If you own an early model of the XC90, and you’ve got your original headlight housings, there’s a good chance they look like crap. Whether they’re scratched and pitted, or just hazy and ugly, the years of driving and facing the elements have probably not done them any favors. Today, I’ll tell you what I’ve done to make my headlight units look like they currently do. I could say they look like new, but they don’t. Read the disclaimer to learn why.
Disclaimer: My XC90 headlights do not look like new because they are not new. What I’ve come to realize is that the effort it takes to bring these units back to their original state and keep them that way is too time consuming, too expensive and a touch too anal for my liking. I don’t need headlight units that look like new, I just need them to look decent.
When it became blatantly obvious that I had to do something to refurbish my 2004 XC90’s headlights (which was on about the second day of ownership) I started doing some research. One thing that struck me almost immediately is the wide range of solutions out there. From simple toothpaste to high-speed sanding and polishing gear, I could spend a few dollars =, or a few hundred dollars.
The solution I wanted was somewhere in the middle.
I ended up following the procedure outlined in this Popular Mechanics article about how to make your headlights shine like new. I made the process easier and cleaner by removing the headlight units (which is really easy in the Volvo XC90 and I highly suggest it to save your back and your paint unless you enjoy taping and bending over).
Other people, like in the picture below, prefer to keep their headlights in-place. Again, not my thing, but I understand that it’s the best option for some XC90 owners.
The process involves sanding using wet sandpaper with an increasingly higher grit and then polishing out the headlight units and protecting them. The only major step I skipped was the last step that suggests applying a UV sealant to the headlight units.
Instead, I simply wax and polish my headlights on a regular basis (except in the Winter because Canada – although I have been known to bring my headlight units inside to work on them). Washing and waxing/polishing on a regular basis has really helped maintain a great appearance for my headlights. The UV protectant was just an extra step (translation: extra cost) that I wasn’t ready to take on for a pair of 2004 Volvo XC90 headlights. Plus, I didn’t have any evidence that the protectant worked.
So why do your XC90 headlights get this way in the first place? Well, I suspect it has something to do with the shape of the headlight units. They are rather large and are quite curved on the SUV, leaving them with a big surface area that’s ripe for dirt, salt and other debris to make contact. Their size also means more exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays which breaks down the plastic over time.
One thing that a lot of people don’t always see as a culprit is the headlight washer system. The washer fluid is really made for your glass windshield, but can be very harsh on your plastic headlight covers. And, as we all know, the headlight washers come on when you give your windshield a wash (at least the first time you wash – there’s a program that they follow). Bottom line is, the fluid is a chemical and can be damaging to your plastic headlight lenses. Sanding them until the lens is clear again and protecting them only makes sense.
My way of restoring my XC90 headlights / lenses isn’t everybody’s preferred choice, but it’s been an affordable and effective solution for me. Your mileage may vary.
Afterthought: Some people have asked me why I don’t just run out and buy two new replacement headlight units. First of all, I could, but my money is going to be spent on mechanical issues before cosmetic issues. Secondly, there is a huge spectrum when it comes to quality of replacement headlights for the XC90. I’m looking at anywhere between $125USD and $250USD per unit and I’m fairly certain you’ll only get what you pay for. Buy a cheap set and they won’t last. Buy a Genuine Vole set of headlights for your XC90 and it’ll cost you.