Headlight Restoration for Fleets – Part 2 Chemical Soaps and Warranties

In part one of this two part series, we discussed the pros and cons of providing headlight restoration services for fleets. This month we continue the discussion by exploring the effects some chemical soaps have on polycarbonate headlights and realistic warranty options for commercial vehicles.

Whether a company opts for an automatic wash for its fleet vehicles, chemical detergents that are far stronger than you would ever use on your personal vehicle are often used. In some cases a two-part system is used that begins with the application of a strong acid based chemical, followed by a strong alkali based chemical. Part 1 contains acids that attack soil, grease, bugs, etc., and part 2 contains alkali and a surfactant that neutralizes the acid to create a ph balanced solution that is relatively safe for the environment. Both parts are extremely harsh on paint, aluminum, steel, and especially plastics! In addition, heavy duty degreasers are used to remove grease, oil, tar, and bugs that soap alone will not remove. These degreasers are even harder on plastic (headlights).

To give you an idea of how harsh these chemicals are, part 1 of some soaps is a mixture of sulfuric and hydrofluoric acids, sometimes referred to as aluminum brightener because it removes black streaks from aluminum very effectively. Sulfuric acid is what is in your car battery. Hydrofluoric acid is even stronger and used for metal cleaning (diluted) and glass etching. Part 2 is just as harsh a caustic that is just as damaging. These products are used because they nearly eliminate the need to use a brush on even the dirtiest of trucks, keeping the washing cost to a bare minimum, but you would never wash your car with them.

If your business model includes headlight restoration for fleets, we highly recommend tailoring your warranty to each particular business. Consider not only how much you are receiving for each job but also how the vehicles are being cared for. If possible, find some vehicles within the fleet that are 1, 3, and 5 years old. How do the headlights look? Have they been restored or replaced previously? How are the paint and metal surfaces holding up? Adjust your warranty period accordingly.

Consider adding a disclaimer to your warranty. Maybe something like this:

Your headlights have been professionally restored and a special coating has been applied to seal the lenses. The coating protects the lenses from harmful UV rays and contaminants that cause premature surface damage. Caution: Industrial detergents, degreasers and metal brighteners containing caustics, acids, phosphates, solvents, or any combination of the aforementioned, may damage the protective coating and void the written, stated or implied warranty. For best results use only a mild soap specifically formulated for use on automobiles and a clean soft cloth or sponge to clean your headlights. Do not use a brush to clean your headlights!

A good warranty is important to your customer but keep in mind that manufacturers never provide the same warranty for commercial vehicles that they do for vehicles used for personal use only. If a brand new $300 headlight only lasts 3 months in a truck it is the owner’s responsibility to replace it. Headlights for buses and trucks can be very expensive to replace so don’t undersell the value of your service. If a pair of replacement headlights costs $600 plus labor and lasts 3 years but you can restore them for $150 and they only last 1 year, you are still saving your customer $150 every 3 years on every vehicle. That is a substantial savings!

The bottom line is the headlight restoration market for fleet vehicles is a good one but it is extremely important to understand the differences between working on commercial vehicles and personal automobiles.

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