My $2,000 Nissan Leaf Looks Way Better After I Painted The Taillights Red

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Photo: Bradley Brownell

This weekend I had some spare time to tackle a couple of small cosmetic projects on my recently purchased cheap-ass Nissan Leaf. In spite of the chilly weather, it was nice to get out and do a little light wrenching. Little projects like this feel great, because you can get them done in a few hours, and then you have that warm little feeling like you’ve accomplished something. This time I took care of three little things that have been bugging me about the Leaf ever since I got it.

As you probably know, taillights are serious business around here.

The first and biggest project was recoloring the taillights. I hate, and have always hated, clear taillights. I’m not sure what it is about them, maybe because they were so trendy a decade ago and now look totally dated? Altezza taillights were once everywhere, and now I can’t even stand them on Toyota Altezzas. I want a good old-fashioned red taillight, even on something as futuristic as a decade-old EV.

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I mean, just look how bad that is! Ew.

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Photo: Bradley Brownell

The taillights themselves come out pretty easily with three bolts (10mm
heads) per side and three little clips that snap them into the quarter panel. Unbolt and pull, then remove the bulb holders from the back and the lamp housing is free. The CHMSL is a little more difficult, as it requires the removal of the spoiler, but because that had to come off for two other cosmetic projects, it wasn’t such a big deal.

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With the lights clean and dry, I put a strip of painter’s tape on the lower segment to mark out a place where the reverse light would shine through. I lined the tape up with the innermost flutes so that the placement would be identical on each side, and then cut the ends of the piece of tape with an X-acto knife to give it a little curve at the bottom and top of the clear opening. I followed existing curved lines in the lens to try to keep the shape looking as factory as possible. I think it turned out alright.

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With the lamp housings taped off, I hung them on the clothesline, and hit them with three or four coats of Testors Custom Red Transparent model paint. It comes in three-ounce cans — I needed two — and each can is about $6. I’ve used this method on my Porsche Boxster as well as my old 944, and have always been pleased with the results. This time it was probably a little bit too cold, and I probably put the layers on a little too thick and quick, as there are a few waves in the paint, but it’s only really noticeable if you get up close. Maybe I’ll redo it in the spring.

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I mentioned in the first post about this car that the plastic rear spoiler had gotten a lot of sun damage, and I had no idea just how bad it was until I got the thing off the car. With the solar panel and CHMSL removed, it’s just a simple piece of plastic with some mounts in it. It looks to me like this spoiler has been off the car before, as a couple of the electrical connectors had some scrapes, and there was a missing fastener. Maybe this is the second time the spoiler has been painted?

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The underside of the spoiler is fine, so I hit the top of it with a palm sander to strip the faded and scaly paint from the plastic.

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A few coats of plastic-ready rattle-can gloss black and the spoiler looks practically as good as new. Sure there is a ton of orange peel and imperfection in the finish, but it looks significantly better than it did before, and who is going to look at the spoiler anyway? Plus, this didn’t cost me anything, as I already had a can of gloss black on the shelf from any number of previous projects. And it’s going to get a wrap soon anyway, so let it ride.

That’s a result I can live with for a few minutes of elbow grease and a few coats of black gloss Krylon.

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Photo: Bradley Brownell

The third little project of the day was to hit the headlights and the solar panel on the rear spoiler with a headlight renewal kit. I picked up Mothers NuLens kit from the local grocery and went to town. The sun is a harsh mistress and can really bake clear plastic. Both headlamps were faded and yellow with age, and the solar panel was looking like hardly any light was getting in there anyway. So, all three got a nice polish.

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Photo: Bradley Brownell

Hanging around a site like this, it’s pretty likely that you’ve restored your own headlights before, or at least you’ve heard of the process. It doesn’t last forever, and I’ll probably have to do this whole thing again in a couple of months, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make the car look years newer immediately. Like a pack-a-day smoker in their 70s doing a teeth whitening system.

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The Powerball-style kit was pretty easy to use, as I just popped it into the power drill, put a plastic cutting compound on the ball, and worked it back and forth until the yellow was gone. There are cheaper kits out there, as this one was around $20, but considering it came with the tools, it wasn’t too bad a deal. Yeah, that’ll do.

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Oh, I almost forgot, I did a fourth small project by removing the California-mandated front license plate mount. And to my surprise, there were two quarter-sized holes drilled in the bumper for the plate-mounting clips. Jesus, Mother Mary and Joseph, I could have died. What a very incredibly dumb way to mount a plate. I’ll have to try my hand at bumper repair in the near future, I have a kit kicking around in my garage for that from a previous project car. Ugh, what a mess. Yet another imperfection that will be covered up by the wrap, I guess.

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As a daily commuter mobile, I’ve already fallen in love with this crazy cheap electric machine. It’s quiet, it’s comfortable, and it’s ready to rock and roll every morning. I’m not going super far with it every day, but racking up 30 miles in a day is no problem at all. I plug it in to a nice and slow 110 volt charge when I get home from the office, and it’s full and ready the following morning.

Illustration for article titled My $2,000 Nissan Leaf Looks Way Better After I Painted The Taillights Red
Photo: Bradley Brownell
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Of all the $2,000 shitboxes I’ve bought in my life, this one is by far the best.

Jalopnik contributor with a love for everything sketchy and eclectic.

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DISCUSSION

evilsupermonkey
EvilSuperMonkey

After restoring the headlights give them a couple coats with some clear plastic paint that has UV protection (typically the outdoor stuff)