If your motorhome is more than a few years old or is constantly exposed to strong sunlight, chances are good that your plastic headlight lenses have suffered from UV damage. First, it starts with a slight haze, and then as the exposure continues they eventually turn yellow. Plastic lenses have been used on automobiles and motorhomes for years and they offer many advantages, such as shatter resistance and lighter weight. But UV damage is one of the weaknesses.
Not only does it make your motorhome look older, it is also a safety issue. As the lens gets cloudy the light output is dramatically reduced. This makes it more difficult for you to see where you are going, and for other motorists to see you.
The good news is that this problem can be easily repaired. If you are not inclined to do the work yourself, many motorhome dealers and automotive repair shops offer headlight restoration. The prices we have seen range from $50 to as high as $129.99. These repair prices are still a huge savings over a complete headlight replacement.
If you have the time and are willing to do the work yourself, this is a pretty simple DIY project. The repair is not permanent, so plan on doing this every couple of years depending on where your coach is parked. The more sun it is exposed to, the sooner the damage will return.
If you decide to tackle the project yourself, all you need are a few basic tools and a headlight restoration kit. In order to restore our headlights we selected the 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System (www.3m.com). There are other systems on the market, but at $24.99 from AutoZone this one proved to be economical and complete.
In addition to the kit you will need a drill capable of 1,200 to 2,000 rpm, masking tape, a spray bottle filled with water and a microfiber or tack cloth. In order to do our restoration we went to Camping World in Chattanooga, Tenn. Joshua Laney was the technician who performed the work but rather than using the professional kit commonly used at this location, he cooperated with our article research and used the DIY 3M polishing kit that we supplied. We intentionally selected Laney to do this project because he was not specifically trained on headlight restoration. We felt that it would have been unfair and not representative of typical results to use someone with extensive training in the process.
In order to get started the first thing you need to do is clean the headlights thoroughly with soap and water so they are free from dirt, bugs and other debris. If you follow our steps you can expect to be finished in about 30 to 60 minutes.
Tape the area around the lens to prevent damage to the surrounding paint. The following operations involved a rotating drill head and sanding disks. We suggest that you double- or triple-tape the area closest to the edge of the headlights.
Mount the sanding pad in the drill and install the P500 (gold) sanding disk. It attaches using a pressure-sensitive backing that makes installation and removal quick and simple. Using light to medium pressure, place the sanding disk flat against the headlight lens and move it back and forth. Expect to do this four to six times, fully covering the lens. It is important to keep the pad moving to avoid excessive heat. Since the lens is plastic, sanding in one area can lead to melting of the lens. Keep sanding until the entire lens is white and frosted. If the pad clogs up and stops sanding, replace the disk with another one; several are included in the kit. Wipe the lens with a tack cloth and inspect. If the lens is not equally sanded or if you see areas that need additional work, repeat this operation.
Remove the P500 disk and install the P800 (white) disk. Sand the entire surface again with the disk flat against the lens. This step is basically removing the coarse scratches from the earlier operation. Continue sanding until all coarse scratches are gone. It’s important to do a good job on this step to make the next steps easier. Take your time and go back and forth over the entire area six to eight times or more if needed. As always, keep the pad moving to prevent excessive heat. Wipe the lens and inspect before continuing.
Remove the P800 pad and install the P3000 gray-colored foam disc. Wet the lens and the pad completely with water. Begin sanding and move the pad back and forth across the lens. White slurry should begin forming soon. Continue to sand the lens four to six more times and make sure the surface stays wet. The lens should start becoming significantly clearer as you polish. Keep polishing until all the fine scratches from the P800 disk are completely gone. After you are satisfied with the lens’ clarity, wipe it with a tack cloth.
Install the orange foam polishing pad and place a dime-size drop of polishing cream on the pad. Before turning on the drill, rub the pad all over the lens to spread the polish. This prevents the polish from slinging off as you run the drill. Run the polishing foam back and forth across the lens until the clarity improves. If needed, repeat the process with another dime-size drop of cream. Using a clean microfiber towel, wipe the lens. It should now be scratch-free and optically clear. If you see mistakes or areas you missed, go back to one of the previous steps and redo the process. Just remember, if you start with Step Two, you will have to do Steps Three to Five again.
If your lenses were heavily oxidized and damaged, they may not return to 100 percent new condition, but they will be dramatically improved. In the case of our test coach, we discovered the lenses also contained numerous micro cracks that can’t be repaired, but, as you see in the before and after photos, the difference is quite noticeable. When driving at night, it will be easier for you to see the road and for others to see you. It is also a nice visual upgrade for your coach to keep it from showing its age too quickly.