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Opinion: Window Tinting–Worth it?

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Depending on where you live, the following opinion of mine will seem stupid, or painfully applicable. This opinion regards one of the most commonly done—often illegal—car modifications; heck, chances are almost everyone has done it at some point. I speak of course, of window tinting. Again, the level of contention and debate regarding window tinting is entirely dependent on your local laws. In some states—generally Sun Belt states—window tinting is unregulated. Drive through Arizona or Florida and count all the cars with full limo-levels of tint and this will become apparent. Conversely, more dark, cold, Northern states tend to put more restrictions on the levels of tint allowed: Rhode Island only allows the almost imperceptible 70% tint on all the windows.

To spare myself learning 50 states worth of tinting laws, I will focus on my own state, California, which, (un)luckily has some of the ‘worst’ tinting laws on the books in the United States. This feeling of terrible-ness comes from the size of the State, and the differences in climates. Whereas the southern portion of the state is essentially in the Sun Belt, the northern half—where the State Capitol is—is much rainier, and grey. This leads to skewed tinting laws, wherein any window behind the driver is allowed unlimited tinting, the front windows are not permitted any tinting beyond the factory 70%, which most people don’t notice as tinting. In the time-honored tradition of easily dissemination information, I have assembled a pro-con list, starting with the pros, keeping those laws in mind.

Pros:

Better Temperature Control:

Example of Window
A great visual of how it actually works.

The most obvious and sought after benefit to window tinting is the increase in temperature control. Reducing the heat on a warm sunny day is a clear benefit, however; depending on the type of tint you’ve chosen, could also help retain heat on a cold, dreary day. Generally, commercial tints will offer more heat retention than automotive tint, yet on my own cars I seem to experience an increase in heat retention, as well as reducing the time it takes to warm the interior. Many will say this is merely a placebo-like effect, and yet, I find myself not caring, as a warm car is a warm car, regardless.

As I briefly mentioned, the type and quality of tint you choose will be the main determining factor in temperature control, as well as most of the other, below effects. Tinting is measured in how much light is let through, with 70% being baked into most glass, as that is what all states allow. Unfortunately, most people do not notice tint until 50%. Generally, the levels of tint offered are 70%, 50%, 35%, 20%, and 5%. The lower the number, the darker the tint, and the more effective it will be at tinting the light. On top of the levels of tint, there is the type of material used. Ceramic tint materials are generally the highest-end tint materials usable in cars, with the more economical tints usually being labelled along the lines of “premium” and “economy”.

Improved Style:

Window before and after
A great example of a normal car’s dramatic transformation through tinting.

This ‘Pro’ is entirely subjective, however most people will agree that a vehicle’s appearance is improved with a good window tint. Not only does a dark tint lend an air of premium-ness to any vehicle, the lines of the design are improved by being better defined. With totally transparent glass, the ‘top’ of the car is very clear from the ‘bottom’ of the car. By tinting the glass, especially front and rear windows, the transparent ‘empty’ space is filled, and bolsters the lines of the car by connecting top and bottom. Again, this is subjective, although widely agreed upon.

Thief Deterrence:

Most thieves who break into cars for belongings generally scout out their victims by looking through the glass, ensuring something visibly valuable makes the risk worth the reward. A simple, yet surprisingly effective deterrent is to tint the windows beyond easy transparency (which most people choose to do anyways). In a parking lot full of potential targets, it is much simpler for a thief to walk by a heavily tinted car, rather than suspiciously peering into the glass.

It is important to note that the darker the tint, the more the security. As the ‘Cons’ section of this list will show, darker and darker tints carry more risks. It is also important to note that this will not deter thieves who are targeting a car for the make and model, to steal outright. If you drive a valuable car, that will be its own target, beyond the belongings in the car.

Save the Interior:

Sun Damage
Sun damaged leather seats, preventable with care.

One of the most beneficial items on this list that most people do not consider when tinting their windows is the effects it will have on the interior. Regardless of the materials of the interior, the less sunlight and UV rays they are struck by, the longer they will last. Owners of cars with leather interiors should value this even more, as cracking in a leather seat is a sure way to increase the trashiness chic of the whole car. As further evidence of the Sun’s potential damage, one only has to look for a 90’s Nissan. These cars are notorious for the Sun cracking the dashboards of their cars, resulting in severe devaluation.

MPG Increase (?):

This is one ‘Pro’ that people will occasionally throw around, which I do not necessarily subscribe to. The logic is simple: with the temperature benefits, use of the HVAC will be reduced. This reduction will supposedly increase the MPG rating of a car; however, not only do I think people will habitually use their AC the same amount, any reduction in such use would be so marginal that any tangible benefit would require thousands of thousands of miles, and would almost surely not be noticed.

Cons:

More Attention from Johnny Law:

As far as ‘Cons’ go, this is the most daunting, and the most mentioned. Again, this is entirely dependent on two factors: the state you live in and the tint you choose. In California, police treat window tinting like they treat Interstate speed limits: reasonable stretching of the law is looked over. Going 75 in a 65 zone? Probably not a problem, however the moment the speedometer tops 80, it is a different matter entirely. With tinting, the logic is similar: although legally nothing is allowed up front, 50% tint will be often overlooked. Generally speaking, police start to notice once the front tint has started allowing 35% of the light through, and this is for a simple reason: police like to see you. Seeing as they have to approach hundreds of unknown cars a year, this is entirely understandable.

Tint Enforcer
A device used by law enforcement officers to test tint-levels on the spot.

Despite this, many people—myself included—choose to tint their windows to such levels or beyond. Luckily, when the police do come calling, it is merely a fix-it ticket. Simply drive to your tint shop, have them safely remove the offending tint, drive to the ticketing agency and get it dismissed, and if you want you can allegedly drive right back and get your windows re-tinted.

Lower Visibility:

Beyond protecting their officers, states regulate levels of window tint to protect the roads motorists. Often not thought about, the darker the tint, the more it will impact visibility. While even the darkest tint is designed to be seen through from the inside, it certainly hampers outwards vision. In dark conditions, such as at night or in a tunnel, this can be compounded to unsafe levels. Further complicating matters, modern cars are often equipped with auto-dimming mirrors, which, when paired with a dark tint, can make all but some cars headlights invisible through the mirror at night.  While potentially scary sounding, if these factors are kept in mind when choosing a tint, they can be easily avoided.

Some Danger of Damage During Installation:

Almost everyone is guilty of forgetting the very slight danger tinting poses to your glass; myself included. Oddly enough, there are actually a few dangers when tinting your windows, the first being the type of material used. While most professional tint technicians won’t offer any material that has a risk of harming your glass, there are some materials that are not meant to be used on automotive applications. The more ‘budget’ a technician you use, the more of a danger this is.

Window damaged
Not how my window cracked, merely a generic crack. Still, it could be you!

A good technician will also inspect your windows for any damage, no matter how slight. If they find any—rock chips, cracks, warping—they will have you sign a waiver so they are not held liable for any further damage if you want to continue. The reason is simple: heat guns are required to install tint, and heating cracks or other defects can worsen them. The real risk here is the hidden, unnoticed damage. As a very real example, my 2016 Fiesta ST had a very tiny, unnoticed rock chip in the factory anti-Sun dimpling on the windshield.  As soon as my technician installed my visor tint, the tiny chip turned into an 8-inch crack. Luckily, my tint shop is the best in the area—Marvelous Tint Solutions in Folsom California—and they expediently took care of my replacement windshield, at their cost. I got lucky, and a less-honorable installer could foist the cost onto you.

Deteriorates over Time:

Bad Tint
An example of damage over time that can accrue on any tint.

No matter what you do, what film you use, or who installs it, your tint will peel and crack over time. The quality and choice of materials used in tinting do help determine how long a tint will last however. The cheapest tints may last as little as a year before warping and peeling occurs, but the better-quality ones can look factory fresh for as long as seven years before significant damage begins to occur due to age. For those who are leasing their cars, or planning on trading them for a newer model, this is less of an issue. However, for those buying pre-tinted cars, or tinting cars they plan to own for a period of time, the life of the tint should be a serious consideration.  No matter the situation, tint should be seen as a wear-and-tear part.

Conclusion:

While it may look like a frighteningly long list of ‘Cons’, I fervently believe that a properly well-done tint job is always money well spent. Not only does it improve the style of your car, and make it more ‘yours’, it protects your investment’s interior, as well as making your life more comfortable. Despite the risks, all my cars are tinted to the same formula: 5% on all of my rear windows, with a 5% sun-visor strip (to the legal limit), as well as 35% on all of my front windows. I have never been hassled for my tint, and if I am, I am not worried about it in the slightest. In fact, when my Fiesta ST had the factory-levels of 70% tint, I not only felt like I was in a fishbowl of visibility, but anytime the Sun came out, that fishbowl transformed to a magnifying glass, heating me up uncomfortably.

Tint
My 35% front/5% rear formula. This allows the police some view into the front.

Think I am an idiot for taking such a risk? Let me know down below! If you liked the advice or think I missed something, also comment, as well as liking and sharing the article.

Stephen Hyden View All

I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.

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