BUYER’S GUIDE: Auto Window Tinting – Read This Before You Tint Your Vehicle’s Windows

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Window tinting is a popular aftermarket product, but buyers should be aware that it is illegal in some states, and tightly regulated in others.

Whether for privacy or to enhance the bad-boy look of a stylish car, aftermarket window tinting is a tempting option for those who want to personalize their ride. There is no shortage of do-it-yourself kits available, and in many states, there are detailing shops that will do a fantastic and professional job at a very reasonable price. The only problem is that, in many places, tinting your vehicle’s windows is either outright illegal or heavily regulated. Almost every state has a law that prohibits window tinting on the front windshield, but most allow some degree of tint to act as a sunshade along the top five or six inches.

Many states regulate aftermarket window tinting of the driver and passenger side glass. South Carolina’s law has seven paragraphs. Most states do allow some level of side tinting, but almost all ban reflective mirror tints. New Hampshire, the “Live Free Or Die” state,  is a good example of a state that bans tinting outright on the front side windows, stating, “No person shall drive a vehicle, registered in New Hampshire, which has after-market tinting installed on the windshield or on the windows to the left and right of the driver.” Many states require that if the window is tinted to the degree allowable, the vehicle must have a certificate of compliance from the approved installer. That dark tint you see on the back of crossovers and sport utes is fine just about everywhere, and no state bans factory-installed tinting.

From AAA: Every U.S. State’s Window Tint Law

How do the police and annual inspection station techs know if your tint is too dark? They have a light meter that slides over the glass. Window tint is measured by the percentage of light allowed to pass through. A typical legal amount is 35% for states that allow, but then limit the amount of tint applicable to a front side window. If you’re a fan of window tinting, or in the business of applying it, the International Window Film Association (IFWA) has your back. For several decades IFWA has been working hard behind the scenes to “…educate industry influencers and consumers on the energy savings, protection against broken glass and UV properties of window film and delivers standardized training and educational materials and seminars to industry members.”

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Apply too dark a tint and the police can fine you and the annual inspection station may deny your vehicle’s required sticker. Some states allow for a medical exemption from tint regulations for those drivers who have a medical sensitivity to light and who get a hall pass from their physician. It doesn’t end there, of course.  We like the Massachusetts law best on this type of exemption. It states: “A special window treatment or application determined necessary via written attestation by a licensed physician, for the protection of the owner or operator of a private passenger motor vehicle who is determined to be light or photosensitive, is allowed upon approval of an application made to the RMV and proper display of an exemption sticker.”

Of course, your properly displayed exemption sticker must not block more than 65% of the transmittable light, or, well, it would violate the tint law.

White Lexus RC with dark tint courtesy of Norm Role. Image of Lexus IS (sedan) courtesy of Travis Lalani. Images of tint tester courtesy of Daley Service, Norfolk, MA