Headlights: Should they be cleaned, or replaced?

Just like the other components of a vehicle, the headlights can decline in performance due to normal wear and tear. There is more than one option to alleviate the issue of visibility with the headlights, like headlight restoration or complete headlight replacement. Each service should be performed by a trusted auto repair technician who can inspect the headlight unit properly and determine the best possible auto solution to ensure road safety. Compromising your visibility when driving during either the night or inclement weather can cause dangerous occurrences, but properly functioning lights will ensure that isn't you. The question as to whether the best solution is headlight replacement or restoration can depend on the type of issues that the headlights are displaying. It is possible that the headlights can be cleaned and look as good as new or there is the possibility that they must be replaced completely. There are signs that the vehicle may use to communicate that the headlights need attention. 

Signs of bad headlights

Some of the most common headlight issues or failures are usually yellowish headlights, low headlight power, cloudy headlight units, no headlight response, and flickering lights to which each can be tied to one or more underlying issues within the unit or because of normal wear and tear.

Yellow Headlights

A yellowish haze often develops on the headlights after years of exposure to the sun and its UV radiation, flying debris on the road, various road chemicals, and water vapor. 

Low Headlight Power

Due to hitting several bumps and potholes, the headlights can fall out of alignment and need to be adjusted by an auto repair professional. 

No Headlight Power 

No response at all from the headlights may be due to a bulb failure which can be a simple replacement. Oftentimes, the headlights will work in one function and not the other. For instance, if the headlights work with high beams but not low beams or vice versa, this issue usually implies that a bulb or two may need replacement.

Flickering Headlights 

Because the headlights function with the electrical wiring within the vehicle, they are susceptible to failure due to loose or failing wiring connectors. Sometimes, flickering headlights can result from overuse or excessive power being used in the vehicle causing early headlight failure. Whatever the case may be, faulty electrical wiring in the vehicle should be inspected and repaired by a trusted auto technician. 

Should the headlights be cleaned or replaced?

The determining factor in headlight restoration or replacement is simply a different approach to regaining proper visibility in the vehicle. It is never worth sacrificing the safety of the driver and passengers by accepting headlights that grant limited to no visibility. Over time, headlights may accumulate dirt, grime, and discoloration and may only need headlight restoration to bring the lights back to manufacturer standard. Yellowish or cloudy lights are due to the sun's powerful UV rays that can wear away at the top layer of the headlight plastic. Water vapor and dirt can get caught in the unit, trapping light, creating condensation bubbles, and minimizing light power. The oxidization that develops on a vehicle's headlights is inevitable and bound to occur at some point. This oxidization is what causes the yellowish discoloration and cloudiness that develops in the headlight compartment. The major difference between a headlight restoration and a replacement is the fact that cleaning the headlights will only support the lens, whereas a new headlight replaces the entire unit with a brand-new one. A new headlight is needed if the headlights are dim even after cleaning. This makes it clear that there is a more severe issue, like faulty wiring. A blown fuse is another definite sign that the headlight unit needs to be replaced. Constant issues with the fuses in a vehicle could indicate that there is an issue with the electrical system and should be given professional attention to ensure more complex and costly repairs aren't necessary.

Headlight Restoration vs Headlight Replacement

Headlight Replacement Pros: 

  • The oxidation issue is solved immediately
  • The light beam brighter

Headlight Restoration Pros:

  • Restoring the headlights lasts just as long as a complete replacement
  • Not as costly 

The headlights may illuminate less and less over time due to normal use, but when driving through the night or when inclement weather is involved, it is crucial to ensure that complete visibility is possible. Complete visibility ensures that the driver can see hazards on the road, like traffic, animals, or debris that could cause accidents if hit. An auto repair professional with knowledge of auto electrical wiring and bulb replacements should be seen once visibility is compromised. An experienced technician will thoroughly inspect the headlight unit's wiring, bulbs, and other parts to determine the best auto solution possible.