the lab eight weeks later to re-check the light transmission and see how the products held up over time.

The results varied, but we found that even the poorest performer in our group can dramatically improve light output on badly weathered lenses. It is clear that you have to do a thorough job, though, for the best results.

Read our full report on headlight cleaners for more details.


Jeff Bartlett

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