How To Tint OEM Taillights with VHT Nightshades (Step-By-Step Overview) On the 5th Gen 4Runner
Like many, I do not like the chrome on the taillights. You can find pre-cut vinyl stickers to cover it up or even buy brand new aftermarket taillights. Although I would love the aftermarket blacked out taillights, they are just too far out of the budget.
I previously tried vinyl wrapping just the turn signal part of the taillights. …It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great. I was not happy with the air bubbles from that little random 2-inch bump on the side. I am not a pro at vinyl wrap and maybe a pro could do a better job, but I tried a few times and I could get it pretty small but never could get rid of it. I wanted the lights to look nicer than that.
If you want to use a film to blackout your taillights, take a look at this previous review of the popular Lamin-X brand.
I had my taillights on my previous F-150 painted black. I loved the look of them so I decided I would do the same for these. I watched some tutorials and found a good tutorial here on YouTube that is very detailed.
Tools & Materials:
- Masking Tape (if you want to tape off the brake and reverse lights)
- VHT Nightshades: Check Price
- 2000-Grit or Higher Wet Sandpaper: Check Price
- Spray Water Bottle
- Rust-Oleum Wax and Tar Remover: Check Price
- Duplicolor Acrylic Enamel Clear Coat: Check Price
- Meguiars Ultimate Compound: Check Price
- Polishing Kit: Check Price
- Electric Drill
- 10mm Long Socket
- Pry Tool
Step 1. Remove Panels From 4Runner Trunk
I decided to make it easier and less prep work to remove the taillights from the 4Runner. You will remove the panels that are on the inside of the 4Runner trunk space. You can use a plastic pry tool or a flat head screwdriver.
This is where you can access the two 10mm nuts as well as change bulbs if you ever need to.
Once you remove the nuts, unplug the center light harness.
Step 2. Pull Off Tailights
On the outside grab ahold of the taillight and pull directly back. There are a few pressure releases so it might be a tight pull. Just go straight back not any other direction.
I also wanted to tint my 3rd brake light. Two Phillips screws and unplug the cord and it is off.
Step 3. Remove (x3) Screws Securing Tailights
Once you have both lights off, remove the 3 small Phillips screws on the back of the taillights to remove the extra plastic piece. This way you don’t have to tape it off or worry about overspray.
Step 4. Clean Off Lights
I had recently washed the 4Runner so the lights barely had any dirt on them. I wiped them down with rubbing alcohol to have them fully clean for the tape to stick to.
I taped off the brake lights and the reverse light so I wouldn’t hinder their light output. You can tape off whatever you don’t want to be painted or don’t tape anything at all.
Now all lights are ready to be sanded.
Step 5. Sand Down Areas For Tinting
Lightly spray the light with water. I also sprayed the sandpaper.
Start to sand, by hand, all the parts that you are going to tint. Try not to sand the tape and rip it up otherwise paint might get through where you do not want it.
2000 grit is really fine and you will be able to see that the light gets blurry from it and you might be able to see some of the lines. We sand the lights so the paint has something to stick to.
Step 6. Wipe Down Lights w/ Wax & Tar Remover
Once sanded, you will take the wax and tar remover and wipe the lights down. This is to clean them and get off any of the debris created from sanding. I took a microfiber towel after and wiped down to have the surface fully clean and ready to spray.
Step 7. Prep & Paint!
I propped up the lights onto a cardboard box so the edges were not touching anything and so I would have better angles for painting. The bolts on the back work great to push into the cardboard and hold the light in place.
You will use the VHT Nightshades. Even stroke is key. I start and end the spray off the light so I don’t get any runs. Don’t worry too much about missed spots. You can get them on the next coat. Depending on how warm it is outside you need to wait about 15 mins between each coat. The fewer coats the more light can shine through. I did about 2.5 – 3 coats until I couldn’t see the chrome.
Note: I did make mine pretty dark, and the light is a little less visible. Be careful with how dark you go. It will be hard to go back and most likely won’t look good if you have to try and sand tint off.
Once you get the desired darkness make sure they are fully dry before applying the clear coat. VHT recommends a 24-hour cure time. I gave it about 12 hours.
Step 8. Apply Clear Coating
I clear coated the entire light so I wouldn’t have a paint edge. If you’re okay with a possible edge, then leave the tape and start clear coating.
I removed the tape and then gave the brake light and reverse light section that was taped a light sanding and also knocked down the paint edge. Again use the Wax and Tar Remover to clean the lights.
I then started to apply a clear coating over the entire taillight. Same strokes and coverage as I used for the tint. I Also waited about 15 mins between each coat. I did 3-4 coats to get the gloss finish I was looking for.
I again let sit overnight to dry before putting them back on the 4Runner.
Step 9. Wet Sand To Remove Orange Peel
Depending on how good your paint is, you might end up with some orange peel. My driver’s side was very minimal and I was already pretty happy with the finished product. However, the passenger side ended up having a lot more orange peel.
I wet sanded the passenger side to get rid of the orange peel. You will want to sand down as much as you want to finalize the look. Once the light is installed, the next step will be to buff the light to remove the scratches and give it the gloss finish.
Step 10. Buff Out Scratches For a Gloss Finish
Now that the lights are ready to be buffed, you will want to install them back onto the 4runner.
Pro tip: Remember to first put the plastic side pieces back on. Then shove the lights straight on. Make sure they are snug and then tighten the nuts back on. Once the lights are secured, I plugged them in. The 3rd brake light is the plug and the 2 screws.
Tape off all your body paint surrounding the light so you won’t buff anything that doesn’t need to be.
Step 11. Apply Meguiar’s Compound w/ Soft Attachment Pad + Drill
I used a softer attachment pad and added it to my cordless drill.
I put some of the Meguiar’s Compound on the pad and spread it around the light before turning it on. I went through evenly buffing the entire light. Adding compound as needed.
I went over the taillight until I got the desired gloss I wanted. It was about 3-4 total passes over the light. You can take a microfiber towel to wipe clean and see your results. If you still see some imperfections go over it again.
I gave the driver side a much lighter buffing since it was already pretty glossy after the clear coat and I did not sand it.
Step 12. Polish & Wax
Finish up and give the lights a good polish and wax combo. I use Mothers, but whatever your go-to brand is at least put wax on to seal the lights.
And that’s it, you’re all done!
There are different ways to paint the taillights. Some people may only use the nightshades and be happy, or you can use a matte finish instead of a gloss. The video I watched said to sand in between tint and gloss. I didn’t do that because the tint already has a texture and the gloss can stick to it.
If you make any mistakes in the clear coat you can always wet sand it down and re-paint or you can sand and try and buff it out.
Overall I am extremely happy with the outcome and think they look much more professional than the tint decals and far cheaper than buying a set of aftermarket lights.
I am probably just below the intermediate skill level for painting. I’ve painted stuff before, but it’s little one-off projects like this. I think a beginner could do it, but the biggest thing is getting runs in the paint. If you run the tint you risk it being uneven if you have to sand.
Disclaimer: Check your local state laws. In some states, it is illegal to tint taillights and you could get a ticket, especially if you tint the whole light. You also risk people behind you not seeing your brake lights and rear-ending you! Tint at your own risk!