Tinted glass lends a certain touch of coolness and mystique to just about any vehicle, but it’s a lot more than just style. If you live in a hot climate and get into your vehicle on a 100-degree day, tint can cool off your car a lot faster and make the air conditioner’s job a little easier. What you might not know is that window tint isn’t necessarily just a factory option. It can be done after you buy the vehicle. If you’re wondering, “How much does it cost to tint a car,” the answer is a lot less than you probably think.
How much does it cost to tint a car?
The average cost to tint car windows can range anywhere from $250 to $1,000 or more. An ordinary window tint with standard dyed film can run from $100 to $600, while a specialty film can come with a price tag of $250 and up. If you already have tinted windows, the initial tinting will be removed before a new tint can be applied—and that’s going to run up the bill.
The next question should be how much you want to spend. Window tint costs vary because of a number of factors. But when you start looking at how much to tint windows, you soon find there are all kinds of variables involved in that final dollar amount.
How many windows are you tinting? Tint prices will be lower for a single cab pickup with two side windows and rear glass compared to a Chevrolet Suburban. The size and contours of the windows make a difference, too. Curved windows or wraparound glass shields are a lot harder for a window tint technician to work with and can increase the cost of a tint job pretty quickly.
Tint level and quality
You’ve no doubt seen 20-year-old beaters with tint bubbling, creasing and peeling away. Sadly, when you look at how much to tint car windows, you soon find it’s a you-get-what-you-pay-for proposition. There are different materials, systems and levels of workmanship and care, and they all come at different price points.
State and local laws
Each state has different laws on window tinting, and in many states the ultra-dark limousine tint is illegal. Police need to identify who’s in a vehicle and can fine a driver by using a device to measure darkness and the amount of light transmitted through a window. Those laws have an impact on car window tinting prices near you, too.
A good shop will stand behind its work with a warranty on materials and workmanship, but there’s a chance warranty coverage can also impact prices, as well.
What is window tint?
Window tint is a polyethylene film—pigmented to reduce heat and glare, enhance privacy and protect interior materials from the sun—applied to the inside of car windows. Factory-tinted glass is actually dyed through an electrostatic process that adheres a pigment to the glass during the manufacturing process. Factory tint might be dark but doesn’t always offer the amount of UV protection and heat rejection some aftermarket tints can.
A tech starts by precisely cutting a section of window film to fit a given window, then thoroughly cleans the inside of the window so no lint or dust remains. An application solution is sprayed on the inside of the glass and the back of the film. The film is applied to the glass and carefully squeegeed to force out any creases, bubbles or irregularities. The final step is carefully trimming the edges to make sure the tint fits precisely and perfectly.
Types of window tints
Like just about every other technology, there are more options for window tinting systems than there were 15 or 20 years ago. There’s a material to fit just about any budget.
Ceramic window tint
Ceramic is the most expensive window tint, starting at around $200 and costing as much as $1,000. Ceramic window tinting is a newer style and features tiny, nonconductive ceramic-based particles that won’t interfere with Bluetooth or cellphone signals and blocks 50% or more of the light and solar heat entering a vehicle without reducing visibility. It’s even more effective at blocking infrared and UV rays. Ceramic window tints offer a little extra security by making windows more shatter-resistant in the event of a break-in, vandalism or accident. Drivers have the option of picking out however dark a tint they want with ceramic. Ceramic window tint, not surprisingly, is one of the more expensive options and can raise the average cost to tint car windows.
Carbon window tint
Carbon tint is a bit more affordable than ceramic, topping out at $600 to $800 in most applications. Carbon tint performs nearly as well as ceramic window tint and incorporates tiny pieces of carbon to filter light, heat, UV and infrared. Carbon tint won’t fade or peel over time; is nearly as effective as ceramic tint; and won’t block radio, Bluetooth or cellphone signals. From the outside, windows with carbon tint have more of a matte appearance, which presents a judgment call in terms of aesthetics.
Metallic window tint
Metallic tint can cost anywhere from $100 to $800. Like the name suggests, metallic window tint uses a metallized film pretty effective at blocking heat, light, glare, UV and infrared. Similar to a metallic pair of aviator sunglasses, metallic tint presents a chromelike appearance from the outside that makes it nearly impossible for anyone to see inside the vehicle. Metallic tint is an older system that has fallen out of favor because it tends to block radio, Bluetooth and cell phone signals. Not surprisingly, metallic tint also tends to draw the attention of police and is illegal in some way or form in 20 states. North Carolina allows metallic tint to be no more than 20% reflective, while in Ohio it can be no more reflective than a standard window. Metallic tint is outlawed altogether in Illinois, Maine, South Dakota and several other states.
Dyed window tint
Here we come to the least expensive option for window tinting, costing as little as $50 and topping out at around $600 for a large vehicle with multiple windows. Dyed window tint uses a single layer of darkened polyester film not that much different from the window tint kits you can find in an auto parts store. Dyed window tint is fairly good at blocking glare and heat, but it also tends to fade, peel and degrade over time. It’s the cheapest way to go, though, and can be a good option for someone with an older vehicle they don’t want to spend a lot of money on.
Is window tint illegal?
Short answer: no. Long answer: The laws on the books can vary considerably from one state to another.
Let’s consider Illinois. For a sedan, the tint has to allow more than 35% of light to come in on all windows except the windshield (a six-inch strip of nonreflective tint is allowed at the top of the glass). On an SUV or minivan, the front side windows can be tinted to let 50% of light in, but the rear window and rear side glass can be as dark as you want.
Then there’s Iowa, which calls for 70% light transparency on the front wide windows but any tint you want on the rear windows and rear glass. In New Jersey and New Hampshire, it is illegal to apply tint to the front side windows with more liberal rules about rear glass.
To complicate things more, city and county ordinances can put additional restrictions on tinted glass.
Many squad cars carry a light transmittance meter for just this reason, and you can be issued a nonmoving violation ticket for too-dark window glass. If you’re considering a window tint, be sure you’re in compliance wherever you are, although the shop will usually know the letter of the law, too.
Can I tint my own windows?
If you perform other work on your car yourself, it’s not unreasonable to believe you could go the DIY route to save on window tint costs. Well, just because you technically can do something doesn’t mean you should. Window tint is a lot more complicated than applying a bumper sticker. Before you attempt it, there are multiple factors to consider.
Just because the tint specialists know the law, that doesn’t necessarily mean the box of window tint film you bought is going to be in compliance. You don’t want to set yourself up for trouble by unwittingly putting too-dark tint on your windows with that DIY kit.
Window film is hard to work with unless you’re used to it, and a $50 window tint kit is not going to be a professional-grade product. Even a slight breeze can cause the film to wrinkle or crease, and it can be difficult to keep dust and debris from adhering to the film. A cheaper film is more likely to degrade over time and can be difficult to smooth out thoroughly enough to remove air bubbles.
No second chances
Window tint film is a lot harder to remove than apply, because of the adhesive spray used to install it. You only get one shot at getting it right, and if you have to remove it, prep the glass all over again and buy a new DIY kit, you just doubled the cost of your DIY installation and probably more than doubled your investment of time.
Prep is difficult
Getting that last speck of dust, smudge and little, near-microscopic bit of debris or lint from inside the glass is a lot harder than it sounds, and it doesn’t take much to trap something like that between the tint and the glass—where you can see it forever. Professional techs have the tools and techniques to prevent that.
Self-explanatory. The film in the DIY kit may have a warranty, but your workmanship doesn’t. You’re on the hook for any mistakes you make.