While some people may consider tinted car windows to be “shady looking,” there is no denying the popularity of opaque glass. But do tinted windows do anything other than thwart the gaze of pedestrians, other drivers, law enforcement officials, and Big Brother’s ever watchful electronic eye?
Viewed in its simplest form, window tint is little more than a specialized polyester film, that when applied to glass and then exposed to heat, transforms the clear glass into a transparent “smoked” surface area. Installing automotive window tint is like giving your car a nice pair of sunglasses. And like any decent pair of shades, this dark tint is supposed to not only make you look cool, but stay cool as well, all while keeping things like sunlight glare and UV rays at bay.
For the better part of the past five decades, window film specialists like 3M have praised the protective benefits of a properly installed, high quality tinted glass film. Yet there are still plenty of people who doubt these claims, and some of their reasons for refuting the facts are well-founded. For instance, most modern automotive glass packs UV protective properties straight from the factory, and with the advent of remote starters and smartphone connected climate controls, concerns over climbing into a scalding hot car are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
So is automotive window tint a wise investment, or is it just another overhyped aftermarket offering? Today, we’ll go over the perks and drawbacks of this popular product, and tap into some of the world’s most knowledgeable resources on the subject to set a few facts straight.
A Quick Warning: Tinting Car Windows Can Be Pricey and Potentially Dangerous
Outside of the $100-400 average cost associated with the run-of-the-mill automotive window tint install, there are other, far more pricey risks to consider. Violation tickets for exceeding the mandated level of darkness (or installing tint in the first place) both carry hefty fines, with the cost of the removal of this film resting 100% on the vehicle’s owner.
As for where these legalities are called into question, it is worth noting that different countries have varying laws regarding what parts of an automobile can be tinted, as well as the form of tint used, and how hard it is to see through. The penalties associated with these infractions are a mixed bag too, but typically cost anywhere from $100-500 USD.
Here in Japan, window tint is forbidden on both the driver and front passenger window, along with the windshield and on older vehicles, the front quarter glass. This law remains heavily enforced due to both the narrowness of the roads, and driving visibility concerns at night.
The safety of law enforcement officials must also be taken into consideration. Even though weapons like firearms are exceedingly rare in Japan, the Japanese government is not one to take chances. Cops like being able to see what the occupants of a vehicle are doing, but Japanese drivers are clever, and have found ways around this safety mandate. Instead of tinting their front windows, those in search of vehicular privacy will opt to install cloth blinds up front, a peculiar, yet undeniably clever solution that leaves the fuzz in the lurch.
Quick Nerd Note: In places like Quebec, Canada, the fines associated with illegal window tint increase with the size of the vehicle in question and apply to not only the vehicle owner, but the driver as well. This means that anyone behind the wheel of what the Quebec government considers a “heavy vehicle” will receive a painful $125 to $344 ticket for the first infraction, while the owner gets a jaw-dropping $249 to $525 slap on the wrist.
Window Tint Laws in America
Back in the United States of America, window tint laws vary by state, which means these regulations are a muddled mixture of damn near everything. For instance, in Texas, the law states that: “Windows immediately to the right and left of the driver that have less than 25% light transmission will fail inspection, regardless of the model year of the vehicle.” Interestingly enough, Texas will allow anyone with a medical condition to have window tint darker than the mandated 25%, but only when a signed medical exemption statement from a licensed physician or optometrist is present in the vehicle.
In contrast, cars registered in the state of California can have the darkest tint on the market installed on any portion of rear glass, but the front two windows can’t rock anything below a modest 70% tint. And while New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont do not allow any registered vehicle bearing in-state registered plates to sport tint on its front glass, New Mexico leads the way with the laxest tinted automotive glass laws, with 20% being the limit on anything outside of the windshield.
Speaking of windshields, these expansive pieces of glass can also be swathed in window tinting, at least, up to a certain point. Most states forbid tint installation anywhere below the edge of a windshield’s horizontal factory AS-1 line, which typically is about 5-inches from the roof. Naturally, there are a handful of states that forbid windscreen tint entirely, regardless of its position, whereas Hawaii, North Dakota, and Ohio are the only three states that allow vehicle owners to tint the entire windshield. The only catch here, is that the visibility level cannot surpass the mandated 70% VLT percentage.
Quick Nerd Note: Window tint percentages are based upon the amount of light allowed to penetrate glass. The lower the number of the vehicle’s window tint, the more opaque it will be, therefore making it harder for light to penetrate the glass. These numerals are commonly referred to as the Visible Light Transmission (VLT) percentage.
Benefits of a High Quality Window Film
Looking shady may be an unavoidable side-effect of rolling around with blacked-out windows, but according to the experts, the benefits associated with tinted automotive glass far outweigh the cons.
By this point, pretty much everyone knows that UV rays can damage the interior of a vehicle, which is why many people have taken to ceramic coating automotive plastic trim pieces. Fighting UV rays has long been a core sales pitch for the window film industry, as each manufacturer attempts to outperform the last with greater levels of protection. But does a high grade window film offer anything other than a way to shield upholstery from harmful rays and prevent a cracked dashboard from forming under the sun’s increasingly harsh gaze? The answer might surprise you.
The Power of Privacy
One of the primary reasons why window tint has grown in popularity in recent decades, is its ability to provide substantial increases in privacy. Although being able to discreetly pick your nose in rush hour traffic or peruse your favorite porn site from the privacy of your automobile certainly has its perks, a decreased risk of theft is a bonus that few people think of window tint. Every year, this extremely thin piece of polyester draws a dark, thin line between millions of pieces of personal property, and the thieves that prey upon parked cars.
Unless you are dealing with a car heist specialist, the average vehicular burglar is more of an opportunist than a tactician. This means they will likely prefer the old “smash and grab” approach. Here, the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” rings especially true, as darker window tint has the ability to hide belongings from the sweep of unpleasant prying eyes, especially at night, when thieves are most active.
Someone Turn Down the Heat!
No one likes the sensation of scalding hot seats on bare skin. Come summer, car interior temps quickly skyrocket when exposed to direct sunlight, and it doesn’t even have to be all that sweltering for them to do so. As the chart above illustrates, a seemingly pleasant, 70° Fahrenheit (21° Celsius) sunny day has the ability to send car interior temps soaring in as little as 20 minutes, and as you shall soon discover, cracking windows doesn’t do shit to alleviate these numbers.
According to a report by Insider, a 2005 study published in Pediatrics found that when a car’s windows were closed, temps climbed at 3.4° Fahrenheit per minute. In contrast, when the windows were cracked a full 8-inches, temperatures increased to the pace of 3.1° Fahrenheit per minute. A high grade window tint deflects heat, and when accompanied by an old fashioned windshield sun shade, can make a significant difference in the temperatures felt within the vehicle.
Quick Nerd Note: Small children that have been strapped into a child safety seat cannot move freely. This may prevent bodily harm from occurring during a collision, but it can also be extremely dangerous on a hot day, especially since a child’s body warms up 3-5 times faster than an adult. Remember, a body temp of 104° Fahrenheit typically results in heat stroke, and anywhere over 107° can be fatal.
Rejecting UV Rays All Day, Every Day
UVA rays and UVB rays not only take a hefty toll on the human epidermis, but on automotive materials as well. We discussed the damages associated with UV rays to some extent a while back, but that feature focused more on the risks associated with paint damage than interior issues. UV rays don’t just wreck car interiors either, but pose a massive risk to the human body as well. Driving habits reflect this statement, as window film expert Rayno Film explains that “…the risk of skin cancer on the left side of the body, where a driver is exposed to the sun through the car door window, is higher than any other body part.”
A high-grade window tint can prevent up to 99% of UV radiation from penetrating the glass, which not only keeps a car’s interior from fading, but occupants away from cancer-causing elements.
Shattered Glass Sucks
Since window film is polyester-based, and therefore clings to a surface once heated, it has the ability to keep glass from shattering upon impact. In fact, there are certain household glass film products on the market that have been designed to protect from the damages inflicted by earthquakes, forced entry events, and even bomb blasts. Unfortunately, these extremely strong window films are designed exclusively for residential glass. However, in the case of an attempted break-in or collision, a high-end automotive window film will likely still do a solid job of preventing shattered glass from going everywhere.
Effortless Upholstery Upkeep
Remember that girl in high school who would hit the tanning bed every afternoon to keep an even skin tone year round? Was she able to keep that routine going all these years? If so, chances are she looks more akin to a toasted pecan than a beach babe.
Automotively speaking, extended amounts of sun exposure have the opposite effect, causing interior upholstery to lighten and fade with time, an affliction that once started, cannot be reversed. Full interior replacements are fucking expensive too, so reducing this risk via the use of window film is an inexpensive, readily available solution. By blocking heat and UV rays alike, your vehicle’s upholstery can go from pricey liability to fade-resistant rockstar overnight.
Quick Nerd Note: While it is not illegal to install window films that are darker, in a different color, or rocking a reflective sheen greater than what is legally permitted in a particular state, it is against the law to operate the motor vehicle on public roads once these films have been installed. This explains why a lot of “trailer queen” show cars and race machines sport extreme tint jobs not normally seen on the open road.
Window Film Alternatives and A Few Parting Shots
As our planet’s protective ozone layer continues to collapse, the risks associated with sun damage become more significant. Not just to our vehicles, but to our bodies as well. Fuck looking cool, staying cool, or hiding that big-ass bag of weed from the police office who just parked next to you. Skin cancer is no joke, and as 3M clearly states, The Archives of Dermatology have discovered that “…dangerous radiation from the sun is associated with about 90% of all skin cancers.”
As for offering unparalleled levels of automotive protection from things like UVB rays, your best bet (outside of using a car cover every time you park), is to always seek out a garage or find a parking spot in the shade. This is especially useful when it comes to reducing a parked vehicle’s interior temps, as on average, the use of a window tint film on automotive glass will only prevent 44% (or less) of all solar energy from piping through your windows.
Still, it’s better to have some window tint than none at all. For instance, a layer of 3M window tint provides vehicle occupants with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) that tops-out at 1000. That’s one hell of a sunscreen!
Coupled with its ability to reduce glare from headlights and sun alike, as well as all of the other proven perks listed above, window film tint becomes an obvious choice when it comes to protection and privacy. There’s a reason why almost all automakers tint the rear windows of their vehicles, so keep cool and get you tint on. Your epidermis and car interior will appreciate it immensely.
Quick Final Nerd Note: Total Solar Energy Rejected (TSER) stands for the percentage of total solar energy rejected by a piece of film coated glass. The higher the value, the less solar heat is transmitted through the glass.