Too dark? Can car window tint be illegal?

Cheap Insurance reports on auto window tinting and how it affects drivers in different states.


Worker wearing gloves tinting rear driver


Window tint isn't just a cool accessory for your car. Those darkened windows offer a variety of benefits, from blocking UV rays to keeping your interior cooler. But there's a fine line between stylish and illegal. Every state has window tint laws that dictate how dark your windows can be.

This can be confusing, especially if you're considering getting a tint job or you're already sporting some darkened windows. Noncompliance with these laws can lead to fines, tickets, and even require you to remove the tint altogether.  Worse yet, overly dark tint can actually hinder your visibility and become a safety hazard.

So, before you crank up the cool factor, follow along as Cheap Insurance breaks down why it's important to understand window tint laws and how they can impact you, or even your vehicle insurance.

State by State Shade: How Dark Can Your Window Tint Be?

Sunburnt arms and a scorching interior are no fun on a road trip. Window tint offers a solution, but the level of darkness you choose can vary greatly depending on where you live. Buckle up, because we're diving into the world of state-by-state window tint laws.

Window tint darkness is measured by Visible Light Transmission, or VLT  across different areas. We'll explore how dark you can tint your front side windows, back side windows, and even the rear window. Remember, these laws can change, so it's always best to consult your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website for the most up-to-date information.

Behind the Smoke Show: Pros and Cons of Car Window Tinting

Tinted windows might look sharp, but is there more to the story? This section dives into the good, the bad, and the smoky of car window tinting.

On the plus side

  • Sun Protection: Window tint blocks UV rays, which can help prevent sunburn and protect your car's interior from fading.
  • Cooler Cabin: Tinted windows help keep your car cooler by reducing heat gain from sunlight, making those summer drives more comfortable.
  • Enhanced Privacy: Tinted windows make it harder for people to see into your car, offering a sense of security and keeping valuables out of sight.
  • Safety Benefits: Window tint can help shatter-resistant glass from holding together after an impact. (Note: This doesn't replace the safety benefits of proper window tinting installation.)

But there's another side to the story

  • Reduced Visibility: Overly dark tint can impair your vision, especially at night or during bad weather. This can be a safety hazard.
  • Legal Issues: Non-compliance with window tint laws can lead to fines and require tint removal.
  • Potential Insurance Impact: While uncommon, some insurance companies might consider heavy window tint a modification that could affect your automobile insurance rates.

How Dark Is Too Dark?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA stipulates:

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 205, Glazing Materials (49 CFR 571.205), which has been in effect since 1968, imposes a minimum level of light transmittance of 70 percent in all areas requisite for driving visibility (which includes all windows on passenger cars). The purpose of this requirement is to ensure adequate visibility through the windows, thereby reducing the risk of a motor vehicle crash.

Although Federal motor vehicle safety standards apply directly only to new vehicles and equipment, Federal law also imposes limits on the addition of tinting materials to motor vehicle glazing after vehicles have been purchased by consumers. Pursuant to section 108(a)(2) of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. 1397(a)(2), manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or motor vehicle repair businesses may not "render inoperative" any equipment or element of design installed in compliance with a Federal safety standard. Thus, those businesses may not install tinting that reduces the light transmittance of windows covered by Standard 205 to a level below the Federal requirement of 70 percent, since that would make the windows "inoperative" within the meaning of Standard 205.

The "render inoperative" provision of Federal law does not apply to actions by individual vehicle owners. Therefore, each State may regulate the extent to which after market tinting may be applied by vehicle owners to their own vehicles.

However, no state has the authority to grant any exemptions from the "render inoperative" prohibition of Federal law that applies to commercial entities. Hence, regardless of any provisions of state law, no manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may legally install window tinting film on a vehicle, unless the vehicle continues to comply with the Federal light transmittance requirements.

So, is window tint right for you? Weighing the pros and cons will help you make an informed decision. Remember, safety should always be your top priority.

5 State Examples

From reflectivity to window tint colors - here are a few state restrictions and oddities

  1. New Jersey's Rainbow Restriction

New Jersey has a unique law that prohibits any tint that has a reflective or colored sheen. This means that those cool, mirrored tints or any tint with a blue or purple hue are a no-no in The Garden State.

Car window tinting laws in New Jersey were enacted in 2003.

Restricted Colors: No colors of tint are explicitly banned by New Jersey law.

Certificates: Film manufacturers don't need to certify the film they sell in New Jersey.

Medical Exceptions: New Jersey allows medical exemptions for special tint. For more details about the specific terms of the exemption, consult New Jersey law.

Penalties: Maximum $1,000 fine for first offense, and $5,000 for second or subsequent offenses (NJ Statutes 39:3-75.3)

  1. Vermont's Medical Exemption

The Green Mountain State offers a medical exemption for window tint restrictions. Drivers with a documented medical condition that necessitates protection from sunlight can apply for a waiver to exceed the legal tint limits.

Car window tinting laws in Vermont were enacted in 1984.

Side Mirrors: Dual side mirrors are required in this state if the back window is tinted.

Restricted Colors: Vermont does not prohibit usage of any tint colors.

Certificates: Film manufacturers don't need to certify the film.

Medical Exceptions: Vermont tinting law permits medical exemptions and allows the use of darker tint.

  1. South Carolina's Windshield Tint Ban

While many states allow a light tint on the top portion of the windshield, South Carolina bans any tint on the windshield altogether. This can be a challenge for drivers with certain medical conditions sensitive to sunlight.

Car window tinting laws in South Carolina were enacted in 1992.

Restricted Colors: Tint colors red, amber and yellow are not permitted by law.

Certificates: Film manufacturers need to certify the film they sell in South Carolina.

Medical Exceptions: South Carolina allows medical exemptions for special tint. For more details about the specific terms of the exemption, consult your state law.

Penalties: Misdemeanor with minimum $200 fine or 30 days in prison for each offense.

  1. Oklahoma's Reflective Tint Restrictions

Similar to New Jersey, Oklahoma restricts any tint that has a reflective property. This eliminates mirrored tints and any tints that may appear reflective in certain lighting conditions.

Car window tinting laws in Oklahoma were enacted in 2005.

Restricted Colors: No color-altering materials are permitted.

Certificates: Film manufacturers need to certify the film they sell in the state.

Medical Exceptions: Oklahoma allows medical exemptions for special tint.

  1. California's Red Tint Prohibition

The Golden State takes a strong stance against red window tint. Any tint that appears red, regardless of the darkness level, is illegal in California. This extends to medical visors with a red tint that may be used for certain eye conditions.

California window tint law restricts windshield tint on top 4 inches.

Front-side windows must have 70% light transmission or more. Back side windows and rear window may have any tint darkness.

Car window tinting laws in California were enacted in 1999.

Restricted Colors: California tint laws do not permit using red, amber or blue tint colors. Side windows must be colorless.

Certificates: Manufacturers of film must certify the film they sell in the state and the driver is required to have the certificate in their possession.

Medical Exceptions: California law allows medical exemptions for lower tint on all windows.

Tinted Windows, Tinted Rates? Does Window Tint Affect Insurance?

Window tint offers a stylish and functional upgrade, but can it impact your auto insurance rates? This section will shed light on the relationship between window tint and your insurance policy.

Generally, legal window tinting shouldn't directly affect your insurance premium. Insurance companies primarily consider factors like your driving record, the car's make and model, and your location when determining rates. However, there are a few scenarios where window tint could come into play, potentially leading to an indirect impact:

  • Traffic Violations: If you get pulled over for having illegally dark tint, the ticket itself could raise your rates because it indicates a higher risk of future violations. In some cases, multiple tickets within a short period could result in points on your driving record, or even lead to your insurance company canceling or non-renewing your auto insurance coverage.
  • Uncovered Damage: Most vehicle insurance policies exclude coverage for aftermarket modifications unless you specifically add them. This means that if your illegally tinted windows get damaged in an accident, a theft, or even vandalism, your car insurance might not cover the cost of replacing them. This could leave you facing a significant financial burden.
  • Potential for Increased Scrutiny: While not a guarantee, some insurance companies might inquire about window tint during the application process, especially if you live in a state with stricter tint laws. If you have heavily tinted windows, even if legal, the insurer might see it as a potential risk factor and request additional information or even adjust your rates slightly (though this is uncommon).

Here's the takeaway

Following your state's window tint laws is crucial. Not only does it avoid fines and hassles with the police, but it also ensures your insurance covers your car properly. If you're unsure about the legality of your tint or its impact on your insurance, it's best to consult your insurance company and your state's DMV website. Proactive communication with your insurer can help avoid any surprises down the road.

Even if legal tint doesn't directly affect your base premium, maintaining a clean driving record and adhering to all traffic laws remains the best way to keep your insurance rates low.


This story was produced by and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.

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