A Mazda3 SUV with tinted windows is parked in front of a garage door.

Understanding Types of Window Tint: Stay Legal, Stay Cool

Does it surprise you that there are different types of window tint available for different applications? Sure, it’s quick and easy to choose your tint based on how light or dark it looks, but having a more complete understanding of how tints work will help you make a better decision.

Light Levels

When looking at different types of window tint, one of the first things you’ll notice is that each has its own visible light transmission, or VLT, level. This refers to the amount of light that will pass through the tint and into the cabin of your car or truck. For example, a tint with a VLT of 35 percent allows 35 percent of the light shining through the glass to reach the passenger compartment. A VLT of 5 percent is considerably darker, and will look almost opaque.A lime green Dodge Charger with tinted windows

There’s one more calculation you’ll have to make when deciding which VLT to choose: factoring in the factory tint on your vehicle’s glass. Almost all cars and trucks leave the assembly line with at least some tint, and you should ask a tinting professional to test your glass to find out what level is already present before you make the mistake of going too dark by layering one tint over another.

Material Type

Another consideration is that different types of window tint are often made of different materials, regardless of their VLT. The most common is dyed film, which makes use of a dye layer that absorbs sunlight on top of an adhesive. Adding metallic particles to this mix makes metallized film, which improves the strength of the film but has the drawback of blocking cellphone transmissions and other radio signals from inside the vehicle.

For those looking for more than an aesthetic solution, carbon window tint is better at absorbing infrared light than either of the two listed above, and that helps keep your vehicle’s cabin cooler while still looking stylish. Using carbon rather than metal also avoids the signal interference issues of metallized trim. Ceramic film is a step above carbon and cuts out more heat without requiring as dark of a tint, which is useful if you live in a very hot area and do a substantial amount of night driving.

Durability

Dyed window tint often fades in the sun over time, which means you’ll be replacing your tints more often than with other materials. Metallized tint is a solid choice for people who want the extra scratch-and-fade resistance that the metallic particles provide, particularly if pets will be pawing at the windows on a regular basis.

Neither carbon tint nor ceramic tint are known to fade significantly with time, making them good long-term choices for anyone evaluating different types of window tint.

Remember: Once you’ve picked your tint material and VLT, always make sure to consult with your local laws regarding what windows on your vehicle can be tinted and how dark you can go. It’s better to plan in advance than deal with a ticket later on.

Check out all the vision and safety parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on different types of window tint, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

about author

Benjamin Hunting

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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