Tinted car windows can provide a cool aesthetic as well as some privacy to its passengers. Both of these things are true, but window tint has farther-reaching results than many realize such as the protection against UV rays, reflection of solar heat, and even additional window structure support in the event of an accident.
It is also important to remember, however, that each state has its own window tinting laws that affect what kind and how much window tint you are allowed to use on your windshield, front side windows, rear side windows, and back window. Medical exemptions are available for those with specific medical conditions, but those too vary by state.
Regardless of where you live, it is important to know the basics of window tint, the types available to you, and how you can properly utilize that which is at your disposal so you can get the most of any window tint you choose.
State Window Tinting Laws and How They Vary:
Before deciding the type of tint and look that you want, it is important to consider that each state has its own unique set of window tinting laws that affect the legality of tint. Some are stricter than others, some require that each set of windows maintain different tint levels, while others are more consistent in allowing an average tint percentage across the front side, rear side, and back window.
To demonstrate the variety of window tinting laws that exist, we have to look at some of the largest, most important, strictest, and least strict states within the United States. For window tinting laws specific to your state, it is important to check your DMV’s website.
California is known for its strict automotive laws, but its window tinting laws are comparatively light. The front side windows are required to have 70% VLT while the rear side windows and back window can have any percentage of tint applied. Dual side mirrors are required if the rear window is tinted. A non-reflective tint can also be used on the first four inches of the windshield. Red, blue, and amber tints are also prohibited.
Florida’s window tinting laws are even more bearable than California’s for tint enthusiasts. The front side windows must allow 28% VLT while the rear side and back window cannot allow less than 15% VLT. SUVs and vans can allow down to 6% VLT on the rear and back windows. Non-reflective tint can be used on the front windshield but only above the AS-1 line. Any colored tint is illegal.
Texas’ window tinting laws are more consistent than many other states. Every window in the vehicle must allow no less than 25% VLT. For the windshield, this has to be above the AS-1 line or five inches. The rear window can actually be tinted as much as desired if additional side mirrors are used. Additionally, any side window cannot be more than 25% reflective and a tinting sticker must be present to show the legality of the tint.
New York’s window tinting laws fall more on the strict side of the spectrum. Up to 70% VLT can be used on all side windows and the back window unless dual mirrors are used to clearly show the rear of the vehicle. Non-reflective tint can be used on the first six inches of the front windshield.
In Illinois, sedans, coupes, and station wagons require 35% VLT for all windows, including the front windshield six inches from the top. SUVs and Vans must have 50% VLT for the front side windows but can have any tint level on the rear and back windows. No reflective tint can be used for any type of vehicle, and additional side mirrors are required if the rear window is tinted.
Strictest State Laws:
Both Pennsylvania and Rhode Island require that front side, rear side, and back windows allow 70% VLT, the highest average among all the states.
Minnesota requires 50% for all side and rear windows and does not allow any tint on the front windshield.
Other states with strict window tinting laws include Virginia, New York, and Wisconsin. Many of these states consider it a misdemeanor for repeat window tint offenses. Georgia violators can even face prison time.
Least-Strict State Laws:
Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, and Utah have no restrictions on window tint on either the rear side windows or back window, though some have higher required VLT percentages on the front side windows.
Michigan is often considered to have the most lenient window tint laws.
What is Window Tint?
Window tint can technically be several different things to different people, but the same general concept applies to window tint in general – some form of window covering or material, most often making the glass darker, aimed to provide some level of privacy, protection, or both from various outside sources.
Factory automotive window tint sometimes called privacy glass, is the actual dyed or colored glass equipped on many trucks, SUVs, and minivans during the manufacturing process. Unlike aftermarket tint that functions similarly to a sticker, the glass itself is colored, and the tint cannot be removed. It also does not provide many of the benefits that aftermarket tint provides against heat and ultraviolet rays.
Aftermarket automotive window tint is a layered, adhesive sticker-like film that is placed on the inside or the outside of a vehicle’s window. Most regular sedans, coupes, and other cars do not come with factory tint because laws can also vary according to vehicle type, but aftermarket tint can provide many more benefits than factory tint.
Key Window Tinting Terms
In order to better understand what window tint is, what it does, how you can benefit from it, and some of the elements that affect its legality, it is important to understand several key terms associated with window tinting.
VLT or Visible Light Transmission:
Visible light transmission is the most common term used with window tinting, and it has much to do with the legal limits allowed from state to state. It is the measure of how much light is allowed to penetrate the glass and tint applied. The darker the tint, the lower the VLT percentage will be. The most common percentages used are 5%, 20%, 35%, and 70%, though any percentage is attainable depending on the type of tint.
VLR or Visible Light Reflectance:
Visible light reflectance is the opposite of visible light transmission, and it is the percentage of light that is reflected by the window and tint. The higher the VLR percentage, the more light is reflected, and the more glare is reduced.
TSER or Total Solar Energy Rejected:
Total solar energy rejected is the measure of a window tint’s ability to reject ultraviolet and infrared rays produced by the sun. This measurement has more to do with the overall scope of the sun’s energy rather than just its heat deterrence, but the blocking of infrared radiation plays a role in solar heat rejection.
Absorbance and Reflectance:
Absorbance and reflectance are simple and opposite terms that describe how effective a given window tint is at absorbing or reflecting both light and heat.
Most people have experienced window glare, even if they have not thought about it. It is a patch of light that appears on a window that impedes clear vision. This is often known as road glare and happens often when windows are dirty. Most types of window tint film aim to reduce glare.
The AS-1 line is a marked position on the windshield of each line, usually consistent with the farthest reach of your fully extended sun visors. If it is legal to tint your windshield in your state of residence, it is most likely illegal to extend the tint below the AS-1 line.
It is not used as a universal car window tinting marker since not every state has automotive window tint laws related to the AS-1 line, but most states do as windshield tinting can lead to visibility issues.
Types of Window Tint
There are five main types of aftermarket window tints available on the market. Each varies in price and purpose, and each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.
Dyed window tint is one of the most popular auto tint options because of its low price and its mostly aesthetic purpose. It is made by injecting dye between the adhesive and outer protective layer of the film, but it does not offer the overall protection levels of other tints. The dyed tint is also widely available for DIYers and can even come in different colors.
Although dyed tints can protect from glare, they also do not provide the high levels of protection from harmful UV rays that some other tints provide. They can protect from upholstery fading, but again, not to the levels of some higher-grade tints.
They are the darkest potential window tint option since the level of dye within the tint can always be increased, but this raises the potential for legal trouble and can cause visibility issues. It is usually the least durable tint as it is not fade-resistant and can peel and bubble easier than other types of window tint.
Metallic window tint is usually one step higher in the pricing ladder than dyed tint because it is made by sandwiching small metallic particles between the adhesive and outer protective film layers. This creates a reflective exterior appearance that can have a polarizing aesthetic look that is also completely illegal in many states.
This type of tint offers better overall protection than dyed tints because it offers both UV protection and can keep the interior of your car cooler as the metallic particles reflect heat. It is also more durable than dyed tints since it is thicker to accommodate the extra metallic layer, and it does not fade.
Unfortunately, just as metallic tints can reflect heat, they can also affect the electronics within your car like the radio, cell phone, and GPS, because they can also reflect the signals to these devices.
Hybrid window tint takes the best of what dyed and metallic tints have to offer and combines them into one. It is made by placing a dyed layer with embedded metallic particles in between the adhesive and scratch-resistant outer layer of the tint. Because fewer metallic particles are used, hybrid tint pricing usually falls between dyed and pure metallic tint.
It can effectively block UV rays, prevent interior damage and upholstery fading, provide interior heat protection, lasts longer, and does not have as many negative effects on interior electronics as both dyed and metallic tints. Additionally, it does not have a reflective appearance, giving it the ability to control VLT more easily without also automatically being illegal in many states.
Carbon tint is one of the highest quality and most beneficial window tints you can buy. It does most things well, including shielding passengers from glare, keeping your car interior cool, keeping the upholstery protected from both ultraviolet and infrared rays, and does not fade over time.
Its functional benefits technically outweigh its aesthetic benefits, but carbon tints can provide a smooth, dark appearance that only dyed tints can approach. This is because there are micro-layers of carbon between the adhesive and protective layer of the window film working to provide all these benefits. High cost is its only real drawback.
Ceramic window tint is very similar to carbon tint in that it provides glare protection, does not fade, keeps heat out of the interior of your car, and protects both passengers and upholstery from harmful UV rays.
Unlike in carbon tints, nano-ceramic particles are used in between the adhesive and protective layers of the tinting film. It is the most expensive type of window tint, and it does not offer the sleek, dark look of dyed or carbon tints while delivering just about every other advantage that all other window tint film provides.
Window Tint Film Manufacturers
When it comes to finding the best automotive window tint manufacturers, there are a surprising number of quality choices available from both professional installers and those who want to try their hand at tinting their own windows.
3M is perhaps one of the most recognizable names in window tinting because of the other common household products they make. As far as window tinting goes, they offer a huge variety of highly-rated window films and tints at a range of pricing options from their certified installer network. Their Crystalline Series ceramic tint is their most loved, highest quality tint.
LLumar is consistently rated as one of the best, if not the best, window tint manufacturers on the market. They are also the largest. Like 3M, they offer a variety of different window tint types for various budgets, but their FormulaOne Pinnacle Series ceramic tint features their advanced nano-ceramic technology, a lifetime warranty, and a huge fan base among installers and customers.
Prestige Film Technologies:
Prestige Film Technologies does not offer as wide a variety of tint options as other brands, but they offer a high-quality ceramic window tint with their 30 years of experience in the window film industry. Their Ceraluxe IRD ceramic tint is known for its solar heat rejection and high VLT combination.
Hüper Optik, German manufacture of window film, and as a result, is not as popular as 3M or LLumar. Despite this, their ceramic tint is known for having superior TSER ratings compared to competitors, as well as a clean, classy appearance. They do offer other types of auto window tint, but their pricing is often higher than others.
Lexen offers affordable and easy window tinting solutions for those who would rather try their own hand at automotive window tinting. They sell quality, precut DIY window tint kits for easy application and can be found through Amazon for easy purchase. Both carbon and ceramic tint film are available.
MotoShield Pro is a more upscale brand of primarily DIY window tints. Their nano-ceramic film and carbon film comes in both precut sections and sheets for a true DIY experience. You can buy their highly customizable kits from Amazon or direct from their website.
True Line Automotive:
Another DIY-focused window tinting option, True Line aims to help the DIYer even more by offering installation kits with the purchase of their inexpensive tint kits that are easily selectable by make and model.
Installing and Removing Window Tint
Now that you have considered the type and legality of the car window tint you want and can afford, there are two options: Professional installation or DIY.
Professional installers can usually apply window tint in a matter of several hours and sometimes offer a warranty on their work in addition to the warranty carried by the tint manufacturer. Though this saves hassle on your end, a large car or SUV can cost more than $1,000 to fully tint.
To save money, window tint kits – many with high-quality ceramic and carbon tints – are available from several manufacturers. A good DIY tint application takes time, practice, and patience, but you could save hundreds of dollars in the process. Tools like soap, water, a squeegee, a razor blade, a utility knife, and a heat gun are all helpful and sometimes included in tint application kits.
If you ever have to remove window tint, you will need a heat source, like a hairdryer, and a razor blade to get under the corner of the adhesive. Once you pull up the corner of the window tint film with the help of your razor blade, you can carefully peel off the tint like a sticker.