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Window Tinting Alternatives: Your Options Explained

Many people understand window tinting to be one of the easiest and more affordable ways to make your vehicle look “cooler.” This is certainly true, but window tinting can also be instrumental in keeping your vehicle cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter, and can prevent harmful UV rays from getting at your passengers and your interior (potentially ruining it over time).

Unfortunately, although it is relatively inexpensive, it can cost several hundred dollars to install at a professional shop. On top of that, many different states have laws that govern how much tint – if any – a vehicle can have at all. This can potentially limit those looking for interior protection, even if they are willing to spend the money to have tinting installed professionally. 

Window Tinting Explained

Window tinting involves the application of a thin, transparent film on the interior of a vehicle’s window. There are several different types of window tint on the market, all of which come with their own set of benefits and drawbacks. The most common types of tint include dyed, carbon, ceramic, hybrid, and metallic.

The tint is measured in percentages. The lower the percentage, the less amount of light will be able to penetrate the tint film and the darker the window will appear. This may look cool and may reduce glare to a point, but a low tint percentage also reduces visibility, especially at night. Because of this, many states have stricter windshield tinting restrictions than side and rear window restrictions. 

Keeping it Legal

car window film tint level

Currently, there are four standard tinting percentages that most professional installers use: 50%, 35%, 20%, and 5%.

5% tint is the lightest tint and sets the bar for the national legal average in the United States. 5% tint is the darkest available, is most often seen on limousines, and is illegal in many states. 

Most states also have various laws with various tinting percentages that can be applied to different windows on a given vehicle. Some states even differentiate tinting laws based on the type of vehicle you drive. To avoid potential fines, it is important to understand what your state requires and allows when it comes to window tinting laws.

Window Tinting Alternatives

There are several alternatives to window tint that exist for those who do not want to pay the expense of getting window tint or those who cannot get window tint because state regulations prohibit it.

There are four main tint alternatives:

Detachable Sun Shades

detachable sun shade

Detachable sun shades are usually made of black mesh, allow passengers within the vehicle to see things outside of the windows, and prevent UV rays and excess sunlight to enter the car. They use several anchor points – most often suction cups – that can attach to the side and rear car windows to stay in place. 

Even though the anchor points allow detachable sun shades to be removed from a window, they can be cumbersome if the anchor point is strong enough, they can dirty the window from trying to peel them off, and they can easily become detached if the car hits a large enough bump. With this in mind, detachable sun shades are not true window tint replacements, since they are removable.

Detachable sun shades are the most cost-effective and simplest alternative to window tint, even with their drawbacks. Many are well under $100 with some retailing for $20 or less. More advanced sunshades that can be custom cut to fit windows can be more expensive, though most are designed to be universal. The most common examples of these are used to shade babies from the sun in the back seat. 

Retractable Sun Shades

retractable sun shades

Retractable sun shades are very similar to detachable sunshades in that they are usually made of a mesh designed to shade occupants from the sun, keep UV rays out, and retain some outward visibility. The difference between the two is that retraceable sun shades have fixed anchors that are not designed to be as easily removable or cannot be removed at all. 

They can usually be rolled up and down like a projector screen. Some types of retractable sun shades in luxury vehicles are fully automatic, controlled at the touch of a button by the front or rear-seat passengers. Automatic retractable shades usually roll up from the bottom of the window and retract into the doors when not in use. Some even automatically retract when the window itself does.

Because retractable shades are more complicated than detachable shades, they are usually a little more expensive. This is not necessarily bad since they afford the luxury of being a more permanent solution. 

Clear Film

Clear films are the closest, yet most effective alternative to true window tint. They differ from window tint in that they are almost completely clear and only usually protect the interior of a vehicle from UV rays. A few select manufacturers, like 3M, claim that their clear window films also help with keeping the heat at bay, but this is generally the exception rather than the rule. 

They are still applied the same way as window tint, also being a form of window film. Not only does this offer more convenience than window shades, but it also offers a more permanent solution that has a much lesser chance to fall off or break. Additionally, they are custom-fitted to each window since they have to be cut. 

Factory Tint

Factory “window tint” is not really an alternative to aftermarket window tint since it is built into the glass at the time of manufacturing. It is also not a true window tint in that it does not protect occupants from UV rays or heat. Its primary purpose is to provide a small level of privacy to those in the rear seats. 

Factory tint is usually only included on vans and SUVs since there are often exceptions in tint laws for these types of vehicles. Because the glass itself contains pigment, “factory tint” is not able to be bought for any vehicle like regular window tint, making the “factory tint” alternative somewhat of a false alternative. 

Final Thoughts

Window tint can be very beneficial for the interior of your vehicle and your passengers since it can help keep heat and UV rays out. Unfortunately, many states have laws against various degrees of window tinting and full window tinting can be slightly expensive depending on the size of your vehicle. Window tint alternatives include detachable sun shades, retractable sun shades, and clear films, all of which provide various benefits, including keeping your vehicle legal.

Richard Reed
I've been a General Manager of a moving company and I've also been a Professional Mover for over 30 years. I've driven flat beds, reefers, dropdecks, moving vans, heavy machinery, etc. In my time as a Mover I've driven over 1,000,000 safe miles. My days of moving and driving truck are past me but The Vehicle Lab allows me to share the knowledge I've gained over the past 40 years.

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