Headlight restoration DIY - Toyota Nation Forum : Toyota Car and Truck Forums
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post #1 of 5 Old 11-16-2015, 10:25 PM Thread Starter
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Gen1 Headlight restoration DIY

New to the forums and mostly found headlight replacement threads instead of restoration, so decided to give it a go myself. I had condensation on my driver-side light, and so restoration meant opening up the light too.

**Warning up front: persistence is required for this job.**

- Raven Nitrile industrial-grade disposable gloves (essential)
- Basic mechanic toolkit (3/8 ratchet set, crescent wrench, extensions)
- Long, very long screwdriver
- Paint scraper multi-tool (very handy for many projects)
- 3M or other restorative headlight kit (preferably manual kits for better sanding control)
- Heat gun (helps remove extra gunk, melts the OEM sealant well)
- A place to spread out tools, and some cardboard to wipe off plastic gunk on. Second piece of cardboard as a workbench recommended.

Note: consult a $25 Haynes manual for a detailed breakdown of how to proceed. Other guides exist in the forums for bumper removal and splash guard removal.

The basic steps taken:
  1. Open up the hood and remove the 4 plastic clips holding the grill on top.
  2. Gently unsnap the clips that hold the grill into the headlight housing on either side, from behind the headlight area. These can be tough, but be patient. Messing up this step could snap the headlight housing.
  3. Once loosened, the grill still has some clips along the bottom that need to be gently pressed down and wiggled free. Start with one side and unsnap it, then work the other side.
  4. Once the grill is popped off, take off the mini splash guards on the wheel wells with a 10mm socket and ratchet. Remove the bottom bolts too that hold on the lower splash guard for the engine (if not ripped off by your local mechanic).
  5. After the bottom-side bolts are off, in the wheel wells, all hardware on the front half of the wheel should be removed, allowing accessing to screws that keep the bumper held on on either side.
  6. Next remove these bumper bolts from both sides, and the bracket screw in the front of the bumper.
  7. Disconnect the fog lights if equipped and remove the bumper, set somewhere soft
  8. Headlight removal is pretty straightforward after this - two screws later, a little wiggling, and discconecting a few lightbulbs is all.

Once the headlight is out, the fun began. Toyota used some terribly awful plastic-based sealant that rivals the annoyance of black silicone in removal. Since it is plastic based, rubbing alcohol doesn't eat away at it like silicone, so much caution is needed here! Any of this gunk on the headlight and game over.

To separate the headlight
200 degrees in the oven, 5 minutes at a time. Remove all metal (the screws used in the housing for instance) except for the adjuster. After a few go-arounds, using my scrape tool as a wedge between the housing and lens, it finally came apart. I used $10 rubber butyl stripping to reseal the light and I recommend it absolutely To reseal, I laid in a strip of the stuff on top of remaining plastic OEM junk and fused the two with my heat gun, then repeated the oven process to soften the butyl and used the lens screws to pull in the lens to the housing. The rubber butyl is much thicker so be careful how much you use, though tool little is more detrimental. The material is soft enough when heated to press the light cover in by hand a bit, then secure with the lens screws the rest of the way.

Best tip for headlight clarity: spend the most time on 1000 grit with water, and 3000 grit with water, for the best results. Hand sand in a systematic way. Remember to re-apply the protector every few car washes.

Pics throughout the process:

Before (don't mind the dent - hit and run, fixed now)

Headlights on the operating table (left buffed, right unbuffed)

The shiny result (right with polish/wax protector, left without)

Aftermath of scrape-tool destruction

Some reassembly required

Also, just for comparison, I did my girlfriend's Tiburon lights which were horrid. Previous owner used a clear coat to fight off yellowing and the coat eventually peeled. The 3M kit even took care of this issue

Sanded off the yellowing/clearcoat garbage:

One light polished up with the rubbing compound (front), and one without that step complete (back) (huge jump in clarity):

Finished product:

All in all, reduce, reuse, and recycle. Every part swapped and replaced ends up in a junkyard somewhere and your trash may be my next treasure! Cheers and hope this inspires others to play around with their options when repairing or modifying the stock lights.

2003 Highlander FWD Limited

Last edited by darkpanzer; 11-16-2015 at 10:29 PM.
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post #2 of 5 Old 11-24-2015, 07:59 PM
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Nice write up! I've done a few myself and love that same 3M kit. I just hate how it doesn't come with clear coat. I've had to use spray clear from menards. Makes it last way longer then not using it.

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post #3 of 5 Old 11-26-2015, 10:53 AM
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2003 V6 AWD. I did the restore thing a few times but with limited success. I later found that through Amazon complete Highlander headlights could be purchased for as little as $76 per PAIR. Included is shipping and bulbs! Quite a deal. I bought a set about a year ago and could not be happier. No leaks, good useable light, no-muss, no-fuss. My biggest concern was installing the assemblies. I saw on YouTube some character taking off the full front end of the car to install the lights. Jeez. As it turns out the guy was doing way too much thinking. (Or maybe not enough, hehe) The grille and bumber cover can be "tilted" forward out of the way a few inches by removing two bolts at the ends of the bumber cover and four pins along the top of the grille. The rest is easy pulling/installing the assemblies.
The new headlights show no sign of clouding, but when they do I'll go the Buy-Replace route again....Nice write-up BTW. Haya........

aka Slick from Ada
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post #4 of 5 Old 01-26-2016, 03:26 AM
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Thanks for the detailed write up. I've always wanted to do this on previous vehicles. Maybe I'll do this to the wife's Highlander when we buy one in the next few days

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.

-Thomas A. Edison
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post #5 of 5 Old 01-26-2016, 11:36 AM
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Its the UV light which destroys the plastic after the protective coating degrades or you grind it off with a restoration kit. Typically the kits coating lasts about 1/10th the time the original industrial coating does, so reapplying is ESSENTIAL.

Some halogens and HID bulbs produce a ton of UV (usually the bluer/purple hues), so your lamps darken and fog up from the INSIDE, where is near impossible to apply the protective coating.

Good headlamps use this type of coating:

whereas some super cheap varieties likely use no coating, and will fog / darken much faster.
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