How to fix dim headlights.

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Will Kerr

Have your headlights lost a little of their shine? Hey, it happens to the best of us. In this quick ‘how to’, we’ll look at how you can fix dim headlights and get them back to their brilliant best. 

It’s worth doing – because giving yourself greater visibility is one of the best ways to avoid accidents while driving in the dark

Can I upgrade to brighter bulbs for my car’s headlights?

It’s one thing to get your headlights back to their best – but what if you want to go even brighter than that? Can you upgrade? The short answer is usually ‘no’. In most cases you can’t. 

Both HID (High Intensity Discharge) and LED (Light Emitting Diode) bulbs are a lot brighter than the halogen kind that come with most cars. They’re longer lasting, too. But there’s a catch…

It’s illegal to retrofit those kinds of bulb to your car unless it had them to begin with

If you started with halogen, you have to stay with halogen. Retrofitting a different type of bulb could mean you fail your MOT. If you’d rather pass your MOT (‘course you would), click the link and read our handy guide to acing it. 

Halogen headlights
You can tell these headlights are halogen – it’s written all over them.

Of course, you can replace your bulbs with new ones of the same kind. In fact – as The Highway Code states – you need to if they’re not giving you at least 100m of visibility.  

So with that out of the way…

How do I make my headlights brighter?

Aside from replacing the bulbs, cleaning is a great way to fix dim headlights and get them shining brighter. Here are some options you have to get that done:

Use a headlight restoration kit.

These are likely to be available wherever you get your car maintenance bits and bobs. This will come with instructions, so we won’t go over the exact steps here – but it will involve cleaning the lights, then using an abrasive like sandpaper to get the lens even, smooth and grime free. 

Use sandpaper. 

If you’re the handy kind of person that has different grits of sandpaper to hand (1,000/1,500 and 2,000) and some painters tape or masking tape – you basically have the materials you need to replicate the steps you’d take with a headlight restoration kit. Those are:

  • Clean the lights as usual.
  • Tape them off.
  • Wet them.
  • Sand them using wet sandpaper. Use the lower grit first, then higher. 
  • Polish them off by, well, polishing them off. 

Try toothpaste. 

Wash your car as you usually would. From there, apply toothpaste (it has to be the gritty kind). Keep going until the paste is good and dirty. After that leave to dry, before cleaning off with a cloth and some warm water. 

Make a paste of your own with baking soda.

You can do the same thing as described above, but instead of using toothpaste make a paste of your own by adding baking soda to water. 

To give your mixture a little extra cleaning kick, you can use white vinegar instead of water.

You may not be too surprised to learn that the results you’ll get from toothpaste and baking soda, tend not to be as good or as long lasting as kits or sandpaper when it comes to fixing dim headlights.