First off, let me start by saying a worth while DIY project and excuse my pics in advance as I was not planning on doing a write up initially. And if you plan on doing this, plan on not being able to drive the Jeep for the day. You will need an entire day for all this work to cure properly and to achieve fantastic results. It seems like allot of work, but really its not.
What you will need:
Phillips Screw Driver
Wet Sand Paper - 1500 and 2000 grit
1 can of VHT Night Shades Tail Light Tint Spray
1 can of Clear Top Coat (optional)
A table top
A well ventilated area
Rubbing compound - to remove wet sand marks (I used turtle)
Swirl remover/gloss enhancer - to bring up the shine and remove marks from compound (I used Zaino Z5)
Wax/Polish - To protect the tail light top coat (I used Zaino Z2)
Step 1: Identify ugly looking stock tails
There they are....ugly little bastards aren't they?
Step 2: Remove tail lights and upper mount brake light
For the tails, its as simple as opening up the lift gate, using the Phillips Screw Driver to remove the two screws on both sides of the inner tail light mounting tabs. Once you remove the screws, the assemblies are loose. To remove them once the screws are out, simply push the tail light towards the outside of the vehicle, the ball tabs will remove themselves from their retaining clips with some light force. Careful you don't scratch the paint on your rear panels. Once thats complete, unlock the wiring harness by pushing on the red retainer clip on the harness socket. Pull out, and remove the socket. You are now left with a tail light in hand.
To remove the upper brake light, use the Torx bit to remove the screws and pull the assembly out if its housing. Unclip the wiring harness by turning the bulb socket counter clock wise. Remove the plastic tabs that held the tails in place on the inner fender attached to the tails by starting with the small tab, pop it out of place and then move the big tab. Once you remove this trim piece, you are now ready for prep work!
Step 3: Prep Work
It's extremely important that if you want your project to look good and obtain the best results possible that you properly prep the surfaces for paint. Do this by simply using some 1500 or 2000 grit (I used to 2000 grit) wet sand paper, some regular dish detergent and a light stream of water. Wet the tail lights and the sand paper, apply a dime size or roughly there abouts, amount of dish soap to the lense or sand paper. Make sure all surfaces stay wet during the process, add water as needed and sand in straight lines up and down the tail light from top to bottom. What you are doing here is removing all years of wax, grime and build up that will prevent your tail tint from properly adhering to the surface of the lenses. Repeat these steps for the other tail and the brake light lense. Check your work. When done, and done properly, you tail light should be completely hazy looking with no apparent areas having been missed. If you missed a spot, go back and re sand, check your work again. I cannot stress how important this step is. Make sure all parts are completely dry and free of moisture before painting.
Step 4: Tinting your tail light and brake light lenses
I used this stuff, it's called Night Shades made by VHT http://www.vhtpaint.com/niteshades.html
I used an old drafting table, I knew those course would come in handy one day, and set up the tail light lenses, one on each corner so that am able to easily spray around all the edges of the lenses and the top facing areas. You can place the brake light lense in an area your comfortable with, all lenses should be far enough from each other that over spray will not be an issue.
When tinting, its especially important to start at the edges of the lenses and work your way into the middle of the project. I found this to be the best method for coverage and overall finish.
Start by making two quick passes around all the edges of your lenses one lense at a time. Come back and make one quick pass over the face of the tails width wise across the lenses (left to right as if they were mounted on the vehicle). Come back and hit the lense again with a consistent steady pass from top to bottom (as if the tails were mounted on the vehicle). Make sure you barely overlap your previous strokes during the process to ensure even coverage and potential blotching. MAKE SURE TO USE LIGHT COATS. Heavy coats can blotch, run and orange peel heavily. Not fun to remove. Take your time and have fun with this. When done, and done properly, the lenses should be completely evenly coated and should look like glass. Smooth with no dry spots or areas of imperfection. LET IT DRY 1 FULL HOUR MINIMUM. Come back and check your work, if it looks good, go for a second coat if desired to darken the effect which is what I did. No wet sanding in between required if you did a proper job to start. Repeat this step UP TO 3 TIMES MAX. If you want your tails truly blacked out, be careful you don't layer more than 3 coats or you may have issues with light penetration through the lenses.
Step 5: Clear Coating the Tails and Brake Light (Optional)
VHT suggests their Night Shades Tint does not require a clear coat. I decided to clear mine for 2 reasons, first I was not completely satisfied with the shine on the finish of the tint spray used. Probably because I layered 2 thin coats, a 3rd, all though would have darkened the lense, may have added to the shinny finish VHT claims to have. Also, I did use a fine sand paper to scuff the surface of the lense so I attribute some of the dullness to the base combined with thin coats of tint. The second reason I sprayed clear was to protect the tint from scratching and showing through. 4 coats of clear should protect that tint more than well enough.
Follow the exact procedures in step 4 for tinting when adding a top coat of clear to the lense. Use even slightly over lapping strokes in the same fashion as described above. When complete, your clear top should look as smooth as glass before it dries. Once dry, you should end up with I have below. Remember, I was going for a Cherry look, I wanted it look like a stock tail if Jeep were to offer it with a tint from the factory. I did not want a total blacked out effect. Heres my finished product before wet sanding, you can see my set up and how you should position your tails on the corners of a table. They look slightly lighter in the pics than what they actually are:
Step 6: Wet sanding after clear coating (Optional)
If you are happy with the results of your clear coating, skip this.
If you did a proper job painting, you will only need to do this once, follow the same procedures for wet sanding as in step 3. Start with a 2000 grit, once complete, check your work, go back and re sand areas that need to be smoothed out. If a more aggressive grit is required, go with a 1500, come back and finish off with a 2000 grit. Make sure all surfaces have generous amounts of soap/water mix. You do not want to be burning through the clear coat at this stage of the game. What you will be left with is a another hazy looking tail light with a very smooth surface. This means you are ready to seal and protect your work.
Step 7: Sealing/Protecting your tail tints
Whether you clear top coated your lenses or not, protecting your work is important. Its just like the paint finish of your Jeep, you want it clean, shinny and smooth as often and as much as possible. Utilize this step for the tails alone OR follow it along and extend the love to the paint on your Jeep. Whether you decided to this with the tails off the Jeep on on, its your choice. I did it off the jeep and will come back and hit it again when I eventually get waxing my truck.
Take your rubbing compound of preference to the tails with a soft cotton towel or wax applicator, use light, steady pressure to buff out the wet sand scratches. Repeat as required.
Once you have a reflective finish again, you can move over to your polish/gloss enhancer. Apply with a soft 100% cotton towel to help prevent fine scratches. Repeat as necessary until you have that brilliant shine you are looking for.
Once thats accomplished, hit it with a sealer/wax to protect that gloss and show off that tint!
Step 7: Re install the tail lights and brake light in reverse order following step 2. PRESTO! YOU'RE DONE!
Here are some real crap pics I took once installed, I'll get better ones eventually once I complete the wet sand on the tails. Remember folks, I have not wet sanded the clear on the tails, just buffed and waxed and the tails look slightly lighter in the pics then they actually are...