If you’re just joining us, I recently got a Lexus SC300 for free on Craigslist. It is rough-but-lovable. In memory of its owner, I’m planning to make it worthy of daily-driving duty and using it to retire my Golf R.
If you read my spreadsheet post (the last link above), I’m trying to carefully track all the things that the Lexus needs to replace my Golf R – even allowing me to confidently sell it – as a daily driver. There’s no question in my mind that things will come up, and I’ll learn unpleasant surprises the further I dig into my fun, free toy.
But since I’m doing this on a very specific budget, I’m trying to focus first on what the car needs most. In order to ready a car for daily driving duty, it has to be three things:
- Mechanically sound – I want to feel confident that it can run well, consistently, and not leave me stranded, in all scenarios. This means it must hold oil, not overheat, and have acceptable steering and stopping function.
- Functionally comfortable – I also, perhaps more selfishly, want to not feel gross when I’m inside the Lexus. I want the surfaces that I touch to be pleasant; free of cracks, dirt, and grime, and to experience a reasonable temperature and sounds while encased in the cabin.
- And, ideally, pretty to look at – This is obviously subjective, but I personally think it’s nice to have a car that looks nice.
Ideally, I should focus in that order. But that’s boring, right?
Also, I still don’t have the title for the car (more on that later). So I’m not going to invest hours and hours of time, and tear my project apart if it were to get vandalized or stolen, and I had no recourse because it isn’t technically in my name.
So what can I do?
I can detail my car! The second purchase that I made for the Lexus (the first being a battery, honestly too boring to blog about) was a detailing kit that I got on Craigslist for $50. That kit included (albeit partially used):
- An electric orbital buffer
- A really dope bucket
- Two different bristle brushes
- Clay bar kit
- Wash concentrate
- Three kinds of polishes
- Two kinds of carnauba wax finishes
- A bunch of microfiber towels
I estimate the value of all this stuff around $150, so I think I came out okay. However, I got a $290 speeding ticket on the way home from picking it up, so the $70 I saved was… offset somewhat.
When I decided to use my newfound kit for the first time, I took a look at my headlights and decided that I couldn’t possibly detail my car until I’d restored my headlights. Here, look how gross they are:
Yes, there are a couple notable issues here (the cracked high beam housing, the huge chunk of missing paint, and the other, smaller chunks of missing paint), but pay attention to the deep clouding and yellowing on both the headlights and the lower fog lights.
So, no detail just yet.
So what can I do instead?
I’ve always thought that clean headlights made a huge difference towards the overall appearance of a car. Since this car happens to look so terrible, this should be a good step in the right direct. I figured this would be a good opportunity to:
- Detail the car without the headlights
- Restore the headlights out of the car
- Test an old car-forums theory that toothpaste can restore headlights more effectively than wet-sanding and/or Turtle Wax.
The first step in headlight restoration is to actually remove the headlights from the car. I’m a big fan of this option – I’ve done it on a number of cars – but it’s more pleasant when the headlights are easier to remove.
In order to remove the headlights on a 1997 Lexus SC300, you have to pull back the inner fender liners and approach some bolt nuts from behind the headlight. Why this couldn’t have been exposed in the engine bay is beyond me.
Not only is it about 8″ from the liner, there’s a rusty bolt waiting to tear up your wrist.
Once you can reach those nuts, you can yank the headlights out, and then the fun begins! I was committing to testing my toothpaste theory. The internet says that baking soda is the active ingredient, so I purchased the cheapest Arm and Hammer tube at the CVS within walking distance. I wanted to take this opportunity to get to know my orbital buffer, so I decided to use a different method for each headlight.
I’d use my new toothpaste and a bristle brush (see: bulleted list of cool shit that I got on Craigslist) on the left headlight, and the orbital buffer on the right. After I’d decided on a winner, I’d finish the loser in the opposing method, and then I should have two nicely cleaned headlights!
As it turned out, the orbital buffer far outperformed the bristle brush – to the point that I felt stupid for trying the bristle first – so I spent some time refinishing the left headlight in the orbital option.
I then finished the toothpaste buff with some detailing polish (see: my bucket full of toys), buffed that out by hand, and it looked great!
I was really happy with the results! Seeing as (outside of the buffer) this only cost $4 of material – and I had leftover toothpaste – I think this was money well spent.
I then went out to the car and polished the fog lights without removing them from the car. Yes, I know I just made a fuss about pulling the headlights. Why not remove the fog lights? Frankly, this was just too much of a pain in the ass to be worth it.
They took about five minutes per side, but they looked like I spent 20 minutes on them, easily!
Since the headlights are now out of the car and restored, I’m running out of ways to procrastinate on detailing my project car.
I’m going to include some “after” photos to compare the headlights, and it’s clear from these photos that I’ve completed my detail. Just know that I’ve already written about it and will be publishing soon.