Shedding some light on headlamp restoration
Government vehicles with polycarbonate headlight lenses clouded from oxidation can be dangerous — especially those used by emergency responders. During night hours or inclement weather a clouded lens produces less than half the amount of light as a new or restored lens, said Phil Nungesser III, owner of Atlanta-based Aardvark Windshield Repair and Headlight Restoration.
Cloudy headlights are the equivalent of “shining a flashlight through a paper bag,” says Bruce Altman, owner of Albuquerque, N.M.-based ABC Automotive Services. “Cloudy, hazy headlights reduce night driving visibility by an average of 70 percent by reflecting the light back inside the lenses,” Altman says.
The same is true for police cruiser light bars and daylight driving, as well. Officer Richard Eaves of the Smithville, Texas, Police Department told Govpro.com: “Ours is a very small police force with a very limited budget. Our emergency lights on some of our vehicles are badly oxidized and hard to see — especially during the daylight hours.”
After using one of the widely available restoration kits, Eaves said he feels safer because “motorists can now see when my emergency lights are on.”
He said he regularly check his cruiser’s headlights and light bar as part of a periodic maintenance program. “I recommend that other departments do a headlamp and light bar inspection as part of their routine maintenance schedule for patrol vehicles,” Eaves told Govpro.com. Smithville (population 4,540) has 12 patrol cars.
Headlight restoration is the process of removing oxidation and re-applying a protective UV coating. Restoring headlights to their original clarity not only improves vehicles’ appearance, but, more importantly, provides safety to vehicle occupants and oncoming motorists by restoring the lamps’ ability to project light properly.
Emergency responders, fire trucks, ambulances, public works trucks all can benefit from headlamp restoration, said W. Bernard Cook, general manager of Atlanta-based A Plus Windshield Repair and Headlight Restoration. “Not only is it a huge boost in safety for the operators of those vehicles, it’s also a help to oncoming traffic, because that traffic is able to see the public vehicles more effectively,” said Cook, who has been restoring headlamps for 10 years.
Cook said public fleet headlamps often cloud up quickly because government fleets are in constant use. The roads those vehicles travel are often rural with no streetlights — another reason headlamps need frequent monitoring for deterioration.
In Albuquerque, N.M., ABC Automotive Services is restoring old Ford and Dodge headlight assemblies for the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT). “This has and will continue to be a huge savings for the state’s vehicle maintenance budgets and allows the state to keep older vehicles running longer and safer with less liability, said Bruce Altman.
The company’s process strips off the deteriorated factory coating that is sprayed on to protect the polycarbonate from UV damage and then re-coats the lenses with a new UV hard coat. Altman adds that they keep the lens on the vehicle during the process, avoiding additional labor expense.
Altman’s crew also strips and re-coats the NMDOT fleet’s older emergency light bar covers. “This saves the fleet from having to replace the units and the lumen output is restored back to specs. Most new full-size light bars are selling for well over $1,000 per unit, so we save fleets over 90 percent through restoration,” Altman says.
“We are hoping more government fleets, both local and state, will look closely at these cost-saving alternatives that will save taxpayer dollars and restore safety to government vehicle fleets.”
Budget-conscious agencies may want to consider restoration as a first step before replacing deteriorated headlamps. Dealer replacement lenses can cost as much as $600 for a set of headlights, which may or may not include installation fees. Restoring and renewing a set of headlamps in an auto service center, on the other hand, may run $100 and take about 15 minutes to complete, says Chris Watts Sr., who is with Ringgold, Ga.-based Headlight Renew Doctor.com. Restoration also means fewer discarded headlamps winding up in landfills.
Do-it-yourself kits from Janvil, LightRite, Mothers, Permatex, Sylvania, 3M, Turtle Wax and other manufacturers also are available.