By Greg Illes
As we prepared for our Alaska trip, we read many warnings about damage caused by flying rocks. Having traveled thousands of miles of dirt roads in the Desert Southwest, we are no strangers to road hazards. But this time, the hazards were to come from other vehicles tossing stones up off the roadway. How could we protect our RV’s headlights?
One of the most vulnerable spots on our coach is the quad headlight installation, which consists of expensive, and difficult to replace, Hella halogen units. Chipping or breaking one of these puppies would be inconvenient, at best.
Fortunately, the solution was simple and inexpensive. These headlights are recessed, and mounted behind a rectangular bezel with four screws. All that was needed was to cut a clear plastic cover, remove the screws and re-secure everything with the cover in place.
Note that the best choice here is not just any acrylic plastic, but a sheet of Lexan (polycarbonate). Although Lexan is softer than acrylic, and will scratch easier, it is extremely tough and both crack- and shatter-resistant. In fact, you can actually cut a 1/16-inch-thick sheet of Lexan with tin snips — try that with acrylic and you’ll end up with plastic shards in your lap. You can buy a small sheet of this stuff from your local plastic supply, or even on Amazon.
If your headlight setup isn’t as convenient as mine, you may still be able to use other techniques to mount your “invisible protective shield.” Use some stiff paper to make a template and when everything fits right, cut the plastic and drill your mounting holes using one of the special pointy plastic drills.
For areas with compound curves, new challenges arise. It’s possible, with patience, to heat the plastic and get a mild compound curve in it. This exercise is not for the faint-of-heart, and requires patience, practice and some spare material. For aggressive curves, you may need to use a two-piece or partial-coverage approach.
Note that you do NOT want to have the shield come in direct contact with your headlights, especially if they are plastic. This would cause chafing and marring and would have a very negative effect on your lighting. Always keep air between the shields and your lights. You’ll also want to use nylon washers under the screw heads to keep from stress-cracking the plastic. Also, be careful that you do not “seal” the covers over the headlights. Headlights can burn very hot and if the air can’t get to them they will heat up and burn out much quicker.
Once you have it fabricated and fitted, strip off the protective films, attach your new shields, and drive those rough byways with greater peace of mind.
Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it.