How to Polish Taillightsby Ian Martinez
Fixing headlights can make a car look much better than it does, but what about the taillights? Normally they do not get as oxidized as the headlights as they’re not exposed to as much direct sun to being mainly vertical. However, they can be just as important. To me, taillights are one of the most recognizable parts of a vehicle, and is it just me that thinks they make the back of a car look like a face? Just me? Ok cool. Regardless, making them look good and having that red color really pop really brings the look of a vehicle to the next level.
Luckily, due to them usually not having oxidation, it just swirl removal, which is much easier. If you do have oxidation, treat them the same as headlights (click here for a past article I put together). Swirl removal on taillights is simple but can be tedious if they have a lot of angles and unlike headlights, the angles are often inward, making them hard to reach with a machine.
Normally a Rupes Yellow Pad and some polish such as Griots PC or Menzerna SF3500 is enough. Sometimes you need to step it up to a compound like Griots FCC pr Menzerna HC400 and a Microfiber Cutting Pad if they are bad. One thing I like about taillights is the surface is much more consistent across brand and models than paint, meaning they all use a similar plastic. So, finding a combo that works for you is much more applicable across the board.
I would recommend using a minimum of a 3″ backing plate and your hand for the tight spots. If you have a Rupes iBrid this is an area where it would shine.
Luckily taillights are pretty forgiving and generally easy to correct, but that red glow of the taillights when they are properly polished is really the cherry on top of a detail.
One of the things that scares me about polishing headlights or taillights, is that they are coated from the factory with UV protection. Since polishing removes that coating, how to you protect them from re-oxidizing when you’re done? In the past I’ve just used the same sealer I used on the paint, but I’m not confident that it’s good enough. The plastic lenses seem to be more prone to oxidation than paint.
It is only a concern when you need to wet sand as just polishing will not remove it. Most of the time tail lights do not get to that point as they are not in direct sun as much as headlights are. If you do wet sand and good sealant or coating can be applied, and as long as you keep up with the maintenance they won’t oxidize again.
How about putting GTECHNIQ CSL and EVO on them after polishing?
Do you have another recommendation?
Yes absolutely you can. It’s not as needed as headlights unless you are wet sanding. But always good to add protection and the Gtechniq line is some of the best
I have a set of taillights that I corrected a handful of times already, and now after applying the same 2-step process (menzerna fg400 and optimum hyper polish) I’m left with a lot of micro-marring and I just don’t know how to bring them back to life again. Am I forced to wet sand, or just accept the fact that I used an aggressive method? I’m not really sure how to proceed.
Normally I would say no, with the angles they have it can be hard to get a proper correction with a flat surface. If you slow down your arm speed and focus on keeping the polished flat as possible you should be able to get it done. Without seeing it I would say the micro marring you are seeing is likely from the 1st compounding step, not necessarily from the polishing step.