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5 Series DIY
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  #1  
Old 08-04-2008, 05:08 PM
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gonzilla gonzilla is offline
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DIY - Headlight polishing

I posted this on the E39 forum, but thought I might as well put it here too.

So, I had the cloudy headlight thing happening on my car. I read a bit on a few boards about how to deal with it. I decided to do the wetsanding thing and try PlastiX on it. Here's what I did and here are my results:

Before:



Tools used:

Starting with the polishing pads, and going clockwise...
1. Yellow cutting pad
2. Orange light cutting pad
3. White polishing pad
4. Water bottle
5. Optimum polish
6. Optimum compound
7. PlastiX
8. Aerospace 303
9. PC orbital
10. Craftsman telescoping magnetic light thingy
11. 3/8" ratchet
12. 6" extension for ratchet
13. 8mm socket
14. 2.5mm flathead screwdriver
14. 3m Assorted wetsand pack (has 200, 400, 800, 1000 grit)
15. 3m 1500 grit wet/dry sand paper
16. 3m 2000 grit wet/dry sand paper
(not pictured is a bucket of water, a 3m sanding block, a small piece of scotchbrite and some microfiber towels)

I decided to go ahead and take the headlights out to do this job. I figured it would be easier than taping everything off and trying to get the sanding block into tough to reach areas. So...

1. Remove the four bolts (the ones with red arrows) holding the headlight housing. Be careful not to drop the bolts at the back. If you do, use your magnetic wand thingy to try and fish them out (I got lucky and was able to find them. This is a view looking down onto the top of the driver side headlight.


2. Once you've removed the bolts, pull the headlight forward a little bit so that you can access the various plugs on the back of the housing. There are a lot. Use your small screwdriver to get some of them unhooked. Sorry no picture, but hopefully it's fairly self-explanatory.

3. Take the rubber "seals" off of the headlight housing. They are probably dirty and dry.

This one you just have to pull up a little bit to get it to come off the clips:




The other one is attached by little plastic "nipples". Carefully maneuver it so you can get it unhooked from the nips without ripping it. Mine seemed glued down a little too, but it could have just been 7 years of sitting on the headlight.


Take those dirty things and wash them. I just used dawn. After that, treat them with Aerospace 303, or whatever your favorite rubber treatment might be. Set those things aside and get ready to sand.

4. Take your sanding block and a small piece of scotchbrite.



You're gonna sandwich the scotchbrite between the block and your coarsest sand paper. For me, it was 400 grit. The scotchbrite just helps the sandpaper curve to the headlights contours a little better than a flat block.



5. Soak that block in a bucket of water for a few minutes. Get your water bottle ready too. Then, using a horizontal back and forth motion, go to work on the headlights. Don't go in circles, and don't go up/down. Spray the surface of the headlight constantly as you are sanding. Also, every make sure to dip the block back in the water bucket so the sand paper doesn't get gobbed up. I ended up using a small bit of force with the 400 grit. The sun damage didn't want to come off right away. Every once in a while, dry the light off and check out your progress. You basically want to see a really even surface, free from defects and as free from lines as possible. I found that the trick is to just use the weight of the block and use long even strokes across the entire surface of the headlight. If you had to previously use a bit of force, just make sure that you do a decent pass letting the weight of the block be the only force on the headlight. All in all, this pass took me about 20 minutes for 1 light. Here's what it looked like when I was done.



After you are satisfied that the light has a really even haze to it, you can move on.

6. Repeat the above with the next finest sandpaper. For me, 800 grit. The goal here is to remove any deep scratches that you might have made with the 400 grit. You're gonna keep going from side-to-side (actually you will go side-to-side for the rest of the steps involving sandpaper). I can't stress enough that the more time you spend on the sanding steps, the better your results will be. It's boring, but you'll be glad you did when it's all over. Here's after the 800 grit.



7. Repeat again and again and again... I used 1000, 1500, then 2000 grit.

after 1000 grit


after 1500 grit


after 2000 grit


8. After you have a hazy smooth finish on your headlights, you wanna polish the crap out of them. I used a Porter Cable orbital. First step was the yellow cutting pad and Optimum compound. Squirt a bit of the compound onto the pad and spread it around the headlight. I set the polisher at around 5 and worked about 1/3 of the headlight at a time. Afterwards, use a microfiber towel to clean off the compound. I took about 5 minutes for each pass with the buffer. Here's after the first pass with the yellow cutting pad/compound:



Following the same steps above, move on to a lighter pad. Here it is after the second pass with the orange light cutting pad/optimum compound:



Again, following the same steps above, move on to a lighter pad and a polish. Here it is after the third pass with the white polishing pad/optimum polish:



9. Put the PC away and sit down and relax for a second. You're almost done.

10. Using a microfiber towel or some sort of applicator, apply PlastiX to the headlight in a back/forth, side to side motion. I applied it to about 1/4 of the headlight at a time. It's fairly straightforward, just like waxing your car. Sorry no pic.

11. Put the rubber seals back on the headlight, plug everything back in and reinstall the housing. No pic, but c'mon, it ain't that hard!

12. Tada! You're done! Congratulations and hopefully you can see a lot better at night now. If I had to do it again, I would still take the headlights out of the car. It's just so much easier to see what your doing. I would also spend more time on the sanding process. I spent a decent amount, but I think I could have done better. Don't be shy when buying the sandpaper either, it goes fast. I think I may end up getting those Lamin-X things so I don't have to do this again for a while. But until then, here's what mine ended up looking like:


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  #2  
Old 08-06-2008, 05:58 PM
///M5ish ///M5ish is offline
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Outstanding write up!! I've been meaning to do this, but didn't really know where to start. Excellent job, car looks great!
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  #3  
Old 08-08-2008, 12:13 PM
jettech jettech is offline
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Thumbs up

WOW! Those look brand new! Very good job. Enjoyed reading the article. You're a better teacher than some teachers I've actually had. Looks great. my turn!
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  #4  
Old 08-13-2008, 09:34 AM
Hudson Hudson is offline
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Very thorough!

An excellent post! You provided more detail and guidance than anything I've seen before. It would be nice if the product suppliers would be so thorough.
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  #5  
Old 08-21-2008, 04:14 PM
jtrane25 jtrane25 is offline
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Nice!!!

I did this to mine and didn't put in nearly as much effort. Needless to say your result is much better than mine. I think I might owe it to myself to redo them :^)
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  #6  
Old 08-23-2008, 05:46 PM
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tn528 tn528 is offline
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Thanks for your post. The pics were great encouragement. I had done this once with the headlights in place - results were decent. More importantly it was a great big pain in the butt.

I saw your pics and was inspired to take them out this time and try to get your results. It was much easier to take out the lights than I had thought (or I would have done that last time). Got one headlight done in about 2 hours this evening. Some work and time, but not at all bad and well worth it. It looks fantastic. I have a 1999 528 whose headlight now looks new. Never thought it could look that good after so many miles/wear. The other headlight and my dirty car are now put to shame. Will be doing the other headlight and washing the car tomorrow for sure.

Thanks again for the detailed write up and pics. One more reason I love this forum.
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  #7  
Old 09-07-2008, 08:49 PM
gaspoweredteeth gaspoweredteeth is offline
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WOW! They look brand new. I'm gonna have to give that a shot!
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  #8  
Old 12-17-2008, 08:49 AM
Pimpy1 Pimpy1 is offline
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Great job and thanks for the info.
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  #9  
Old 12-25-2008, 06:07 PM
Shark Eazie Shark Eazie is offline
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Great post. I joined this forum just for this purpose, education! The dealer quoted me $400 to get my Z4's to look like that. I decided to do some research before I made that move. GREAT DECISION. Thanks guys.

Shark
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  #10  
Old 12-29-2008, 10:25 PM
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gonzilla gonzilla is offline
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Wow! Glad this got moved here!!! Thanks for all the kind words, guys!
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  #11  
Old 03-19-2009, 03:18 AM
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ganesht ganesht is offline
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great write up!

Does anyone know if this same procedure can be used on the hella celis tail lights? or the glass fog lights?
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  #12  
Old 03-23-2009, 07:25 PM
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ganesht ganesht is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ganesht View Post
great write up!

Does anyone know if this same procedure can be used on the hella celis tail lights? or the glass fog lights?
well ive heard that the same procedure can be used for the tails, but im still not sure if you can use it on glass also?
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  #13  
Old 03-21-2009, 03:27 PM
z06bigbird z06bigbird is offline
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I am sort of a non-believer. How long do you expect those lenses to stay clear??? 6 months, 12 mo 15 mo??
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  #14  
Old 03-23-2009, 07:01 PM
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tn528 tn528 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by z06bigbird View Post
I am sort of a non-believer. How long do you expect those lenses to stay clear??? 6 months, 12 mo 15 mo??

Mine still look just as good 6 months later. They were sanded back to consistent plastic so I expect them to wear like they did when new. I assume the quality of the plastic is consistent through the layers. Fingers still crossed. So far so good.
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  #15  
Old 03-28-2009, 09:33 PM
Clevelandesign Clevelandesign is offline
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Thank you! for the instruction and for first trying it yourself. So, I guess that 2maro I will get motivated and purchase these products.
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  #16  
Old 04-03-2009, 03:50 PM
usedbimmer usedbimmer is offline
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Wow. I wish I could make mine look like that. I don't have the sander, materials and patience.
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  #17  
Old 04-10-2009, 08:08 PM
scott0357 scott0357 is offline
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This is an excellent DIY. Easy and fun to do. The whole job only took me 1.5 hrs, including sanding and polishing of both lens. I didn't remove the lens from the car. I put masking tape around the painted areas. I didn't use the sand block either, just sand paper and your hand work great. Now the lights are really bright. I couldn't believe I was driving w/ cloudy lens for the past couple of yrs.
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  #18  
Old 04-19-2009, 11:04 PM
tiger889 tiger889 is offline
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great work. I will give this a try. Hope you are right on what you do.
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  #19  
Old 04-27-2009, 06:31 PM
nishdog007 nishdog007 is offline
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HOLY ****!! ....that looks insane! Great job!
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  #20  
Old 06-03-2009, 09:18 PM
irija irija is offline
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Anyone in the ATL area wanna try the process out with me?
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  #21  
Old 06-13-2009, 04:34 PM
UFANS UFANS is offline
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Is there anything that you have to do with the iDrive computer after you reconnect? The last time the body shop pulled my lights out I had to take it to a dealer to reset the Adaptive Headlights in my 2005 545i
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  #22  
Old 07-07-2009, 05:46 AM
bmw001 bmw001 is offline
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i am utterly speechless. what you have done to those headlights is incredible.. can you come do my headlights too? haha jk... seriously man you did an AMAZING JOB. with both the car and the how- to guide. you should be VERY proud.
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  #23  
Old 08-04-2009, 07:00 AM
drklausmeyer drklausmeyer is offline
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3M makes a kit for this now, really simple - they just have you tape off the area and not remove the entire headlight assembly, which I liked. I would give the product an 8 of 10. On Amazon for $12 http://www.amazon.com/3M-39008-Headl.../dp/B001AIZ5HY
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  #24  
Old 08-23-2009, 10:27 AM
UFANS UFANS is offline
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I've read a lot of these posts over the past month and just did my headlights this weekend. I have to say that this is the best thread on the subject.

Here are a couple of lessons learned from my experience:
- Like the post did ... start with 400 grit paper. If you have a lot of grit-looking then you need to start aggressive (don't worry.. there's plenty of plastic left)
- The sandpaper is great, but definitely use a (rubbing) compound. The paper will always leave cut marks and the compound on a DA will smooth out everything
- After the compound.. .use a ScratchX type polishing compound to get the smoothness and get rid of any swirls for fine marks
- Don't forget the sealer!
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  #25  
Old 10-05-2009, 06:24 AM
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This is an excellent post! I attacked my lights this weekend and had results similar to yours. I did the first one on the car and it’s unnecessarily difficult to do it that way. On the second one, I removed the assembly (5 min. max.) and used a Black & Decker Workmate to hold it. It’s a lot easier to work on it that way and you don’t have to worry about the surrounding surfaces.
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