Automotive Window Tint Buyers Guide
Shades of tint
Window Tint Buyers guide
There are a lot of things to consider when getting window tint installed on your car, and once you learn about all that factors that affect the quality of your tint job it may help you understand why one shop might charge you $200 for the same job that another place quoted at $140.
Before you even decide if you want to tint your vehicle make sure you check the tint laws for your state. Check to see if it is an inspection law or purely a police-inforced law, what percentages are legal on what types of vehicles/which windows, and what the legal repercussions for breaking these laws are. Older cars are often subject to different laws also, usually because the laws were changed and vehicles manufactured before the year of the change remain unaffected. For example, In PA the legal limit for all windows on regular cars was changed to 70% in 1998, any car manufactured before that year is excused from this change and will instead be subject to the previous limit of 20%. Another thing worth mentioning is that some states have overly strict laws which are commonly not enforced by police unless the limit is violated to excess. Using PA as an example again, the 70% restriction is a tad excessive as 70% is pretty much what most cars come with straight from the factory. Because of this cops usually don't bother people with anything lighter than 20% or so.
Now that you've decided what your getting it's time to The first thing you should look at is the type of window tint, as it makes the biggest difference and is the easiest to find out about. All those tint jobs you see that just look faded and even purplish are the result of using cheap, low quality window film. Cheap films also tend to 'delaminate,' or peel of leaving a mess of adhesive on your window, and may also bubble up once it's been exposed to the sun for a few months. This is something you really have to watch out for because low quality tint may fool you by looking just as good right after installation, but down the road it will lead to problems. To avoid wasting your money call around and ask different installers what kind of film they use and if it comes with a lifetime guarantee, or any guarantee at all. Reputable films like Llumar, SunTech, 3M, and Solar Gard are durable and should last as long as your car does, assuming it is installed correctly. Most window tint found at places like Pep Boys or Autozone are cheap, low quality, and will lead to problems down the road. They are fine if you don't plan on keeping the car for over a year or so, but if you want your tint to last avoid putting these films on your windows.
Installing window tint is much harder than most people think, anyone who has ever tried to do it themselves can attest to this fact. Having a skilled installer is crucial to getting a quality tint job. If you can, ask to see some of their previous work and keep an eye out for specs of dirt or tiny pieces of hair that commonly get stuck between the film and the glass. Take a look all around the outer edges of the windows and check for any gaps, and on all windows that roll up and down also check the sides for creases or kinks which are caused by common mistakes during installation by amateur tinters. Make sure there are no bubbles or 'fingers' in the film, which can be easily seen when looking from outside the window and appear as as white circles or in the case of fingers, white finger shaped bubbles at the bottom or top of the window. Lastly, ask the installer if he will need to do any of the windows in 2 or even 3 pieces. Nowadays every car window is capable of being done in one piece which looks much nicer than pieced windows. It may be hard to find a tinter who can do some of the toughest windows(such as the rear window on a corvette) in one piece, but it is worth it to find one as it comes out looking much nicer and also means the tinter knows what he's doing and will do a good job on all your other windows as well. Remember to take a quick look at all your windows before paying and driving off with your newly tinted car, you may notice some bubbles or other imperfections that can easily be fixed by the installer on the spot but will be a much bigger problem if you don't point it out and allow the tint to dry like that.
Cutting out window tint by hand is now a thing of the past, most professionals have tint software which contains templates for almost every car window and can be used in conjunction with a plotter machine(the same kind used to cut out vinyl decals) to cut out each window perfectly every time. It's always safest to get your car tinted somewhere that uses computer-cut tint because it's guaranteed to fit the window perfectly every time unlike hand-cut tint which is subject to human error. That being said it's still true that a skilled Installer with a steady hand can cut out windows just as good as a computer can 95% of the time, so if you're looking to save a few bucks you may be able to find a better deal from a professional who can work for less because he doesn't have all that expensive machinery and software to pay for.
Alright, so you've done your research and found an installer that you can both afford and trust to do a good job. Now all that's left is deciding on a shade and type of tint. The legalities should play a big role in your decision, and although every state has different laws it all pretty much comes down to whether or not the cop wants to mess with you or not. Odds are if your car is tinted it is illegal, if cops pulled over every illegally tinted car they saw they'd have no time leftover to eat donuts and pick on kids for loitering(assuming you don't live in a city where cops have real issues to deal with). Basically the whole reason tint is illegal is because not being able to see who's in the car/what they're doing poses a legitimate safety concern for police officers. If a cop pulls you over, even if its for speeding or something not tint related(which surprisingly is usually the case when someone ends up with a window tint ticket), and he has to walk up to your window without being able to see what you're doing or who you are behind your window tint, there's a good chance it will irritate/worry the cop and that's when he's going to give you a ticket. So although the specific laws are very important, you should also keep that in mind when your deciding on a shade.
Tint shades are labeled by percentages, the percentages represent the amount of light that is able to pass through the tint. So for example 5%(which is limo tint) allows 5% of the light to pass through it while it blocks 95%. 50% would cut out half the light and 20% cuts out 20% allowing 80% to pass through, you get the idea. When deciding what percentage you want your window tint to be you have to take the legalities, the appearance, and also the visibility from inside the car. Many people fail to take into consideration the fact that tinted windows are harder to see out of, especially at night. The effect isn't nearly as drastic when looking from inside the car to the outside as it is when trying to look into the car, but it still cuts visibility enough that you should really take it into consideration when choosing a shade, especially if you plan on going especially dark. Generally, anything above 20% won't give you and significant problems, unless you do something stupid like tint the entire windshield. If you plan on putting limo tint or even 10% on your car you should take into consideration the fact that you'll probably be rolling your windows down to see outside your car clear enough at night some times.
All window tints cut out 99% of UV rays regardless of darkness, so that shouldn't factor into your decision. Heat reduction works pretty much as expected, the darker the tint the more heat it blocks out. Other than that it pretty much comes down to the appearance. Which tint you think looks nicest on your car. This is completely your preference but I do have some suggestions I'd like to make based on my experience and seeing so many cars get tinted. If you have some kind of luxury car I recommend you don't go too dark. Overly dark tint can totally ruin the classy look of an expensive luxury car, while a nice light(say 40-50%) tint really adds to the elegance of the car. Excessively dark tints really only work with imports/tuners and limos/town cars. Another thing people often try to do is mix and match different shades on different windows. If you want to do this I seriously suggest taking a look at a similar car that has that kind of tint before you spend the money on it. It is very rare that a tint job turns out looking nice that isn't all the same shade. There's no way to explain it you just have to see it, but various different shades on the same car just doesn't work 99% of the time.
You're not quite done yet, there are still a few more optional choices to consider before you carve your decision in stone. If you have a GPS in your car you should really make sure your installer is using a dye-based film. Most of them are nowadays but in the past metal-based tints where very common and the metal in these tints likes to mess with your GPS signal/reception, so metalized tint isn't really an option for cars with GPS. Other than just the shade there are more ways to customize your tint that you may want to take into consideration. Some of your options include cutting you patterns in your tint, as most shops use vinyl cutting plotter machines to cut out their tint they also have the capability of cutting any vinyl pattern into your window tint. Then there are special films to choose from, mirror tint, frost tint, different colors, etc. Most of those options are illegal though and are much easier to get pulled over for than even limo tint. Finally, you have the option of spending double+ the money to get a very high quality film with high optical quality and heat reduction. The best and most reputable example of this is the "huper optik" tint. It costs more than twice as much as most films but is #1 in optical quality, and is so good at reducing heat that even the 50% huper optik film blocks out more heat than most limo tints. It also is lifetime guaranteed and has an amazing reputation. Unless you really have a lot of money to blow, huper isn't really worth it despite how obviously superior it is to other films. The price difference is just too much.
So that's just about everything you need to know/consider when you decide to buy tint. If you still can't decide or have any questions at all post a comment, I check and respond to all my comments at least once a day so you'll have a response in less than a day. If your still on the fence about getting you windows tinted at all check out my other article Why should I tint my windows?