Q: Regarding my 2000 Acura model TL, I've been told my front light shields need cleaning. I am wondering what you would recommend for improving nighttime safety. I could clean them myself, but I was told that is hard work and I'm in my 80s. The car-wash does cleaning at $89. I am hoping there is an easier/lower cost solution. Do you know if there is one?
A: It sounds like your composite headlight housings have deteriorated so that the light is somewhat obscured. The outer lens is integrated into the lamp housing and is constructed of a polycarbonate plastic, which deteriorates over time due to UV light and other environmental conditions.
According to a study by AAA, cloudy lenses can reduce the light output by quite a bit more than most might think, so this is good to do, especially with mature night vision! In a typical case, polishing the lenses is usually quite productive, although the results may last for perhaps a year or two before treatment is again needed. You have four options: a home remedy, an over the counter lens restoration kit, professional restoration or replacing the housing.
Spending 10 minutes employing some toothpaste and an old/wet kitchen sponge may improve the cloudiness by perhaps 25%. Further work wet-sanding with very fine grit sandpaper (600 grit, then 2000 grit, then finish some polishing compound) will likely bring the level of improvement much higher.
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Buying a restoration kit at an auto parts store or online and employing similar elbow grease is another option, and following the instructions may provide reassurance of a proper procedure. Highly rated kits are Turtle Wax T-240KT (inexpensive bang for the buck) and Meguiar's G2000 (pricey, better results), among others. Mother's PowerPlastic4lights 8808 is a $10 polish and protectant that might be employed instead of the toothpaste or as an occasional touchup/maintenance strategy. Perhaps there's a neighbor kid with oodles of energy?
Professional polishing may be your best bet, as the results will likely exceed the considerable effort needed to bring your lamp housings up to a high level of clarity. Spending $40-45 per lamp isn't that bad to get the best possible results.
Replacement of the lamp housings is also an option if they're in really bad shape, but this can be quite expensive. They run about $250 each (original equipment) or about $75 each for aftermarket parts, with around two hours labor needed for replacement plus another half hour for aiming. As nice as the aftermarket cheapo housings can look, they are fairly notorious for poor beam alignment.
If it were me, I would attempt a little home treatment (with, say, Mothers polish) and see how that goes. If you don't get the results that you hoped for, the car wash folks are the next thing to try.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif. Readers may send him email at email@example.com; he cannot make personal replies.