Whether it’s for keeping the sun and heat out, or for privacy on the road or when parked, window tinting is a necessity in the sunshine states and a popular option for drivers everywhere.
Reduced heat. Reducing heat and UV radiation entering your vehicle adds life to the interior and prevents fabric from weakening and plastic trim from fading and cracking. Because tinted windows block heat from the sun, having them improves the performance of your air conditioner and in turn improves fuel economy. Tinted windows filter out about 80 percent of solar heat, versus less than 30 percent for non-tinted windows.
Reduced glare and UV exposure. Glare through side windows can be distracting to forward vision, and it can lead to eyestrain and fatigue on longer drives. Sunburn can also be an issue for some people. Non-tinted windows typically filter out less than 30 percent of UV light, while darker tinted windows will filter out 95 percent or more.
Increased security. Window tinting makes it more difficult to see your occupants and belongings inside your vehicle, so it’s safe to say that your chances of being targeted for a crime are lessened.
How is tinting done?
There are three major ways to achieve tinted windows:
OEM tinted glass is tinted within the glass, as part of the actual glassmaking process. It lasts the life of the glass. OEM tinted glass usually has only a mild tint that is legal even in the most stringent areas. Keep in mind that OEM tinted glass may be more expensive to replace in a collision.
Film tinting is by far the most popular aftermarket method. A thin tinted polymer film is applied very carefully to specially prepared window glass. The film is available in many different shades of tint and outward appearances, such as flat, reflective, metallic, or even mirrored. Advantages of film tinting are that it’s very inexpensive, and installers claim that it also might help prevent glass from shattering in crashes. Disadvantages are that the film tinting will only typically last five years before cracking, peeling, and bubbling of the plastic film occurs, and also sometimes yellowing or degradation of the tinting itself. Removal of old window film is more difficult than the installation itself.
If you have a shop do the work, make sure they’re approved through an industry group such as the International Window Film Association (IWFA). Also, check that they always use the same brand of film (3M and Johnson are two of the major brands), and that they fully support the manufacturer’s warranty.
You might be tempted by tinted window films — the type available at discount auto parts stores and department stores — claiming easy “stick-on” installation and only requiring scissors or a razor blade for installation. Beware that these solutions sometimes end up with bubbles or wrinkles and rarely end up looking professional, and again, removal is usually more difficult than installation.
Coating tinting applies a special tinted solution to the existing glass, usually as a spray. This type of tint lasts much longer than film tinting, though there are few shops who do it for automotive glass because if properly done it requires removal of the window glass.
Why is window tinting regulated?
Dark-tinted front windows make it difficult for law enforcement to identify hit-and-run drivers, or to establish eye contact with suspects during traffic stops. They make it more dangerous for police, and easier for suspects to conceal weapons behind the tinted windows. Police in some areas of the country carry portable “tintmeters” to check windows that might be darker than the law allows.
How do you find out what’s allowed in your state?
Most states have specific regulations on tinted windows, calling out maximum percentages for visible light transmission and reflectivity. Sunshine states tend to have rules that are more tolerant of deep-tinted windows—and even allow some measure of driver’s side window tinting—though there are exceptions to this rule. The regulations vary drastically by state, so check with your local installer for more information. Click here for a chart with the specific state-by-state rules, provided by the IFWA. The installer should be able to provide you with a product information sheet that has numbers to compare with what’s allowed.