Once upon a time, car headlights bore a strong resemblance to their household counterparts. The only major difference between such sealed-beam headlights and household incandescents was that car headlights were heavier and more powerful. Modern halogen and projector-beam headlights provide not only a stronger beam of light, they open up packaging and appearance options for headlight housing shapes and colours. However, those big, chrome housings can make an otherwise comfortably sinister car look all sweet and doe-eyed; it's like putting Rachel Bilson's eyes into Hannibal Lector's face. That's just not right. Fortunately, this condition is easily remedied with a few basic tools and a bit of free time.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Basic Hand tools
- Rotary tool with cut-off wheel
- Masking tape
- Masking tape
- Rubbing alcohol
- Lint-free rag
- Plastic-bonding spray paint in satin, gloss or flat black
- Marine adhesive sealant
- Plastic polish
Remove the bulbs from the back of your headlights, then unbolt the headlights from your car and remove them. Fit a cut-off wheel to your rotary tool and set it on high.
Run your cut-off wheel blade around the joint where the clear cover meets the plastic housing. Your goal is to cut the thick flange on the headlight housing and not the thin, plastic rim of the clear lens. You may find it easier to run a shallow score-mark in the joint and then gradually deepen the mark until you've cut through.
Carefully pull the lens free. Fold a piece of 180-grit sandpaper in half and lightly run it around the housing flange and over the lens where you cut it away from the housing. The goal is just to remove any glue residue and smooth the surface.
Note that headlight bulbs sit in the bottom of a sort of tunnel. This is the functional, reflective portion of your headlight and you can't paint it if you want your headlights to continue to work. Projector-beam lights are an exception as they face forward and don't require a reflector.
Stuff some newspaper down into the light tunnel, then carefully run a ring of painter's tape around the top of the tunnel. This masking tape will delineate your reflective tunnel from the portion of the headlight that you're blacking out. If necessary, trim the edges of the tape to leave a perfectly smooth ring. Take your time; mistakes here are going to show.
Scuff the exposed chrome portion of your headlight housing with 500-grit sandpaper. Your goal is just to knock the gloss off. Wipe the sanded area down with rubbing alcohol and a lint-free rag. Clean the area thoroughly or your paint won't stick.
Apply some painters tape to the rim of your housing where it will glue to the lens to keep paint off of the mounting surface. Hold your can of spray paint about 8 inches from the housing and sweep back and forth to apply a light, "dry" coat of paint to the housing. You don't want to cover it completely; apply the paint in stages, with five or six light coats applied according to the can directions.
Allow the housing to dry while you paint the other headlight. Once you have that one cut, masked, sanded and painted, go back to your first housing and carefully remove the masking tape. Use plastic polish to thoroughly clear the lens before you put it back on. You're not going to get another chance to polish the inside of your lens, so now is the time.
Run a very thin bead of marine adhesive around the edge of your housing flange. A little will go a long way here, and you don't want to risk having the adhesive squeeze onto your black paint. Press the lens firmly into place and place the housing onto your work-desk with the lens facing down. Give the glue a full hour to dry while you repeat this procedure with the other housing.
Put some marine adhesive on your finger and push it into the cut joint to fully seal the housing. This part of your install is vital, since an air leak here will allow moisture to get into the housing and condense on the inside of your lens.
Reinstall the headlight and realign it according to your manufacturer's prescribed procedure. Stand back, enjoy your work and make up all kinds of lies about where you got your awesome blacked-out headlights.
Tips and warnings
- If you want to hide the glue line around your lens, you can just hit it with a light mist of black spray paint. A little bit of vinyl pinstriping and some masking tape will leave a clean cutline of black around the edge of your lens. The key concept here is to use a very light mist, just enough to obscure the white plastic housing and glue. Excess paint will build up and leave a very noticeable line on your polished headlight lens.
- If you've got projector beam headlights -- whether stock or converted from halogens -- then don't bother taping and masking the light tunnel. Just paint the whole housing black.
- Do not over heat the headlight
- Be very careful and patient
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