The RIGHT way to clean up tail lights - MR2 Owners Club Message Board
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post #1 of 69 (permalink) Old July 14th, 2007, 15:16 Thread Starter
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The RIGHT way to clean up tail lights

FOREWORD: A common "complaint" on my MR2 has constantly been, "hey polish them tail lights!" At first I didn't think they were that bad but when I started thumbing around and looking at other cars' tail lights I quickly realized they were pretty faded and dull. Hey it's a 13 year old car afterall, what do you expect!? Anyway, I explored several different methods (i.e. polishing, buffing, home remedies and wetsanding) and it appears the only RIGHT long term solution was to do the whole 9 yards and wet sand from a fine grit to ultra fine grit. It seemed from other people's experiences that a polish and buff and even toothpaste would only last for several months before needing to do the process all over again. Being my lazy self, I knew I couldn't stay that committed to refinishing the tail lights quarterly. So, I figure I'd take the time now to enjoy the refinished lights for several years to come.

Purpose: The purpose of this write up is to show a step by step procedure of how to wetsand from 400g to 1000g, mask and paint, and finally to follow up with professional clear coat.

Scope of Work: The scope of this project is for plastic any plastic corner lights whether it be tail lights or front turning signal lights. This method is not to be used on any painted surfaces as the 400g will eat the paint.

Credits: I want to recognize Baktasht and Extreme Body and Paint (out of Jefferson City, Missouri) for their input and help towards the completion of this project.

What you will need:
1 - sink
4" of water in sink
1 - flexible sponge (do not use scour pads or the like) The sponge's duty is to keep the tail lights wet.
1 - Phillips Screwdriver
1 - Flathead Screwdriver
1 - 8mm socketdriver
1 sheet of 400g
1 sheet of 600g
1 sheet of 1000g
2 cans of Krylon Fusion Spray Paint ($4/each at Walmart) Color of your choice


Things to Keep in Mind:
1. Remember you're dealing with plastic. Old parts stuck in one position for several years may become brittle and break if too much force is used. Extreme caution should be used at all times.
2. Keep in mind the purpose of wetsanding. The water acts as a lubricant for sanding a fine layer off the lights. If the surface area and paper is too dry, plastic will get between the grit of the sandpaper and will produce a deep scratch into the plastic. Consequently you could crack the lenses or have to resort to a courser sandpaper to eliminate the scratch. There's only so much thickness in the plastic. Sanding too thin will lead to cracking. In other words,KEEP THE SURFACE AND SANDPAPER WET AT ALL TIMES. A sponge nearby can be very helpful.
3. My process will show starting out at 400 grit sandpaper. 400g will do the following: shave the little letters AND paint trim off the tail lights. You will notice that the paint trim is faded anyway; however, if you want to keep the old paint and letters, I would sand no lower than 1000 grit sandpaper.
4. The removal process is for 94+ tail lights. There could be different steps involved in removal of 91-93 tails.
5. The best paint is Krylon Fusion paints. Fusion paint is a plastic bonding paint, so this is the correct application. The body shop can do paint the tail lights too, but prepare to spend $50-75 for their work which requires tedious masking time. After seeing my results, it's fair to say the fusion paint with a professional clear coat can match the results of what a body shop can do.

DISCLAIMER: What you do to your car is 100% your responsibility. This is the procedure that worked for me and me alone. This is not the extent of cleaning tail lights, several other methods work; however, this method I feel works best.

The next several posts will show the complete process from tail light removal to wet sanding to clear coating to tail light installation. Thanks for viewing my write up!

Last edited by black94t; August 1st, 2007 at 08:37.
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post #2 of 69 (permalink) Old July 14th, 2007, 15:17 Thread Starter
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PROCESS FOR WETSANDING AND CLEAR COATING TAIL LIGHTS
Step #1: Draw a sink full of water. Temperature is not of importance.


Step #2: Wash the tail lights. Washing the tail lights removes any external grime off the surface of the tail lights. If you do not remove the grim, it could catch in the sandpaper and lead to deep scratches. Get em clean as you can.

Step #3: We now begin with the removal of the tail lights. First and foremost, we want to remove the triangular corner pieces first. They have a metal clip that simply snaps into place. With your hands push the triangle corner piece towards the front of the car to create a gap. Take a flat head screwdriver and gently pry towards the back of the car to release the corner lights from it's clipped position. Turn the bulb socket 1/4 turn counterclockwise to release the bulb from the corner light.


Step #4: Take a phillips screwdriver and remove the two screws with hold the end of the tail light assembly.


Step #5: Take a phillips screwdriver and remove the single screw at the top of the tail light. You will need to open the trunk to access this screw.

Last edited by black94t; July 14th, 2007 at 15:33.
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post #3 of 69 (permalink) Old July 14th, 2007, 15:18 Thread Starter
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Step #6: This is where I remind you that old plastic is easy to break. The tail lights seem stuck in place it seems. Little do we know (if you're a newbie) there are two plastic pegs that snap into place on the back of the light.

Gently with your right hand grip the tail lights from where the corner piece would be and pull from that position. The tail lights should come out fairly easily.


Step #7: Dont grab the lights and turn around yet! The bulbs are still in the socket. Use the same method of turning the bulb socket counter clockwise 1/4 turn to release the lights.


Step #8: Remove the center panel reverse lights. There are two phillips screws at the top of the center panel to be removed. Pull from the top of the center panel to release the clips from the plastic pegs. Unscrew the bulbs like previously stated and remove center panel. Remove the two 8mm nuts from the back of the center panel to remove the reverse lights.

Step #9: Remove the other side of the tail lights using the same procedure above.

At this point, you should have tail lights completely removed.

Last edited by black94t; July 14th, 2007 at 19:26.
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post #4 of 69 (permalink) Old July 14th, 2007, 15:20 Thread Starter
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Step #10: We now enter wet sanding stage #1. We are using a 400g water proof sand paper. Completely submerse the sandpaper into your sink full of water and get it good and wet. Take your sponge and squeeze abundant amounts of water over the lights to get it good and wet. Begin sanding the tail lights in a circular motion if at all possible. Wet sanding in straight line motion could lead to excessive pressure and leave deep scratches and possibly even crack the lense case. Circular motions will force you to sand a bit lighter in stroke. Sand in 400 grit for 30 minutes. Keep a keen eye on the time. If you wet sand for 30 minutes on the left side, then wet sand for 60 minutes on the left side, there's a possible uneven contrast in the final product. The purpose for 400 grit is to eliminate the faded black paint trim and to shave the small letter that are projected on the surface of the tail lights. DO NOT WET SAND ANY COURSER THAN 400 GRIT.


You'll notice in the picture above, there is a pasty white substance that is left behind. My understanding is this substance is some form of oxidized substance left from wetsanding. As we move to finer and finer grits, the white substance will minimize.

Step #11: In the art of wetsanding we cannot jump from a course sandpaper to an ultra fine sandpaper. 1000g simply cannot smooth out a 400g surface. So we want to wet sand at smaller increments to achieve a 1000g surface. Therefore, we wetsand at 600g. Again, wetsand in circular motions (where possible) for 30 minutes keeping the surface wet at all times exactly how we sanded at 400g.

Step #12: Next and final level of wet sanding is 1000g. 1000g is considered ultra fine; however, there's 1500g, 2000g and 3000g but this is not necessary for our project. On this level of sanding, I spent an entire 60 minutes of wet sanding. I wanted the smoothest texture as possible. After the hour is completed, I put the tail lights on the end of the sink so I could take a nap. My arms were sore! No, but seriously, we want the tail lights to dry naturally. Do not use any towel or rag to dry them off. We have fully removed the clear coat and there are increased risks of scratching. Yeah, I know, it's probably alright, but am I interested in wet sanding for another hour? Heck no.



Notice my sink. All the sink was used for was wetsanding after initial wash. That dirt and grime was embedded in the plastic! Crazy, it seems. That sink is dirty. Better redraw fresh water.

Last edited by black94t; August 1st, 2007 at 09:17.
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post #5 of 69 (permalink) Old July 14th, 2007, 15:20 Thread Starter
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Step #13: After completing the wet sanding stages, we now want to begin the painting stage for painting the trim on the lights. You will notice from my pictures that not having the trim makes the lights stand out way too much. Having the trim will keep the lights lower profile.

In this step, we mask off the trim of the lights. It is recommended to use the 3M blue mask tape and not regular tape. Regular tape has a lot more adhesive and will get all over the lights. The trim is bordered with a small 1/16" joint. Use your fingernail to run along these joints to mask them off better.




Step #14: Now that the masking is done, we begin with spray painting. Hold the nozzle and spray onto a practice area to get a feel of how the paint is being applied. Hold the can 12-16" away from the surface and in sweeping motions apply the paint to the tail lights. Do not hold the nozzle in one location on the tail lights as paint will easily puddle up and run. First layer should fully cover the tail lights. The can says 15 minutes is all it takes to let the paint dry. I gave it 3 hours at least (especially for the first layer). Come back 2-3 hours and spray the 2nd layer exactly the same way the first layer is sprayed. At this point I let the lights sit overnight to fully dry. The next morning before work, I sprayed a 3rd layer (like the first and 2nd) and went on my way to work. After work, I sprayed a 4th layer. I waited 3 hours again and sprayed a 5th layer before going to bed.

The reason why I put 5 layers of paint on the tails is simply to build up a layer I can wetsand without loosing too much paint. The fusion spray paint is designed to provide a glossy smooth finish; however, we want to wetsand for a much better professional clear coat.



Last edited by black94t; August 1st, 2007 at 09:18.
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post #6 of 69 (permalink) Old July 14th, 2007, 15:21 Thread Starter
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Step #15: Now that we have completed the spray paint process, we want to do a very VERY light wetsand using 1000g to not only scuff up the fusion paint (for clear) but to remove any paint that didn't get masked off correctly and to remove any residue. I noticed when I peeled the tape off my finger nail caught the tail lights and produced a scratch. So be careful peeling the tape off. Don't wetsand more than 3-5 minutes. The paint can be removed rather easily.





Step #16: Now the easy part, dump it off at your trustworthy body shop to have them professionally clear coat the lights. I know the owner of my body shop, so I can trust him when he says that the clear coat at Oriellys does not compare to the clear coat a professional body shop has.

Well, today I got the tail lights back and it looks fantastic. To reinstall the tail lights reverse the steps above for installation. You'll notice how much easier they are to install. In the following posts, I will show various pictures that show before and after and the rear of the car with the left side completed and the right side untouched. You can definitely see the difference!

Final product before Installation:

Last edited by black94t; August 1st, 2007 at 09:28.
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post #7 of 69 (permalink) Old July 14th, 2007, 15:40 Thread Starter
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COMPARISON BEFORE AND AFTER (UP CLOSE)




100% COMPLETE BEFORE AND AFTER:


Last edited by black94t; August 1st, 2007 at 09:59.
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post #8 of 69 (permalink) Old July 14th, 2007, 16:11
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hahah ! I hope you high speed buff it out!!
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post #9 of 69 (permalink) Old July 14th, 2007, 16:20
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You're going to have adhesion issues clearing over 1000grit. I only went to 600 when I did mine. I also used a single stage semi-gloss black urethane on all the black plastic and 91 center panel and they look better than new.
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post #10 of 69 (permalink) Old July 14th, 2007, 17:03
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I agree. 1000grit is just not enough tooth for clear coat.

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post #11 of 69 (permalink) Old July 14th, 2007, 17:13 Thread Starter
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Thanks for the sticky. I know there will be variances in beliefs, so I better throw another disclaimer in there. The Title subject should not be translated as per step by step. The title subject was in reference to wetsanding and clear coating.

As for 1000g, I've heard it both ways. Some have told me "1000 is not fine enough". I've heard "600 is where you stop" and I heard anything courser than 400 is too much. I heard people shaving those pesky little letters using 400g, so I figure that's a good benchmark. I dont know. Time will only tell. I will definitely update this process should issues arise.

Nik, I'm interested in learning more about this black urethane paint. Are you speaking in reference to the black trim? What about using that for tinting the lights altogether? Or does it black it out completely not letting the lights shine through? Can I apply that over the clear coat? or would I have to wetsand the trim, then re-clear? Thanks for any additional information.
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post #12 of 69 (permalink) Old July 14th, 2007, 17:36
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600 is about as strong as you will be able to go before the plastic is too rough to cover up with clear. The good thing is your lights are in the rear and shouldn't take any abuse. If this was in front it would get peeled off by road debris. You may be fine. but are treading on the edge. Never paint a panel or a bumper using that small a grit.

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Last edited by 8Legs; July 14th, 2007 at 17:38.
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post #13 of 69 (permalink) Old July 14th, 2007, 19:44
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Quote:
Originally Posted by black94t
Nik, I'm interested in learning more about this black urethane paint. Are you speaking in reference to the black trim? What about using that for tinting the lights altogether? Or does it black it out completely not letting the lights shine through? Can I apply that over the clear coat? or would I have to wetsand the trim, then re-clear? Thanks for any additional information.
It was PPG DCC concept, which in my understanding is simply a tinted clearcoat. Urethane single stage can be mixed with Urethane clear for tinting. I used it straight on the front side marker lights and it pretty much blocks all the light. When I did all the plastic trim (side molding, center panel, mirrors and lights) I just scuffed everything up with a red scotchbrite, but you could wetsand too.
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post #14 of 69 (permalink) Old July 15th, 2007, 15:35
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Nice writeup bud!

mr2 madness in action.
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post #15 of 69 (permalink) Old July 15th, 2007, 20:45
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What if you can't clear coat it??? Then what would you do???
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post #16 of 69 (permalink) Old July 15th, 2007, 20:53
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You can lightly wet sand them and then buff them up. It will make a big improvement, maybe not quite the same results but it will look much better.

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post #17 of 69 (permalink) Old July 15th, 2007, 21:23 Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 8Legs
You can lightly wet sand them and then buff them up. It will make a big improvement, maybe not quite the same results but it will look much better.
I hope you mean "better than before" because I don't see how much better I can do with shining them up. I can see the red veins in my eyeballs in the re-cleared tail lights

I do not see how anyone "cant" get clear coating done. I may have come off as having connections to getting mine done, but really, take the wet-sanded tails to any trustworthy bodyshop and say "hey can you throw these in with the other parts you're clearcoating?" He might say "yeah no prob" or "sure, but I'd need $20-25 for it." Eitherway, it's inexpensive and yes, buffing and polishing will work, but from what I gather with others' experiences is clear coating will last longer (assuming proper maintenance of the tails). You can't just clear coat them and not do anything for 2 years.

But that's just me....
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post #18 of 69 (permalink) Old July 15th, 2007, 21:49
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The reflections will be flatter and crisper. The nice thing about doing this type of work yourself is that you can get it exactly as good as you want it.
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post #19 of 69 (permalink) Old July 15th, 2007, 23:27
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Nice writeup man... Wow, those came out really shiny. Now you have me wanting to redo mine again. The clearcoat on mine wasn't the best, had some imperfections that I wasnt happy with.
post #20 of 69 (permalink) Old July 15th, 2007, 23:32
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Awesome writeup
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