Whether you’re installing a conversion, simply want to clean up, or even offer legitimate protections, there are plenty of reasons to reseal your headlights. Unfortunately, it can be a costly process if you take it to a mechanic. What’s worse, is that the process of resealing your headlights is actually pretty easy to do and doesn’t even require any special tools beyond a few hand tools. That’s why we’ve taken the time to provide you a step by step list of instructions for how to properly reseal your headlights. But first, let’s take a look at the different tools and materials you’ll need and some you just may want.
What You Need
Here’s a list of the items that you absolutely must have in order to successfully reseal your headlights:
- Flathead Screwdriver (Hand Tool Only)
- Phillip’s Head Screwdriver (Hand Tool Prefered)
- Needle Nose Pliers
- Safety Gloves (Mechanics or Baking)
- Safety Goggles
- Standard Baking Over
Pro Tip: Here are a few other items that can make resealing your headlight easier but are not absolutely necessary:
- Lock Ring Pliers or Panel Pliers
- Silicone or Rubber Pad
- Sorting Tray
- Compressed Air Blower
- Goo Gone
- Writing Utensils
Step 1: Unfastening the Headlight
Depending on the make and model of your vehicle, you may not need to concern yourself too much with this step. Basically, some better-made headlights use both plastic, molded tabs as well as screws. It’s the latter that’s not always a given and must be removed before continuing with the rest of the process. In this instance, you’ll want to remove the screws and place them in your sorting tray. These screws will generally require the Phillip’s head screwdriver, though, in some rare instances, there may be a more exotic head required.
Step 2: Softening the Sealant
This step is not exactly necessary, but it will make working significantly easier and minimize the general scuffing and scratching. Moreover, this step all but ensures that you won’t damage the headlight body chassis while prying. Basically, you’ll want to bake the headlight in a conventional baking oven. The best temperature ranges between 230-degrees and 250-degrees Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, the sealant will soften enough to become pliable without becoming too gooey to be worked with cleanly. The temperature will determine the amount of time you need to bake the headlight. At 240-degrees Fahrenheit, you only need to bake the headlight for about 20 minutes at a time.
Pro Tip: Preheating the Oven
You don’t want to put the headlight in the oven while it’s preheating because the burner used to generate the heat gets significantly hotter by proximity than the radiant heat once the oven reaches the desired temperature. If you do place the headlight in the oven while it’s preheating, the burner can often get hot enough to melt, discolor, or otherwise deform the plastic and lenses. Another way to help mitigate this is by putting the rack as far away from the burners as possible–generally at the top or middle depending on the burner arrangement.
Step 3: Prying the Headlight
Once you’ve baked the headlight to the point of loosening the sealant, you can begin to pry open the headlight. If you do not have lock ring pliers, then you will need to use the flathead screwdriver. Keep in mind, lock ring pliers are not especially difficult to find nor especially expensive and make prying the headlight much easier. Not only will you save time, which will prevent having to rebake the headlight to loosen the sealant, but you will also minimize the amount of force needed to pry open the headlight. The less force you have to use, the less damage you will do to the plastic frame of the headlight body
Pro Tip: Start on the Bottom of the Headlight
Because people look at cars from above, you can minimize any potential deforming or scarring from opening up your headlight’s body. While it might seem intuitive to start from the top of the headlight and work around, it is actually better to start from the bottom. This way, the most force you have to use to get that first opening will be under the vehicle once the headlight is reinstalled. It’s also a good idea to start prying the headlight body from a corner as that has greater structural integrity. Also, do not work in a circle, work half way one side, then work the other half from the starting point going the opposite direction.
Pro Tip: Work the Butyl
Once you have separated the two halves of the headlight’s body, take your flathead screwdriver and work it through the groove in which the sealant already sits. You’re going to do this because your new sealant is going sit directly on top of the old sealant. Of course, if you’re restoring an older model vehicle and the sealant is rotted, you may have to remove it altogether. However, a rotted sealant is already very brittle and fairly easy to remove. Once you have the old sealant pressed flat to the base of the groove, you are ready to apply the sealant.
Step 4: Preparing the Sealant
You are going to want to prep your new sealant much in the same way that you prepped the old sealant already in your headlights: by baking it. However, it is important to understand that the new sealant does not need to get as soft as the old sealant did, yet. As such, where you baked the headlight for about 20 minutes, this time you’ll only need to bake the new sealant for around 7 minutes. On top of that, you don’t need to do any other special prep to the sealant. You don’t even need to take it out of the box or separate it from its wax paper divider.
Pro Tip: Work the Sealant
Literally right before you actually apply the sealant, you’re going to want to work with it a bit, pulling on it. This is because the sealant is likely to come in strips, and you will get a much cleaner and stronger seal if you don’t have any breaks in the seal. Well, if you have to use more than one strip, the point where the second strip begins will inherently be a break in the seal. The way to fix this is by pulling on and stretching out the new sealant ahead of time. Just be careful that you do not stretch it too thin, or you will create the same kind of problem you were trying to prevent.
Step 5: Testing the Light
We didn’t cover this earlier because it doesn’t really matter all that much–assuming you follow the other directions properly. Some people take out the bulbs and ballasts and any other components they may have, especially if they have conversion kits. At lower temperatures, you don’t actually have to worry about damage. This is when you will be cleaning the inside of the headlight cover. As such, you will need to reinstall the headlight bulbs if you removed them to make sure that the headlight cover is clean and free from deformation or discoloration.
Step 6: Baking the Sealant
Baking the sealant is going to work pretty much just like with baking the headlight the first time, except this time you have had an opportunity to get into something of a rhythm if you have been following these steps in sequence with each half of the headlight. One thing to keep in mind is that the new sealant will be sitting on top of the old sealant, so if you’re not careful, it can overflow. This is especially true if you bake your headlights at higher temperatures where the sealant will expand and flow more easily.
Pro Tip: The Countdown
Once the new sealant has been baked, you will precious scant time to get it properly seated before it begins to cool and shrink. If you haven’t properly seated the headlight before the sealant begins to cool and shrink, there is no saving that attempt. Instead, you will have to rebake the headlight to once again soften the sealant to a properly workable state. As you can see, making sure that you work at a quick, measured pace is vital to ensure that you don’t have to retread the same territory. You can also press the inside corner of the headlight against a firm surface immediately upon removal from the oven to get a jump start on the process.
Step 7: Clamping the Headlight
The principle remains the same no matter what tools you use for the job, though different people choose different fasteners. Some people will even use rope or paracord to keep the headlight body fastened together, but actual clamps are the best option. This is because the clamps will not only provide a fairly even distribution of force across the body but they are also less likely to damage the headlight. Ropes and paracord can rub against the cover or create sharper pressure points on the plastic.
Pro Tip: Seat the Tabs
Once you have the headlight properly fastened, you want to make sure that the tabs are properly seated. You’ll also eventually need to worry about the screws if your headlight body has them, but the tabs are more important. This is because the sealant will likely overflow once you seat the headlight’s 2 halves–which is okay at this point as opposed as to in the oven. Still, you need to make sure the tabs are seated and cleaned before any overflowed sealant cools too much. That said, this actually begins the process of the next step.
Step 8: Removing Excess Sealant
This step is technically part of the cleanup but is vital to a proper seal. Using the process we have outlined, you should expect sealant to overflow from the side of the headlight body as you seat it. Once that overflow has cooled to a point where it is no longer gooey, you’ll want to begin cleaning it off the headlight body. If you start cleaning the excess off too soon, you’ll just make a mess that you’ll still have to clean off after it cools. The easiest way to clean the excess sealant is with goo gone, though there are other methods as well. Still, even goo gone works best when the sealant is cooled a bit.
Pro Tip: Sealant Ball
For people who are regularly resealing their headlight–whether due to conversion kits or whatnot–goo gone is a time-consuming and costly expense. Thankfully, pretty much every sealant has a point in the cooling stage where it’s no longer gooey but still tacky. At this point, you can literally pluck the excess sealant off of the headlight body. Once you have enough of the sealant to turn into a small ball, you can use the ball to pull off the rest of the excess sealant. If timed properly, this can leave the exterior completely clean without the use of goo gone. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time as it does take some practice to master.
As we can see, resealing a headlight is actually a pretty simple process. You need to be mindful of temperatures and timing, but that’s true anytime you use the oven. Just remember that there is no point in trying to force the sealing process. If you make a mistake, don’t worry. You can always rebake the sealant and try again. What you may not be able to do is fix your headlight if you mess it up by not following the steps we’ve laid out.
If you bake your headlight at too high of temperatures or use too much force when prying the headlight body apart the first time, there’s no going back from that. Now you just need a new headlight. That’s why we stress carefully following these instructions and not hesitating to throw the headlight back in the oven to bake a little bit longer if the sealant isn’t pliable. Leave a comment below to share with us any pro tips you know for resealing headlights.