TommyRay

oxidized tail light lens - need fix

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It can be polished carefully. There have been many suggestions here in the past on what product works best. I'm a big fan of Novus plastic polish. They have a three stage system (numer 3 is the coarse polish, number 2 is the fine polish and number 1 is a spray on cleaner). Usually number two is ok to start with. It is intended for hand application with a soft cloth but I've found a good variable speed random orbital buffer works well to apply it and then use a microfiber towel to clean off the residue and give it the final buff. After this you can apply various protectant products (wax, wipe on UV sealants, etc.)

Very important is to mask or somehow protect the BUICK letter inlays. These have a micro thin layer of chrome over plastic and can be damaged easily. Polishing the lens is also a good time to make sure none of the letters are loose - they are attached with double sided tape and it eventually dry rots, losing it's adhesive stregth. Sometimes the letter are just sitting in their repsective cavities with almost nothing holding them in place.

One BIG caution: the lens is made of a plastic (possibly polycarbonate or similar) that will be ruined by application of lacquer and some other solvent based clear coats. I speak from experience in trying to clear coat one for longer term protection and it checked and clouded like frosted privacy glass. So if you are contemplating this approach, an epoxy clear coat is probably the only one that can be safely used. Even then it is a crap shoot depending on the chemical formulation of the clear coat being applied.

Dave has applied spar varnish to his lens (I saw it in person and it looks good) and it does not react with the plastic so that is a possibility for keeping it glossy longer than just polishing and waxing.

KDirk

Edited by KDirk (see edit history)
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I actually found upon closer inspection that the rear tail lght lens is cracked.   I will need to replace that. As mentioned in my thread, anyone know of a source for that?  Question, how is that replacd? is it sealed to the rear tail light assembly?

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The tail lamp is best replaced as a complete unit. When new parts were still available through GM the outer lens was available as a separately serviceable part but the supply of those dried up years ago. A complete unit ready to install on the car can be purchased but they are difficult to ship without damage due to their size and awkwardness. Where are you located? I ask because it would be helpful to try and find one nearby before resorting to having one shipped. I do have a few spares on hand if none are found close enough for you to pickup but I prefer not to ship these if at all possible.

KDirk

Edited by KDirk (see edit history)

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Yes, tail lamp assemblies and all parts thereof are the same for 88-91 models. If you strike out let me know (can PM me here) and will see about getting one shipped. Pretty well requires a custom box. I also recommend having the left and right reflectors removed and packed seperate as these are very easily broken from rough handling.

Taking apart the tail lamp sections (rear, inner and outer lenses) can be done but is a time consuming process best done when it is hot outside so the unit can be left in the sun to soften the butyl rubber rope caulk that was used to seal the three layers together. It is much more difficult to do - and easier to break - when the rope caulk is rigid so it is not a great idea to try doing this in cool weather (or even inside) unless you have a heat gun or heat lamp you can use to simulate summertime heat exposure.

KDirk

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Even with a replacement salvaged tail light assembly you are likely going to need to work on it.  I fought for years with moisture / dust incursion at the side edges of the assembly (weakest part of the rubber seals).  I had mine apart several times to clean.  Finally I resealed it using LEXEL (available at hardware stores), especially at the those troublesome side edges.  That totally eliminated the unwanted incursions.  LEXEL remains pliable and it is crystal clear so if any intrudes a bit on the inside no real visual impact.  Granted this means that if I ever have to tear open the assembly in the future, it is going to a LOT more difficult as I will basically have to carefully slice open the LEXEL seal, but I would rather have a totally water/dust tight assembly than one that is easier to take apart. 

 

Everyone has issues with the discoloration of the assembly.  About the only solution is to periodically polish it and protect it with a plastic safe UV blocker (the stuff they sell for refinished headlight lenses).  I have tried various products, such as KDirk mentioned but once cleaned I found SIMICHROME polish used about every 6 months works really well to keep it crystal clear.  If you are battling a BADLY discolored situation using one of the better headlight restoration kits is a good way to get the lens back into shape.  Take care around the BUICK lettering and it never hurts to take a pick and see if ANY of the letters are showing signs of loosening.  

 

As there are virtually NO NOS of these lenses and the # of salvage units will eventually vanish, taking care to preserve and protect that assembly gets more important with each passing year. 

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About 3 years ago I used the Sylvania headlight restore kit on the Red's taillight. I held up for all 3 years and then dulled out quickly. When I applied it back then I noticed how amber the finish coat was. So when I went back to refinish it this last year the amber liquid was dried up, so I followed the sanding procedure but used an exterior alkyd spar varnish which is also amber in appearance.

 I was very impressed with the results. I applied it with a foam brush and allowed it to dry overnight. I did not remove the taillight to do this.

 It has held up through the sun and rain of the summer months and repeated car washings. 

 I only applied one coat. Next year I plan on applying a second coat.

 A low cost alternative and something to consider.

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Thanks for the tips. I thought maybe there were special steps with the Reatta lens. Looks like it's the same as other lenses.

As an experienced detailer (hobby nonprofessional) here are the steps I use to polish car headlight lenses to glass clear:

Mask off the lens area as not to damage surrounding area.

1) Random orbital DA polisher. Like the Porter Cable, or harbor freight makes a low cost quality one.

Clean with water an rag

2) yellow cutting foam pad + Meguiars medium cutting compound. DA on speed 6. Medium-heavy pressure.

Clean with water an rag.

3) Orange light cutting foam pad + Meguiars light cutting compound. DA on speed 4. Medium-light pressure.

Clean with water and rag

4) White polishing foam pad + Meguires fine polishing compound. DA on speed 3. Light pressure.

Clean with water and rag

5) blue finessing foam pad + Meguires swirl remover. DA in speed 2. Light pressure.

Clean with water and rag

6) Seal with Aladdin's Double Shield liquid glass protection.

7) Follow with coat of carnauba wax.

-Tom

Edited by TommyRay (see edit history)

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I wonder if clear aquarium sealant would work. It's made to hold glass together under high water pressure.

Having worked with both over the years, I can say that LEXEL remains more pliable over time and is easier to cut open.  LEXEL is also easier to work with prior to curing as it does not skim over as fast as RTV products (aquarium sealer) when dealing with large areas such as the rear tail light assembly.  LEXEL is more like the original butyl rubber seal that GM used but clear and longer lasting.

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I'll vouch for Lexel as well. Haven't used it on a tail lamp but have used it numerous times on the reflectors at the bottom edge of the tail lamp. These were poorly molded in two pieces (red reflector in front, black retainer in back) and end up getting water in them which then makes them unreflective in the dark. I have drained and dried these and then sealed the edges between the two halves with Lexel.

I've also used it to reseal front cornering lamp assemblies to prevent moisure ingress. Works well for this and can be cut with a good blade if need be for disassmbling the lens and housing. It also seems not to discolor like clear silicone caulk eventually will in sunlight. It is sold both in squeeze tubes and cartidges for standard caulk guns.

KDirk

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I have run across another product for sealing and protecting the plastic taillight assembly.  The product is carried at PepBoys as well as being available online.  It is put out by Crystal View Chemicals and is called Nano-Diamond Shield.  They claim it to have a UV inhibiting formula that bonds nano-sized glass beads to any surface without damaging it.  They claim the particles run 50,000 to the width of a human hair.  It is an aerosol and cost about $20 a can. They claim no need to mask anything as overspray won't damage any surface.   They claim that unlike competitor's nano products where the majority of the particles are removed when wiping it, theirs bonds those particles to the surface.  They also claim it works wonders on paint.  Once applied, it hardens the surface to a 4H level.  They also claim it does the same with windshields.  They claim it is good for 12 months.  So much for all the claims, now to using it.

 

I started with my taillight already clean and well polished using Simichrome polish.  The spray is more of a FOG than a spray.  They recommend wiping it off with a microfiber cloth almost immediately after spraying and I can say that it was already dry within 15 or so seconds.  The difference between the half of the lens that I first attacked and the other side was very evident.  As I said, the entire lens was already highly polished, but after applying only 1 coat (2 recommended), where applied, the clarity of the lens was amazingly far more transparent, almost liquid in appearance!  I went ahead and did the other half as well as applied a second coat.  

 

They state that it will take about 48 hours for it to totally cure and may require additional wiping with the microfiber cloth to remove a slight hazy film.

 

Now will it hold up as claimed?  Only time will tell, but I DO really like the initial results. 

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A couple of shots taken tonight to show how the internal lens is clearly visible without any distortion from the clear lens.  FYI, the bulbs I am using are LED so that is why the intensity

 

post-138086-0-93620600-1452301981_thumb.post-138086-0-07739100-1452302094_thumb.

Edited by drtidmore (see edit history)

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It has been a bit over 2 years since I did the LED upgrade on the Reatta.  At that time, finding sufficiently bright (I wanted brighter than 2057) LED bulbs as well as bulbs with constant current chips (i.e. to protect the LED from voltage spikes) in the 1157/2057 form factor was, to put it mildly, difficult.  A new 2057 incandescent bulb outputs roughly 400 lumens at high output and 25 lumens at low output.  That was my minimum target.  I wound up with roughly 600 lumens high and 50 lumens low from each LED, so I made a pretty significant improvement in the rear assembly visibility.  DO NOT go by wattage equivalent that you will typically find on cheap LED bulbs.  Lumens are a true illumination output rating.  

 

The bulbs are a projector design using Cree chips.  In addition to the in-line projector output, the sides of the bulb have 12 additional LEDs for fill illumination, so these worked well in the Reatta taillight.   Here is a pic that compares the 2057 incandescent vs the LED's that I installed.  It is pretty obvious which is which.  The LEDs light output is in the deep red spectrum which further intensifies the Reatta taillight visibility.

 

post-138086-0-58055400-1452351472_thumb.

 

LED's bulbs are really coming into their own at this point and there are many options presently.  As I said, finding suitable bulbs 2 years ago was a challenge and it was and remains an EXPENSIVE upgrade.  The 12 bulbs in the rear cost me a tad over $300, but with an estimated 20,000 hour life compared to the incandescent bulb's 1000 hour life, the enhanced visibility, the total elimination of bulb heat, reducing the load on the headlight switch by 5amps and the MUCH faster response time to full illumination, I considered it a worthwhile upgrade.  

 

As to where I got them, well I would up getting them from China directly via e-bay.  I did a lot of research, first ordered up just 2 of them for testing and once I was satisfied I ordered the other 10.   Again, you want to look for the lumen output in the 600/50 lumen range (high/low) and look for bulbs with an operating voltage range along the lines of 12 to 24-36 volts as that is indicative of an internal constant current driver chip.  LED bulbs that are driven directly vs using an internal constant current driver chip are actually a fire danger as when they fail, they can reach temps in excess necessary to actually flame.  So if you see a LED bulb rated 12v and nothing more STAY AWAY from it!

Edited by drtidmore (see edit history)

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Could you take a little time and research exactly what is needed to set this up. Not all of us [myself included] are sure of what to look for. I don't mind spending the money [i spent $350.00 for LED headlights] but don't want to make a mistake and either do more damage or doesn't work right.

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Could you take a little time and research exactly what is needed to set this up. Not all of us [myself included] are sure of what to look for. I don't mind spending the money [i spent $350.00 for LED headlights] but don't want to make a mistake and either do more damage or doesn't work right.

All of what I did was posted here at one time, but looks like posts prior to 2014 are now gone!   I am trying to see if I can find the original source of the bulbs I used or something that I would consider equivalent and I certainly can share the other changes I made at the time.  I did this on my '89 which like the '88 but UNLIKE the '90/'91 uses an electronic flasher that has a constant flash rate REGARDLESS of load.  On the '90/'91 model, GM returned to the old "can" type flasher and as such you would need to replace that with one that is electronic based (yes they are available).  Even though the flasher module is electronic on the '88/'89, there were complications involving the bulb "out" monitoring that the electronic flash module performed.  I did develop a workaround that returned the IPC turn signal indicator as well as the chime module to proper operation, but I had to forgo the bulb "out" functionality, but given the extreme long life of the LED bulbs, it was a minor loss in my opinion.   

 

BOTTOM LINE!  This is not a plug and play upgrade, at least NOT for the '89/'90 as it does require a bit of modding to the factory wiring in the console, BUT it is NOT rocket science either.   I will post more shortly

Edited by drtidmore (see edit history)

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UPDATE!  I found the old thread where I posted some of the info.  Odd that I was able to find it doing a search on myself, YET looking at MY CONTENT under my profile DID not find it.  Oh well, it was not as complete as I remember, but I did have good documentation of what I did stored away on my computer.

 

I did find a suitable,more recent version of the LED bulb I used.  They currently cost about $30 a pair so they are slightly less expensive than what I paid 2 years ago.  As upgrading to LED causes the '88/'89 electronic brake/turn/hazard module to "think" there is a burned out bulb which in turns causes the IPC turn indicator and chime to NOT cycle even though the turn signals are in fact flashing, you must do more than just swap in LED bulbs.

 

As the mod to correct the IPC turn signal functionality is a bit involved, before I bore anyone with the details, let me know if there is interest and I will PM the process.  It is not rocket science, but it is NOT necessarily intuitive either. 

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I'm interested. Can you post detailed instructions (pics would be a bonus) and a link to the exact bulbs to buy. Would really appreciate it!

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You can do a final clear coat on the lens with this product attached. It comes in matt, gloss, and semi-gloss finishes. Bonds to plastic, UV protection and non yellowing. Do three light coats and let dry 24 hours. Follow up by wet sanding with ultra fine 1000 grit to remove clear coat orange peel texture and smooth it out. Then add a layer of carnauba wax. Buff to a shine. Stand back and admire your work! :)

post-155706-0-05041700-1452450886_thumb.

Edited by TommyRay (see edit history)

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I'll add a second vote for wanting a write up a mod to the turn signal bulb load monitoring system in 88/89 cars for LED compatibility.

And Tom, interesting you had good results with that particular clearcoat. The plastic used for the outer lens seems to react badly with many solvent based coatings, as I found out (the hard way). I just wonder how well it will hold up over time. It doesn't appear to be UV inhibited and if it eventually starts to crack or peel from exposure it will be a mess to remove and redo again. That is why I shy away from coating the tail lamp lens with any type of spray paint product. Seems like an epoxy based coating has the best chance of long term durability but there remain material compatibility concerns and the longevity of the new finish.

KDirk

Edited by KDirk (see edit history)

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I think one can get carried away by trying to get the clearest, hardest finish available to use on our tailights. If it were the headlights I would agree with going with an epoxy type clear product.

 However our taillights are red. And plastic. And sanding too much will damage them.

 I have spent over 20 years in the paint industry, the last 8 years as a paint rep for a national paint company selling retail items to industrial coatings.

 In my opinion what is needed is an exterior product, easy to use and compatible with plastic. It should not be clear, it should be amber because the clearer a product it is the more prone it is to peeling/delaminating due to the effects of the sun. It should not need waxes/polishes to keep the luster. 

 That is why I chose an exterior alkyd spar varnish. It is amber in color, needs minimal prep to allow for coating to adhere, easy to apply [use a foam brush], very forgiving in the amount of coatings that can be applied [i did one I think two is adequate], and yet when it finally wears away, takes minimal sanding to provide "tooth" for a new coat to be put on. If by chance you get some on the letters while applying the product one can simply wipe the letter clean with paint thinner and a clean rag.

 This product [i used Flecto Varathane Spar Varnish] is readily available in most big box home centers or paint stores, and good hardware stores.

 The company I worked for [Pratt and Lambert] had a product called Vitralite UVA Spar Varnish. It was considered by master painters to be the very best in the industry. However I have been out of the paint industry for almost 20 years and am not sure it is even made any more.

 I don't mind refinishing a tail light every 3-4 years as I don't like treating my taillight every month or two to keep a shine on my tail light.

 I thought my taillight looked as good as anyones when I was at Springfield, and I like to think I am as fussy as anyone.

Edited by DAVES89 (see edit history)

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Dave,

Come spring, I'm going to do spar varnish on one of mine. Having multiples Reattae I can test different approaches side by side, so to speak. I'll agree that your tail lamp looked good in Springfield and since I've not found anything besides the Sylvania UV sealant in their headlamp kit that I am not concerned about causing more work later on, I've stuck to polishing and using the Sylvania coating. But, it is good for about 2 years tops and can really only get one good year out of it in St. Louis weather. By year two, it starts to look tired again.

I do have a couple of marginal tail lamps I could test other product on, and wouldn't be a terrible loss if they turned out poorly. All the same, I don't want to needlessly ruin usable parts.

KDirk

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