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E39 (1997 - 2003)
The BMW 5-Series (E39 chassis) was introduced in the United States as a 1997 model year car and lasted until the 2004 when the E60 chassis was released. The United States saw several variations including the 525i, 528i, 530i and 540i. -- View the E39 Wiki

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  #1  
Old 07-31-2008, 09:13 PM
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gonzilla gonzilla is offline
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Headlight polishing DIY... (yeah, another one, 56K beware!)

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 07-31-2008, 09:21 PM
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very nice!!
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  #3  
Old 07-31-2008, 10:42 PM
Fiziks Fiziks is offline
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AWESOME writeup.
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  #4  
Old 07-31-2008, 11:01 PM
SlideJdm SlideJdm is offline
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how much did it cost you?
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  #5  
Old 07-31-2008, 11:29 PM
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i LOVE the last pic. nice job.
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  #6  
Old 07-31-2008, 11:39 PM
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Very nice write up indeed.
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  #7  
Old 07-31-2008, 11:44 PM
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Amazing results! Good job bro. I tried polishing my headlights, but it didn't come out this nice. Back to the drawing board for me.
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  #8  
Old 07-31-2008, 11:44 PM
freethrowdunk freethrowdunk is offline
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wow man it looks awesome. I have some scratches on mine. I'll look into doing this in the near future. Thanks
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  #9  
Old 08-01-2008, 04:24 AM
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SHWELL SHWELL is offline
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This might be the best write up for this I have seen. Very good work.


*This can be done without aPC (Porter Cable), but it will take alot more work and time to get these results.
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  #10  
Old 08-01-2008, 04:33 AM
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Originally Posted by SHWELL View Post
This might be the best write up for this I have seen. Very good work.

+1, great job and writeup. Much appreciated!
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  #11  
Old 08-01-2008, 05:09 AM
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SailinSand SailinSand is offline
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Wow, love the pictures and as everyone else said the write up was great!

Good job- looks fantastic! I need to do that to my husbands headlights...looks like too much work though. ...too bad you're not in FL I'd talk you into doing his!
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  #12  
Old 08-01-2008, 06:13 AM
shabbaman shabbaman is offline
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Awesome job! The headlights look brand new, maybe even better than brand new. Just one question about the plastix, though. Why did you put it on after using the polishing buffer? I would think the plastix would be more abrasive than the finishing pad.
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  #13  
Old 08-01-2008, 06:18 AM
andyffer andyffer is offline
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great write up! I need to do this on our e90.
Could someone point me in the direction of how to open the plastic cover off the headlight? I need to get a mosquito out.
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  #14  
Old 08-01-2008, 06:31 AM
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Great write-up. I polished mine before just playing around, but now I want to get down and dirty like you did. I need one of those buffer's your using though. Those look brand new. Good job!
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  #15  
Old 08-01-2008, 09:26 AM
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gonzilla gonzilla is offline
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Thanks for all the compliments, guys. Hopefully this will help at least one person clean up their headlights!

Quote:
Originally Posted by SlideJdm View Post
how much did it cost you?
Well, I had most of it lying around, but I bought a new sanding block ($6), some sand paper ($12) and that "PlasiX" stuff ($5), so it cost me roughly $23.

Aerospace protectant runs around $20, optimum compound and polish are $17/ea, PC orbital is around $130, the pads are about $10/ea.

Quote:
Originally Posted by E30_325i View Post
i LOVE the last pic. nice job.
Thanks! Had to snap it quick!

Quote:
Originally Posted by SailinSand View Post
I need to do that to my husbands headlights...looks like too much work though. ...too bad you're not in FL I'd talk you into doing his!
I've been waiting for my wife to do mine for a few months, I finally gave up and did it myself!

Quote:
Originally Posted by shabbaman View Post
Just one question about the plastix, though. Why did you put it on after using the polishing buffer? I would think the plastix would be more abrasive than the finishing pad.
I thought so too. I found that it took away some of the hairline scratches though. They must have some magic polymer or something that fills the small scratches in. Probably will only last a month or so, though. Incidentally, in case you didn't know, these headlights are pretty soft, so make sure you use a NICE microfiber towel. I think the polyester threads on the edge of one of my cheapies caused a few scratches on my newly completed lights!

Quote:
Originally Posted by 530ISPORT View Post
Great write-up. I polished mine before just playing around, but now I want to get down and dirty like you did. I need one of those buffer's your using though. Those look brand new. Good job!
Thanks! This is the cheapest place I found the PC 7424 at ($115.50 shipped, no affiliation):
http://www.tools-plus.com/porter-cable-7424.html

It's a really useful tool and saves time detailing for sure. It's also next to impossible to hurt your paint with one of these. So get one and get started! Good luck!!!
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  #16  
Old 08-01-2008, 10:51 AM
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Amazing write-up!

I found this link for the PC kit:
http://www.autogeek.net/hk7424.html

I need to get one, but I hate spending $200 for it.
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Old 08-01-2008, 10:58 AM
dboy11 dboy11 is offline
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Great write up I do this all the time for customers...I need to take mine off so that I can clean on the inside
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  #18  
Old 08-01-2008, 11:36 AM
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Excellent writeup. Like Schwell said, one of the best for this procedure. The lights look so rich and deep at the end. I'm a huge proponent of protecting them with LaminX when finished; although it will cost a lot, it's worth it to refinish your headlights only one time.
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Old 08-01-2008, 11:48 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shabbaman View Post
Awesome job! The headlights look brand new, maybe even better than brand new. Just one question about the plastix, though. Why did you put it on after using the polishing buffer? I would think the plastix would be more abrasive than the finishing pad.


Plastx isa finishing product..... It will not get rid of any heavy marking..... It is not intended for heavy refinishing, it is mainly a prev maint product of sorts..
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  #20  
Old 08-01-2008, 03:06 PM
IkeRay IkeRay is offline
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I see one my favorite new products up there...aerospace 303. got it from ace for $12...can get it from their website for <$10 a bottle and buy by the gallon for $70 (?) which is 8 bottles.

I was also under the impression that plasticx was an abrasive product, not protectant.
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  #21  
Old 08-01-2008, 03:09 PM
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Solidjake Solidjake is offline
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WOW, amazing job. the lights look BRAND NEW. thanks for the write up
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  #22  
Old 08-01-2008, 04:39 PM
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bmw7833 bmw7833 is offline
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Awesome! Salute to your handjob.
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  #23  
Old 08-01-2008, 04:43 PM
xxpanipuri xxpanipuri is offline
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good job on the lights


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  #24  
Old 08-01-2008, 05:27 PM
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Good Job

This is remarkably close to color sanding a final paint job...Looks great...
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  #25  
Old 08-01-2008, 06:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dboy11 View Post
Great write up I do this all the time for customers...I need to take mine off so that I can clean on the inside
i been meaning to tell ya. but if you really are serious about doing this for your customers, 3m now has a complete headlight polishing kit. we were qouted 350 for the kit. it comes with everything you need to do the job right. i've seen it but not have used it. but it's nice. check it for ya self. http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3...cts/Headlight/
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