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RV Mods: Protect your headlights!

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?

Greg Illes photo

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. 

##RVDT1944

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Michael Galvin
26 days ago

You’d think broken headlights are a problem, but they’re not. You’ll see most people drive with no headlight protection and have no problem. I drove in 2017 and in 1966 (when it was 1100 miles of gravel!) with no problem.

Steve H
26 days ago

We did a 9,000-mile, 3-month Alaska trip with a mid-size truck and travel trailer. Two of those months were on frost-heaved, part-paved/part-gravel roads in northern BC, Yukon, and Alaska. We were on roads like the McCarthy road, Top-of-the-World “highway”, and long stretches of gravel construction repairs on the Alaska, Cassiar, Parks, Glenn, and North Klondike Highways. But we never had any rock damage to paint or headlights. Flat tires, yes, plenty of those on the truck and trailer, but no rock damage. Maybe we were just lucky, but we also never exceeded 45-50 mph on those types of roads and moved over as far right as possible when big vehicles were coming toward us. Our biggest threat was from huge, multi-trailer, ore-haulng trucks on the Cassiar Highway between Stewart and Watson Lake. But I believe that mine has shut down and those trucks no longer travel that route.

Tommy Molnar
26 days ago

While I’ve never experienced this problem, it still sounds like a good idea given all the dirt roads we traverse. But we rarely meet any oncoming traffic either.

Bob M
26 days ago

The other nice thing about lexan is you can drill holes in it without fear of it cracking. We would punch holes for screws with a punch press and bend it to make light shades.

Frank
27 days ago

Lexan is incredibly tough stuff and will definitely stop the rocks. 3M and competitors also make a thicker than normal plastic film that can be applied to the headlights. Not as robust, but you can get it installed by companies that also apply paint protection films. With a good installer, it can be made to bend around some pretty major compound curves.

Last edited 27 days ago by Frank