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How to clean car headlights

Practical Motoring logo Practical Motoring 11-05-2017 Robert Pepper

Bright headlights are good for safety and essential for a roadworthy certificate... Here's how to clean car headlights.

MY NEW PROJECT CAR is a second-hand 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara and, like any seven-year-old car there are a few things that need sorting out. The car was purchased interstate; I'm in Victoria, and the retailer was a car dealership in South Australia. That complicated the sale a bit, but it didn't change the basic need to pass a Victorian roadworthy.

A roadworthy check is all about safety - it's not an assessment of car value, and it's possible for a terrible car to be roadworthy. For example, the interior could be tatty, non-essentials like cruise control not work, or the engine could be up for a major repair. That's where you need a pre-purchase inspection to make sure all's well before you buy. An inspection is very important when you buy privately, but less so when you buy from a dealer as there are laws in place to ensure your vehicle is safe, roadworthy and warranted for a short period of time after you complete the deal.

Still, there's quite a number of things a roadworthy inspection will pick up; brakes, seatbelts, fluid leaks, state of the tyres and headlight condition. In the case of our Grand Vitara, the headlights were foggy, so we got them professionally cleaned by our go-to expert on car body care, Darren Hosking of The Detailing Pros.

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We asked Darren to do just half a headlight so we could compare. Below is the result, and that was even before the final touches at the end:

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As you can see, quite a difference. The car would have failed its roadworthy because of the state of the headlights - so, yes, that begs the question, why was it sold in that condition? - but even if it wasn't a roadworthy problem it's always a bonus to see clearly where you're going.

Below is some of the grime that came off the lens during cleaning...

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You can, of course, do the job yourself if you have the skills and tools, but you'll need to be careful not to scratch the lens covers and replace the clearcoat. Our job cost $25 per headlight but the car only had a polish - more damaged or dirty headlights may require a sanding followed by a polish and recoating of the lenses which would be around $150. There's a lot that goes into a professional cleaning job, and it can turn into more of a restoration than a cleaning.

Many people like to upgrade headlight globes or add driving lights. Both make a significant difference to lighting, but a good cleaning is cheap and easy... might be all you need.

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