Statistically, headlights are one of the most durable and reliable parts of any modern-day vehicle. They don’t require much maintenance and serve the driver for a very long time. The same is true for the lens. Essentially, it’s a sturdy piece of plastic (polycarbonate), specifically designed to take on rough conditions on the road. I’m talking about debris, trees, bushes, and wild animals.
However, even the most long-lasting lens can give up on you at a certain point. Sometimes, it gets scratched, cracked, or loses its original refractive properties. But here’s the catch: if you try to remove it, you’ll see that it’s not a very easy task. That’s why I decided to write this guide: to help you remove the factory lens using only basic tools. Let’s get to it!
As I just mentioned, severe damage and poor performance are why most drivers think about removing the lens. But that’s not the only reason why people open up headlights. Say, if you want to customize the headlights, or tint them, that won’t be possible until the lens is removed. Now, please remember, that this procedure requires sleight of hands, patience, and at least two to three hours of your spare time.
So, we start by popping the hood. On some vehicles, the metallic bumper is protected by a cover. It needs to be removed, as it overlaps the headlights. The cover is secured by a pair of bolts. Grab your favorite socket wrench and get rid of them. If you can’t find the bolts, or if they’re hard to access, use a screwdriver to expose them. A flathead screwdriver will be perfect for this. Once all the bolts are removed, pull the cover up a bit and to the side to dismount it.
The Headlight Assembly and the Connectors
With the bumper removed, we move on to the headlight assembly. Again, it is secured by a set of regular bolts. Usually, they’ll be located in the top corner of the headlight, two or three in total. A socket wrench will be best for removing these. To loosen the bolts, turn the wrench counter-clockwise. If the assembly refuses to come off easily, check the bottom and the sides; chances are, it’s got extra bolts there.
Automobile headlights are powered through connectors. They will be almost impossible to access unless you pull the headlight out from the factory mounting spot. Try shaking and wiggling it a bit – that should help with the removal. Next, reach out to the back of the headlight. Even if you can’t see clearly what’s going on back there, it shouldn’t be hard to unplug the connectors.
Be careful not to damage them. This is important: depending on your car’s make, model, and year, some of the wires will be connected to the back of the headlight; so, don’t apply too much force when trying to remove the headlight. If you damage the wires or the connectors, fixing/replacing those can take a lot of time and energy.
Finishing up with the Screws
Alright, we’re almost ready to completely remove the headlight. But, there are still a couple of screws to unscrew. With the connectors, cables, and bumper cover out of the way, you should be able to put the headlight upside down. If you’re planning on using the lens in the future, make sure you’ve got a soft enough surface for the headlight. The lens will be secured by a set of screws – look for them around the edges of the headlight.
Again, go counter-clockwise to remove the screws and store them somewhere safe (like in a cup, for example, so that you don’t lose them). Be very thorough and double-check everything unless you want to crack the lens when trying to pull it out with screws still holding it to the headlight. Some experts recommend disconnecting the bulbs, but this isn’t a strict requirement.
Heating up the Headlight
So, we just removed all the screws and bolts, but the lens still won’t come off. To do that, we need to heat the headlight and make the adhesive holding the lens melt. And the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to do that is to place the headlight into a microwave oven. Yes, you heard me right. This is actually a pretty common practice, even among professional mechanics. Or, you can use a heat gun – whatever suits you best.
Using the Oven
Before you start, put on disposable protective gloves, preferably a heat-resistant pair. After the sealant is heated up, it will get super sticky. It might be wise to put on a really old shirt as well. Next, turn on the oven. In my experience, 230-250 degrees Fahrenheit is the “sweet spot”. The oven should be large enough to accommodate your headlight, of course. Plus, the headlight mustn’t touch the oven from the inside.
That’s why I recommend using a couple of wood planks to lift it a bit. The idea here is to protect the headlight from the metallic surface of the oven; otherwise, it might literally melt. Leave the headlight inside for 10 to 15 minutes and then remove the thing using a set of mitts, like it was a cookie.
Prying the Lens off the Headlight
The lens is held up by a set of tabs. You’ll need to lift them slightly to be able to separate the lens from the headlight. If you meet resistance, grab a flathead screwdriver or a pry bar – that should do the trick. Be careful not to break the tabs! Finishing up, place the screwdriver (or, rather, its tip) right into the seam between the backing and the lens. Again, carefully apply pressure and force to lift the lens and free it from the “cooked up” adhesive.
While you’re at it, try using your hands to pull the lens. And remember: you need to do this fast; otherwise, the sealant will get hard.
What about a Heat Gun?
If you don’t have an oven in the house, a heat gun will be able to help you out. These are available for 40-50 US dollars, both offline and online. Like the trick with the oven, this won’t take much time or effort either. Basically, you’ll need to put the headlight into a cardboard box. Next, do your best to seal it (maybe use adhesive tape for that), but leave a tiny spot for the gun’s nozzle to squeeze in.
I usually cut a small circular hole for that. Activate the heat gun, set it to 250 degrees F, and fill the box with hot air for 10-15 minutes straight. Yes, the idea is the same as with the microwave oven: to heat up the headlight so that the adhesive sealant comes off.
And that is pretty much everything I wanted to share with you today! Removing a headlight lens isn’t the easiest task: you’ll need to know exactly what you’re doing and be able to follow strict instructions. On the bright side – the list of required instruments is pretty modest, and you won’t have to buy expensive tools/equipment for this.
As long as you’ve got some regular tools in the garage and a bit of experience with automobile parts, you’ll pull this off. But, as I said earlier, lens removal takes a lot of time, meaning it would be best to do this early in the morning or late in the evening when you’ve got at least 2-3 hours of spare time. Got some questions left? Ask away in the comments!