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Considering Car Window Tinting? Here's What You Need to Know

Stephen Fogel
January 2, 2019

window tint installation repairpal

Most cars today come with tinted windows, but the color is often just slightly darker than no tint at all. Adding aftermarket window tinting can make it easier to see during the day, keep the car cooler, and maybe even deter thieves. 

But if you’re thinking about tinting your windows, there are a few considerations. Each state has its own laws about what can be tinted, and how dark it can be. Plus, there’s the question of whether you should do it yourself (hint: not unless you’re a pro). Let’s learn more.

» LEARN MORE: How to remove car window tint

What is window tinting?

Aftermarket window tinting usually uses a multilayer polyester film. These films will have percentage numbers, which refer to the percentage of outside light that’s transmitted through the film. The darker the aftermarket window tinting, the lower the number will be. 

There are several different types of aftermarket window tinting film, each with its own benefits and drawbacks:

  • Dyed film: Inexpensive, but poor UV protection and cooling, and fades over time
  • Metalized film: Good heat reflectance and durable, but hurts radio and phone reception
  • Carbon film: Great UV protection, and radio and phone reception, but is expensive
  • Ceramic film: Excellent protection and durability, but is very expensive

The film is cut to match the shape of your windows, and is applied to the inside of the glass. A layer of adhesive attaches the film to your windows. 

Spray-on window tinting products are also available, but these are difficult to apply evenly, without streaks. They’re also illegal in some areas, and aren’t recommended, in general.

Are there window tinting laws?

Each state has its own window tinting laws. These regulations are meant to preserve the driver’s ability to see out of the vehicle, and to give law enforcement sufficient visibility into the other vehicles on the road. Be sure to learn your state’s rules before getting started.

Some states require labeling that identifies the shop that performed your window tinting. Some require that your tint job be examined and certified, with the certification displayed on the vehicle.   

How is window tinting applied?

While it's technically possible for you to tint your own car windows, it’s best to find an expert to do the job for you. An experienced professional will do a better job, and provide a warranty. Check online reviews for several shops, and select one that has a reputation for both high-quality results and excellent customer service.

1. Pick your aftermarket window tinting film

Once you’ve picked a shop, the next step is to select the type of tinting film you want. Ask the shop about any warranties that apply to the tint and its performance over time. Generally speaking, you should go with the best quality film that you can afford.

2. The windows are cleaned

Before any aftermarket window tinting film touches your car, the windows need to be extremely clean, inside and out. This will prevent anything from getting trapped between the film and your car windows. 

3. The film is cut to size

The film is then cut to match the size and shape of each window. The shop will do this either with a computer or by hand. Most current, commonly available vehicles can have their film cut on a computerized cutting machine. If you have an older vehicle, or something rare, the shop may have to hand-cut the film. A skilled, experienced installer makes a big difference here.

4. The film is fitted to your windows

This starts on the outsides of your windows. Each piece of film is placed on the clean, wetted window. The wetness allows the film to slide into its correct position on the window. Once it’s in place, a heat gun is used to make the film shrink where needed, so that it can smoothly follow all the contours of the window, without any wrinkles.

5. The film is attached to your glass

Now each piece of custom-cut and precisely curved tinting film is wetted and applied to a window, which has also been wetted down. The film’s backing layer is removed, exposing the adhesive layer, and the film is slid into place. Any air bubbles or irregularities must be smoothed out before the water evaporates.

6. Allow some time for everything to set

When the installation of your aftermarket window tinting film is finished, you may notice a streaky or hazy appearance. This is because the water under the film has not yet completely evaporated. Once it does evaporate, the film should be much easier to see through. This may take days, weeks or even months. In addition, the adhesive layer also requires a few days to set. Ask the shop for guidelines on when it’s OK to roll down your windows, and when you can clean them.

Leave tint jobs to the pros

It’s very easy to mess up a tint job if you don’t have experience. Streaky purple film, lots of air bubbles, poorly cut edges, and peeling corners — all of these issues result from a lack of installation expertise.

This is why we strongly recommend professional installation. While a good tint job can boost the value of your vehicle, a bad one will detract from its worth. 

As additional incentive, most professional window tinting shops will warranty both the tinting film and their installation. Yes, it costs more than doing it yourself, but the results are light years ahead of what you’ll get with a low-priced tinting kit.

Taking care of tinted windows

A few basic guidelines will keep your aftermarket window tinting looking great:

Protect it from scratching: Prevent kids and pets from scratching the interior surfaces of your windows. Don’t place items with sharp edges where they can hit and scratch the tinted layer. Watch for seat belt buckles that can fly and hit the windows when released.

Clean it properly: Once the tint material has set, you can clean it with an ammonia-free foam cleaner made specifically for windows. Use a rubber squeegee or a clean, soft microfiber towel — never use paper towels. Clean the tinted areas regularly — you can even do it any time you wash your car.

Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.

1 User Comment

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By , July 28, 2017
Wanted to tint my windows, this really helped with me figuring everything out and what exactly what to do for my car. Thanks for writing it!