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Your vehicle’s windows let you see what’s happening outside, but there’s a dark side that comes along with that very obvious benefit. Well, it’s probably more appropriate to call it a light side, as where there’s light, there’s heat, which can damage the vehicle’s interior, melt that large Slurpee you just picked up, and generally make the vehicle uncomfortable until the air conditioner can do its job.
Thankfully, the automotive world has a solution, and no, it’s not that fold-out foil window shade your grandma used in her ‘93 Buick LeSabre. Window tinting has been around for decades now and can seriously reduce the amount of light and heat that enters a vehicle. Many tint jobs involve darkening all windows except for the windshield, and many automakers offer a factory tint option for the rearmost windows.
Having a professional install window tint is easy and not very time consuming, but it can be an expensive undertaking. Thankfully, the process to tint windows at home is not terribly difficult, but there are some things to keep in mind along the way. Stick with us on this step-by-step guide to tint your windows like the pros.
What Are Tinted Windows
When we say tinted windows, we’re referring to a process that involves applying a transparent sheet of darkened film to your vehicle’s windows. The purpose of tinting windows, at least as it’s described in the “I’m not doing anything shady” handbook, is to reduce the amount of light and heat that enters the vehicle. Some people do it to make their cars look cool and mysterious, and some do it to add an extra layer of privacy to their vehicles.
Minivans, SUVs, wagons, and even some pickup trucks are available with factory window tint. In these cases, the tint is usually restricted to the rear windows of the vehicle, which prevents the driver from having an obstructed view.
Window Tinting Basics
Estimated Time Needed: Tinting your windows at home can take anywhere from two to four hours, depending on your skill level, environment, and vehicle.
Skill Level: Beginner
Vehicle System: Interior
Window Tinting Safety
Tinting windows at home is a low-risk activity, but there are a few opportunities to take a utility knife to the knuckles along the way. Be careful to cut while pushing the knife away from your body and avoid cutting quickly or haphazardly. Your window tint won’t be the only thing suffering if you slip up.
There’s also a good deal of soap and water used in the tinting process, which, for obvious reasons should not go into your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or anywhere else that dish soap isn’t supposed to go. It’s also important to avoid spraying so much water onto the glass on the inside that it rolls down into the door, where it can damage electronics like window switches and speakers.
Everything You’ll Need To Tint Windows
Many people already have what they’ll need to tint windows at home, but to be sure we’re all on the same page, we’ve included a list of what’s needed below.
You don’t want to be digging around for parts and tools while your window tint is sliding to the ground, so take the time to gather everything you’ll need before you start. Take care to park in a well-lit garage or in an outdoor area away from potential sources of air contaminants like a sandy beach or dusty dirt road.
There aren’t any hazardous chemicals involved in the window tinting process, but it’s a good idea to work in a well-ventilated area anyway. Finally, be sure you’re not tempting fate by going full black-out with your window tint. The police will notice and they will not buy ignorance as a valid excuse. We don’t want your hate mail when an officer writes you a ticket for what it would have cost to have the tint job done professionally.
Here’s How To Tint Windows Yourself
Be Aware of Local Laws
Before you do anything related to tinting your windows, make sure you’re not going to run afoul of local laws and regulations. Many areas have a limit on how dark you can tint your windows, which is usually set around the percentage of visible light that can make it through. For example, 20 percent tint means that 80 percent of visible light has been blocked, which is a fairly dark tint. Law enforcement has zero chill when it comes to window tint that is too dark, and tempting fate here could net you a ticket or slashed window tint if the officer is having a bad day.
With that out of the way, let’s do this!
Preparing Windows for Tint
- Find a clean and dry place to work. Dust, moisture, and other air contaminants can get under the tint and cause bubbles or peeling down the road.
- Remove any stickers or other adhesives from the glass.
- Clean the windows thoroughly using an automotive window cleaner. Spray the solution on the window and use a razor blade to scrape any debris off the window. Be sure to roll the window down slightly to clean all the way around the edges.
- Use a clean towel to dry the window. Wipe against the edges and seals of the window to get as much moisture off as possible.
- Roll the window back up and dry any residual moisture.
Preparing the Tint
- To size the tint properly, you’ll use the outside of the window to get your measurements.
- Tint generally comes in rolls. Determine which side of the tint has adhesive applied. Face the adhesive side outward, toward you.
- Spray the outside with soapy water. This will help temporarily adhere the tint to the window and will allow you to size the tint sheet.
- Roll the tint out over the wet window. Be sure to leave 2-3 inches of extra tint hanging around all of the edges. Don’t remove the liner at this point, we’re just sizing the tint for now.
- Spray the outside of the tint with water so that there’s a thin layer across the entire surface.
- Use your knife to cut around the bottom and left edges of the window. Try to cut as cleanly as possible and get as close to the edge as you can.
- Pull the tint toward the left edge that you just cut. Moving the tint by an inch or so will help ensure that there is enough to cover all edges of the window.
- Cut the right side of the film and pull the tint back to the right by half an inch. This should give a quarter to a half-inch of extra material all the way around.
- Pull the tint down an inch. This will give a bit extra material to cover the bottom of the window as it’s rolled up and down.
- Lower the window just a bit and cut the top of the tint using the window as a guide. Once this is done, pull the tint back upward toward the center to give extra material on top and bottom.
- Take a moment to clean up any rough edges or odd shapes that have emerged during this process.
- Move the tint back to center, which should leave a bit of extra material around all edges.
- Use a heat gun or hairdryer to work along the outside of the tint. Use a hard card to push bubbles to the bottom. The tint will be applied to the inside of the glass, but you can leave it stuck to the outside for now.
Applying the Tint
- Moving to the inside, prep the glass by spraying it with soapy water.
- Peel half of the liner from the window tint. The sheet acts just like a big sticker, so be careful as you’re peeling not to tear the covering.
- Spray the exposed adhesive with soapy water.
- Roll down your window slightly.
- Line up the exposed adhesive side against the glass. The water you sprayed should help line everything up.
- You may need to take your fingers and push the tint under the rubber seals around the left and right sides of the window. If the water starts to dry up, spray the surface so it remains lubricated.
- Before peeling the rest of the adhesive backing off, spray the tint that has already been applied and either squeegee or scrape the bubbles to the outside edges. Be careful not to damage the tint.
- Roll the window up and spray the underside of the tint.
- Remove the rest of the adhesive backing from the tint.
- Use your fingers and your card or hard edge to tuck the tint into the bottom edge of the window seal. You may need to pull the seal back with your fingers and use the edge to tuck at the same time.
- Spray the entire surface again and squeegee to remove bubbles and excess water. Repeat the process until the tint is smooth and appears to fully adhere to the glass.
- Repeat for the remaining windows.
Congrats, you’re done!
Get Help With Window Tint From a Mechanic On JustAnswer
The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs.
So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you.
Pro Tips to Tint Your Car’s Windows
The Drive’s staff has tinted windows and lived to tell the tale. Our time discussing the finer points of the visible light with local law enforcement has given us some insights into window tint that we’d like to pass along.
- You’ll be spraying water at several points during this process. Tinting windows will be much easier if you have a pre-mixed soapy water solution ready to go in a spray bottle. You can’t have too much.
- It’s easier to cut away extra material than it is to start over if you cut a sheet of tint too small. Be cautious to leave enough tint to work with and cut away as needed.
- Do you live in an extremely windy, dusty area (looking at you, Southern California)? Try to do the work indoors, if at all possible. This will help prevent sand, dust, and debris from getting under the tint.
- Check your local laws before installing tint to avoid tickets and wasted time or money.
FAQs About Window Tinting
You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!
Why Are My Windows Hazy After Tinting?
Remember, you sprayed a ton of water and soap on your windows throughout this process. The tint and its adhesives will take a few days to “cure” completely, and by that point any haziness should have cleared up.
How Should I Clean My Tinted Windows?
Wait a week or so after tinting to start cleaning the windows. You can use a mild cleaner without ammonia or abrasive ingredients.
My Cat/Dog/Kid Scratched the Window Tint. Can I Repair It?
Unfortunately, window tint is a one-way street. Once the tint is damaged, it’ll have to be replaced, and if the tint has been on the vehicle for a long time, you may need to replace all of it to ensure even coloring of all windows.
What Are the Legal Limits on Tinting?
We’re not your local police department, so we can’t tell you exactly how dark you can go. Many states have regulations that limit tint to 35 percent, which means that 35 percent of visible light is let through.
Do I Need to Wait to Roll My Windows Down?
Yes. You should wait at least 24 hours before rolling down your freshly tinted windows.
How Much Does It Cost To Tint Windows
Doing a do-it-yourself tint job is considerably cheaper than going for a professional installation, but as you can see above there’s plenty of effort involved. Most DIY window tint kits run somewhere around $75 for everything you’ll need to tint all of your vehicle’s windows. Contrast that with the costs of professional installation, which can run upwards of $400 for an entire vehicle.