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Headlight Refurbishment

September 15, 2017 - General
Headlight Refurbishment

The headlights on the 911 were starting to show slightly yellow, signs of UV damage. They were clear when I bought the car back in July 2016, but over the last couple of months had started to deteriorate. They weren’t that bad, but but the discoloration had started to detract from the overall look of the car. Time to take action.

Having done some research, and being into detailing, I put together a kit from various online sources as follows:

Additionally you need a rotary polishing machine and backing plate to use for the machine polishing stage after wet sanding (an electric drill can be used with the correct adapter but my preference is the rotary polisher), a spray bottle for clean water for wet sanding and possibly masking tape. Additional items: Isopropyl Alcohol or panel wipe, Glass Cleaner (I like Meguiars Perfect Clarity Glass Cleaner) and plenty of clean microfibre cloths.

Chemical Guys EU offer a lovely sanding block with sticky backed cut to size wet and dry paper, but they are a little costly. Perhaps next time, or if I start to do this on a more regular basis for others.

Regarding polishing; It is likely that a Dual Action polisher will not give the best results due to the way it operates and you will get much better results from a rotary polisher as it has more cutting ability. My advice is to stay away from a DA for this particular process.

It is not a cheap job to carry out, but then the 911 is not a cheap car and in the end it is worthwhile. For many people without the correct tool kit, you may decide it is less expensive to have the job carried out by a professional.

There are many other options of polish around that could be used. I have used the products listed above which I know work well.

Specific plastic polishes such as Meguiars PlastX are available. Personally I would steer clear of this product for this type of job. The product claims: “This easy-to-use, rich gel formula quickly restores optical clarity to both rigid and flexible clear plastics. Cutting-edge advancements in Meguiar’s® exclusive Microscopic Diminishing Abrasive™ Technology (MDAT) remove light oxidation, chemical degradation, surface contamination, stains and light surface scratches with ease.” I gave it a brief go by hand on one light unit (I already had some in my detailing armoury), but it did not give any noticeable improvement at all. The product is clearly not as aggressive as the method I used. To be fair I did not try it using a rotary polisher; this may well give better results but unfortunately I found it unsuitable on this occasion.

As a guide this procedure will probably take around 1.5-2 hours per light, depending on experience.

Disclaimer: Any work you undertake on your own vehicle is done entirely at your own risk. Always follow correct safety precautions. If in any doubt, seek professional help and advice. Also if you are in any way unsure practice on an old secondhand headlight bought from a scrap yard or ebay before letting rip on your 996 £1000 headlight units! E&OE

This is what the lights looked like prior to starting:

They are not as badly discolored as some headlights I have seen, but the amount of degradation does become evident when when you see a before and after side by side, making the whole process very much worthwhile.

Before (Right) and After (Left)

Before (Right) and After (Left)

Right so that is the surprise ruined about what the end result looks like! Now on to the actual process.

Due to how easy it is to remove 996 headlights, my preference was to remove them to carry out the work. If you choose to carry out this work with the headlights in situ, then ALWAYS mask out the surrounding areas to prevent damage during wet sanding and polishing. So wing edge, bonnet edge and bumper.

If working inside place some old towels down on the work surface. (A) to protect the light/work surface, (B) it stops the unit moving around, (C) to soak up the water. (You will see from the images later).

First clean down the headlight with some glass cleaner, to remove any surface dirt.

Right Hand Light Before

Right Hand Light Before

Starting with the 2500 grit paper cut to size and wrapped around the sanding block, thoroughly wet the headlight surface and the paper and sand the surface of the headlight in straight lines across the lens from left to right. Keep the paper tight across the sanding block and keep the area well lubricated. If the paper drags spray on more water.

You will generate a milky white residue, which is the top layer being removed. Carry on wet sanding until this is removed. The residue will become less as the contamination is removed. Check the surface regularly by wiping it down. It will go hazy and look scratched…. do not worry, you haven’t ruined an expensive headlight just yet!

Headlight During

Headlight During

If you have any deeper stone chips evident, then using 1200 grit paper sand these out, but spot sand these where possible, then go back over the area with the 2500 paper.

You can see from this picture in the centre where a stone chip has been sanded out, where it is more scratched.

Headlight During

Headlight During

Once you have completed the wet sanding stage with 2500 paper, switch to 3000 or 3500 and repeat the process as before but this time you are refining the surface prior to machine polishing just to reduce the hazing. Again check the surface regularly.

I had no 3500 paper so I used 3000 grit and then followed it with 5000 grit. The choice is yours. Once the wet sanding stage has been completed, wipe down the surface with a microfibre cloth. It should look slightly dull but not as bad as when you first started wet sanding. Don’t forget check the surface regularly.

The next stage is to carry out the machine polishing of the lights.

Set up your rotary polished with a suitable backing plate and use the 4″ orange pad. Mist the pad with some water and add 4 or 5 blobs of CG V32 polish onto the pad. Dab the pad across the light surface to distribute the polish and then switch on the polisher to 1000-1100 rpm and pass across the light unit to spread the polish evenly, then increase the polishing speed to 1300-1600 rpm and make about 4 even passes across the surface (using only the weight of the polisher – additional pressure is not required) until the white polish becomes all but clear, then increase the polishing speed to 1500-1800rpm and make a further 1 to 2 passes to finish off.

Wipe down with a microfibre cloth and inspect, repeat as required probably 2 or 3 more times to refine the surface. Use your own judgement here, you will see the results.

The surface will now start to look pretty good, but the next step will improve things still further.

Switch to the white polishing pad and the CG V36 polish. Follow the steps above as per the orange pad and V32 polish to get final finished results.

Finally apply the sealant of your choice as per the manufacturers’ instructions and enjoy. My choice was the Optimum Opti-Lens Advanced UV Protective Headlight Coating. Once fully cured they also received a coat of FinishKare 1000P paste sealant. Follow the instructions for the sealant you are using. Some sealants will require re-application on a regular basis to keep up their protection. For future cleaning, wash using bodywork shampoo and warm water.

Your headlight will look something like this once finished:

Headlight Restored

Headlight Restored

Here is a comparison of the front end headlights after one headlight had been refurbished:

Headlight Comparison

Headlight Comparison

The restored headlight really do lift the whole look of the front end:

Finished Result

Finished Result

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