I’d originally planned to donate the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcar to our local Route 66 museum, but those plans stalled when the pandemic hit, and Ron got impatient this week and put it on eBay without consulting me about the details.
If I’d posted it myself, I would have repainted the hood first, replaced some items on the dashboard, detailed it, and removed a few items of sentimental value before taking it out at the golden hour to photograph it in front of Tucumcari Mountain. I would have set the reserve a LOT higher to discourage scavengers who are just looking for a parts car. And I would have left it up for at least two or three weeks to give everybody on Route 66 who might be interested in driving it a chance to bid and figure out financing.
I didn’t realize what he’d done until he came in and told me someone had bid $900 for it. I hope whoever placed that bid really wants to drive it and isn’t just going to junk it out.
It isn’t junk. It’s in good shape, runs well, has been meticulously maintained, and deserves to go to a good home where someone will love it. If I didn’t have such a long commute, it would still be my daily driver.
The good news is that if you want to drive the hippie wagon, you can buy it for a lot less than it’s worth, and if you promise to love it and give it a good home, I’ll freshen up the color on the hood before you pick it up and send you a new set of curtains for it when the semester ends and I get a hand free to sew again.
I’d heard of doing this, but the people who had tried it gave very mixed reviews. Some people swore by it. Some people said it did nothing. And several people said it produced nice results, but only on a very temporary basis, as the chemical softens the surface of the plastic, essentially melting away the scratches and leaving the lenses much more vulnerable to future damage.
Based on those reviews, I was reluctant to use that approach, but after the other methods failed, I figured I might was well give it a shot. If I didn’t do anything, I would have to buy new lenses. If it didn’t work, I would have to buy new lenses. If it worked, even temporarily, I might buy myself a few more weeks — perhaps even long enough to finish paying off that dead Subaru — before I had to sink money into replacements.
I really had nothing to lose, so I grabbed the bug spray and headed out to the driveway.
Y’all. Y’ALL. I have never seen anything like this in my life. I can’t decide whether this is beautiful or terrifying.
Here is one of the headlights before I started:
Here is one after I treated them with toothpaste, Scotch-Brite pads, olive oil and lemon juice, WD-40, and a sock stretched over a belt sander:
And here they are after I sprayed them with bug repellent and wiped them off:
They’ve held up for at least two weeks, and I noticed as I was leaving work the other night that the reflection of my headlights in one of our office windows was MUCH brighter and clearer than it had been before I treated them.
There is no question the bug spray melts the plastic. You can feel it when you’re wiping it down. It’s sticky. There is absolutely no way I would recommend using this method on a car with a nice factory paint job, because if this stuff will melt plastic, there’s no telling what it will do to your clearcoat. And I’m not sure I ever wanted to know that the bug repellent I put on my arms to ward off mosquitoes is capable of dissolving hard plastic.
That said, if your headlights have gotten so foggy as to reduce your visibility at night, and you just need to keep them going long enough to save up a few bucks to replace them, this is a fast, cheap way to do it.
Protip: If I were concerned about my paint, I’d apply masking tape around the edges of the headlights, wipe the bug repellent on with a rag to eliminate the risk of overspray, and follow up with a quick trip through the car wash.
I keep seeing these dramatic before-and-after photos on Pinterest that show how you can defog old plastic headlight covers using cheap toothpaste.
I was pretty sure this was crap the first time I read it, but I figured it was worth a try, since the headlights on the Dreamcar were covered with black walnut sap, the plastic was yellowed, I’d gotten overspray on them after forgetting to mask them off last time I painted the hood, and toothpaste costs a dollar a tube. If it didn’t work, I was going to have to replace them anyway, so why not give it a try?
Following several sets of instructions I found online, I applied some Ultra-Brite toothpaste to the headlights with an old toothbrush.
I scrubbed it around with the toothbrush for several minutes and then hosed it off. The sap came off, but the plastic still looked pretty bad, so I took some advice I found on another how-to-clean-your-headlights post and reapplied the toothpaste, using a Scotch-Brite pad to scrub it off.
When I rinsed, it looked pretty good — not perfect, but less yellow, maybe, and most of the overspray came off — but as the water dried, the plastic fogged back up and looked worse than it had to start with:
Back to Pinterest. A commenter on one of the how-to articles I’d found suggested applying olive oil. Another suggested vinegar. I’d made a pretty effective furniture polish out of a mixture of the two and still had some left under the sink, so I ran in and got it. Definitely an improvement:
Another commenter said the best method was to attach an old sock to a belt sander, put the toothpaste on it, and use it to buff out the scratches. Several commenters agreed with this, so I found a worn-out running sock and gave it a go.
Buffing seemed to help some, and I suspect if I’d done it first — before I took out after the plastic with that abrasive Scotch-Brite pad — it would have helped more, but I was still underwhelmed.
Yet another commenter insisted WD-40 is the way to go. Well, of course. Anything that can’t be fixed with WD-40 or duct tape belongs in the trash. I rummaged around under the kitchen sink, found my WD-40, and applied it, buffing it in with a fresh sock on the sander.
This was the result:
Not bad at first glance. Maybe an improvement. But as soon as it rained, they fogged up again and looked like frosted glass in the dark — very pretty, but I’m not sure you’re supposed to drive with a Streisand filter* over your headlights.
Conclusion: This method is, indeed, utter crap. The sock on a sander might work without any of the substances I applied, but the toothpaste and Scotch-Brite just scratched up the plastic and made it worse. I’d also be leery of using anything abrasive or acidic near a factory paint job, as I’m not sure what it would do to the finish.
Pinterest fail. I’ll take the Dreamcar to the Honda dealership next weekend.
*My friend Brandey’s term. We used to watch a lot of old Barbra Streisand movies, and Brandey noticed the cinematographers always used a soft camera filter on her close-ups.