Angie's LIST Guide to
Window Tinting

People tend to install window film on their cars and trucks mostly for improved appearance and reduced heat absorption. Window film is available in different types and degrees of shading, but remember there are different auto window tint laws depending on where you live. Learn more about car window tinting options in this guide.
 

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Take your car to a trusted window tinting shop with a history of jobs that show no visible bubbles, scratches or blemishes. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Matthew D. of Tabernacle, N.J.)
Take your car to a trusted window tinting shop with a history of jobs that show no visible bubbles, scratches or blemishes. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Matthew D. of Tabernacle, N.J.)
 
 

Car window tinting benefits

Adding window film creates a custom look for your vehicle. Tinted windows reduce the car's interior temperature by 60 percent or more, which decreases interior fading or cracking. Tinted glass blocks UV-A, UV-B and infrared rays that heat up a vehicle. By blocking 99 percent of ultraviolet rays, window tinting helps limit dangerous sun exposure to the vehicle's occupants. And, when the interior is cooler, you won't need to crank the car's air conditioning, resulting in better gas mileage.

Safety and privacy are also factors that determine the decision to tint a vehicle's windows. In the case of an accident, a tint film acts as a net to hold any shattered glass from hitting occupants. Dark shading limits what potential theives can see inside the vehicle. Tint reduces glare from many sources, including the sun and reflections during the day and glare from street lights and oncoming headlights at night.

Professional installation usually takes about two hours for a car and longer for trucks, vans or larger vehicles. The installer cleans the window surface, applies window tint to the inside of the window, positions the tint and presses the film to remove any bubbles or wrinkles.

The tint might look hazy or cloudy for up to three days after application, but this clears up when the water under the film evaporates.

RELATED: Learn More about Auto Windshields and Glass

Types of window tint

Tint begins as a layer of clear film made of polyester. Depending on the type of tint, dyes or metals are added. Choosing the appropriate type of tint will depend on your budget and your needs:

Dyed film is created by adding dye to the polyester film. This type of tint absorbs heat and has the darkest appearance. It's typically used for appearance more than heat reduction and is great for reducing glare and to prevent fading of the interior. Carbon tint is a popular option in this category.

Metalized film has a variety of different metals adhered to it in the manufacturing process. This type of tint reduces heat and reflects UV rays. Metalized tint may cause interference with electronic devices like your cell phone, radio, and GPS.

Hybrid tint combines dyed and metalized types. This premium type of tint reflects and absorbs making it a popular choice.

Ceramic tint, the newest technology, uses nano-ceramics to absorb twice as much heat as dyed or hybrid while maintaining lighter shades. Ceramic provides the best clarity with high durability.

Crystalline tint offers heat and infrared blockage, without really darkening the windows. Comprised of 200 layers of film (yet thinner than a Post-It), crystalline tint is several shades lighter than your average tint (almost clear), and blocks up to 97 percent of the sun's infrared light and 60 percent of the heat coming through the windows. However, this top-of-the-line tint comes at a cost, with the average price ranging between $500 and $800.

Car window tinting

There are several different types of car window tints to choose from. (Photo contributed by Angie's List member Tracy G. of Fontana, California)

Hiring a window tinter

You can install window tinting yourself by purchasing a window film guide, but to ensure a quality result, avoid a DIY tint job and hire a professional.

Start by consulting Angie's List, where you can read through the experiences of other car owners with pros in your area. Before selecting a company, contact several installers for estimates, visit their shops to see the product and ask questions such as the following:

1. How long have you been in business?

2. What's the warranty on your products and workmanship?

3. Is the warranty transferable if I sell my vehicle?

4. Are you an approved product installer?

When visiting the shop, confirm that the workroom is indoors and neat and clean for a dust-free work environment. Observe the employees for professionalism and friendliness.

Ask to see samples of their tint jobs. Check their work closely for any gaps or bubbles. Find out if the tint is applied in one piece or several pieces. Instead of cutting the tint by hand, some installers use a computer laser cutter for a more precise fit.

Discover whether the installer understands the local tinting laws. The degree of tinting is regulated by local law enforcement and varies from state to state. Oftentimes, the state requires more stringent regulations on tinting the front window as opposed to those located in the rear of the vehicle. The International Window Film Association released in May 2014 an updated list of state laws.

In some areas the installer must place a sticker on the car to prove the tint is legal. The amount of light visible through the tint is rated by Visible Light Transmittance (VLTs). Film VLT percent is the film alone and Net VLT percent is for the film and glass together.

Cost to tint windows

The cost for window tint varies greatly depending on a number of factors, one of which is the type of car involved. Some car models with steep and curved rear windows, or easily damaged electronics, require panels and speakers to be manually removed from the vehicle, increasing the cost. Also, the bigger the car, the larger the windows and the more film that will be required to cover the windows.

The quality of the film is also a factor in determining price. While they all may look good after the initial installation, the cheaper film tends to bubble and crack over time. Look for a high-quality film with a lifetime warranty.

Costs for window film can range from $150 to $500 or more. Get multiple estimates from several highly rated shops that specialize in window tinting before agreeing to have the work done. Compare apples to apples, and be wary of a price much lower than the other estimates for the same type of work. As with many things, you often get what you pay for.

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