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August 17, 2011


Headlight Restoration: BMW 520

by Kentangcf

Brief write-up on a recent headlight restoration job. After 6 hours of sanding and machine polishing, looks like new!

A very common sight on many older cars in Malaysia is the yellowing of headlights. We have an equatorial climate here and the heat is at its maximum all year round, this prolonged exposure to heat and UV rays from the sun accelerates the oxidation of plastic headlights. Causing them to yellow, fade, and when looked closely, the plastic is actually cracking.




On the headlights of this BMW 520, it appeared that one of the headlights has been sanded, I guess the technician didn’t know how to follow up properly to restore them. So the sanding marks were left behind, and actually looked worse than parts that were not sanded.


When looked up close, the plastic has what I like to call ‘Micro-Cracks’, from afar they appear to be a yellow film, up close, the plastic is cracking on the surface. When left for too long, the cracks will spread and eventually become deeper, leaving a permanent line on the plastic that even sanding, cannot fully remove.





Most of the time, polishing with a wool/foam pad with a rotating polisher(drill/rotary buffer), can make most lenses clear. Unfortunately, that was not to be in this case.



As seen from the photos above, polishing definitely cleared up the lens, but the results are still not optimal as the micro-cracks are still there and the wool pad is not skimming the surface of the plastic deep enough. Hence, it has to be sanded down.

I expected this job to be done in 3 hours but it took me 6 hours in total. I don’t have any process shots as I was pressed for time and the owner is waiting for me to get it done. I also had to redo some portions as I noticed there was still some micro-cracks after final polishing with the foam pad.

Process as below:

(1) Two to three layers of tape around the headlights. This is because the out-most layer will start to lose its adhesiveness and peel when soapy water touches it during the wet-sanding process.

(2) Hand sanded with 400 grit > 600 grit > 800 grit > 1000 grit > 1200 grit > 1500 grit > 2000 grit.

(3) Machine polished with 4″ Surbuf Pad and Meguiar’s #105 Ultra Cut Compound via rotary @ 1200-1500 RPM

(4) Machine polished with 4″ Lake Country CCS Orange pad and Meguiar’s #105 Ultra Cut Compound via rotary @ 1200-1500 RPM

(5) Machine polished with 4″ Lake Country CCS White pad and Meguiar’s #205 Ultra Finishing Polish via rotary @ 1200-1500 RPM

(6) Wiped down with Isopropyl Alcohol (diluted 1:1)

(7) Surface dried with hairdryer to remove moisture.

(8) GTechniq C1 Crystal Lacquer is used to coat the surface to prevent re-yellowing.

(9) Dried again with hairdryer to accelerate curing.

Results on the edges is still a little compromised but way better compared to before.


On the larger areas, looks perfect from far and even 10 cm away. When looked closely, some gouges in the plastic is still there. I think a more uniform finish can be achieved with machine sanding compared to hand sanding.



Finally, some before and afters.

Without flash:


With flash:


After shots:





Thanks for looking! I promise the next one I restore will come with a How-To write-up. 😀

26 Comments Post a comment
  1. Martin
    Aug 19 2011

    I think you waste too much time doing this headlights, the process was just too long and old fashioned. No coating can last longer than the original factory uv coating to protect the headlights more than 1year. I can do it with 3step only, 1st step – an orbital sander using 320,600 and 1200grit and water. 2nd – step spray uv coating 3rd step – cure with uv lights and tada! finished. 30minutes only. that exclude the prep work time. I can give warranty 1 year but actually it can last 2 – 4 years.

    • Sep 8 2011

      Hi Martin,

      Thanks for your comment. I have read about that method on forums and still have not learned how to do it yet. A quicker method for my traditonal way would be to use mini pneumatic sanders, but those cost a small fortune and also require an air compressor, which I do not have as I do not want the house sounding like a mechanic’s shop to the neighbour, *haha*. Thanks though, will find time to learn your method.

  2. tz.
    Aug 23 2011

    I do heard there is limitations over headlights restoration, we just can’t keep restoring headlights this way as the plastic layer might getting thinner, is that true?

    • Sep 8 2011

      The plastic layer is pretty thick, unlike the paint of our cars, which is as thin as a strand of hair. So I wouldn’t worry too much over the restoration of headlights. Headlights that do not have any special UV sealant or coating can last more than a year. I have restored a set and only applied Meguiar’s PlastX on them (see post: Mercedes E240 headlight restoration), till today, it has not yellowed.

  3. Johann
    Nov 4 2011

    Are you providing this service or is this just a 1 time try at cleaning? Cause i have a e60 530i with headlights that are pretty yellowish and faded. How much do you charge?

    Thanks mate, btw excellent job on the 520i 🙂

    • Dec 6 2011

      Hi Johann,
      I charge RM350 per pair with a 1 year warranty against re-yellowing and fading. Send me an email if you are interested to do it, thanks.

  4. Kim
    Feb 13 2012

    Where can I but isopropyl alcohol? The local hardware shop don’t understand what is this, what I’d the common name for this product?

    • Aug 21 2012

      Hi Kim,

      You cannot purchase Isopropyl Alcohol from hardware shops, try looking for them from laboratory chemical suppliers.

    • invisiblecoatings
      Aug 21 2012

      Hi Kim,

      Do you need a lot of IPA? I have 2.5L in a bottle.
      Send me an e mail if you want it.

  5. Prem
    Feb 22 2012

    We are in the business of Headlamp Restoration. Please call us for service in the Klang Valley. Prem 0172222245.

    thank u

  6. Chew Jun Ze
    Apr 12 2012

    Excuse,do u sell the ointment of headlamp restoration?TQ

  7. Jul 14 2012

    Hi Kenneth,
    Good article in headlight restoration.

    • Aug 21 2012

      Thanks! I’m looking to learn up paint protection films, do you provide training?

      • Aug 21 2012

        Since when you are interested in PPF?
        Yes, I can teach you if you like.

      • Aug 22 2012

        Just want to expand my skills and be able to provide extra services to customers, how can I contact you?

  8. Ibraheem Aljouhi
    Aug 21 2012

    i like the magnifier, is it proscopehr from bodelin? saw paul dalton use those but frankly speaking its too costy.

    • Aug 21 2012

      Hi Ibrahim,

      Thanks for the comment, it’s a camera accessory called a macro extension tube, used with DSLR cameras.

  9. Kenny
    Feb 3 2013

    couldn’t search this post “Mercedes E240 headlight restoration”, mind sharing the link? thanks and its a wonderful article

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  1. My Journey into Headlight Restoration | Wet Shine – Malaysia's Premier Auto Detailing Blog, Reviews, Tests, Details, Articles, Events

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