How To Tint Car Windows

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Window tinting keeps your car cooler, protects interior surfaces and offers privacy. Save money by learning how to tint car windows yourself.

Tinting your vehicle’s windows adds style, reduces sun glare and keeps interiors cooler. It blocks up to 99 percent of ultraviolet radiation (UV) rays and filters 90 percent of the sun’s infrared radiation (IR). This helps protect interior surfaces from damaging sunlight and allows your air conditioner to operate more efficiently.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends reducing exposure to UV rays as an effective defense against UV radiation, a leading cause of skin cancer. Read on to learn how to install window tint film yourself, saving you hundreds of dollars.

What Is Car Window Tinting?

Window tinting is a plastic film applied to your vehicle’s windows that darken the glass. This helps reduce Visible Light Transference (VLT), the amount of visible light (VL) passing through glass. Tints are rated by their VLT. The higher the VLT percentage/number, the more VL it lets in.

Virtually every vehicle sold in the United States comes standard with tinted glass. To stay within your state’s legal limits, it’s important you compensate for factory VLT before adding aftermarket window tint. Know your state’s laws before choosing the VLT percentage.

What Are the Different Types of Window Tints?

There are several types, each with specific features, characteristics and properties.

  • Dyed: Mostly used for appearance and privacy.
  • Metalized: Embedded with metallic particles that reflect heat and UV radiation.
  • Hybrid: Combines the best characteristics of dyed and metalized tints.
  • Carbon: Micro layers of polymer and carbon reduce UV and IR.
  • Ceramic: Highest quality and most technologically advanced tint available.

You can purchase window tint pre-cut for your vehicle, or on a roll that you cut to fit.

Things To Consider When Choosing Window Tint

Think about your motivation, safety and above all your state’s tint laws before choosing the type and VLT percentage.

  • Windows that are too dark can impact your visibility while driving, especially at night.
  • Blocking UV rays and IR light extends the life of seats, carpets, dash pad and trim.
  • Cooler interiors reduce air conditioning usage, increasing fuel economy.
  • Tinted windows can add appeal and enhance the appearance to your ride.
  • Tinted windows add privacy.

How To Tint Car Windows

Man installing window tinting on car.Bill Oxford/Getty Images

Install window tint in a clean, dry, shaded, dust-free area — working in a garage is best. Be patient and don’t rush. Carefully follow all steps to do the job properly. It may take 30 minutes or longer to correctly install window film on each side window.

Use soapy water to keep your fingers wet. Don’t crease the film while installing. An extra set of hands is helpful.

Tools/Materials

Make sure you have everything you need before beginning the installation. Consider purchasing an inexpensive installation kit that includes several of the items listed below:

Prepare the Windows

NEVER use a commercial glass cleaner, or one with ammonia. They can alter the color of the tint.

Vacuum the interior to remove dust and dirt. Thoroughly wash the inside and outside of the windows with the soapy water. Lower the window to clean the top of the glass, then raise the window to the closed position. Wet the window again. Use the razor scraper to remove any remaining dirt, grime or sticker residue.

Thoroughly clean around the window trim, seals, gaskets and any nooks and crannies that could be hiding dirt or grime. Completely dry the glass with the squeegee and dry microfiber cloths. Wrap a cloth around your squeegee to dry under the window trim and seals.

Size the Tint Film

It’s important to determine which side of the film has the adhesive. Do not remove the adhesive liner. In this step you’re not installing the tint, you’re using the outside of the glass as a template. Starting at the passenger front-side window:

  • Saturate the outside glass with soapy water.
  • Unroll the tint.
  • With the adhesive side facing you, leaving plenty of overhang, completely cover the entire outside of the window.
  • Cut this piece from the roll.
  • Gently press the tint onto the glass to temporarily keep it in place.
  • Trim the film into a manageable size, almost a square, leaving two to three inches overlapping the glass.
  • Wet the film and smooth it with the tint squeegee.
  • Hold the film in place with the squeegee or your hand.
  • Using the window seals as your guide, cut along the bottom (front to back), then along the back of the glass with the precision knife.
    • Pro tip: Cut at a low angle using only enough pressure on the blade to cut the film.
  • Pull the film straight back until it’s overlapping the back of the window (the edge you just trimmed) by 1/2-inch.
  • Trim the front straight side of the film (the section by the sideview mirror).
  • Center the film, there should be 1/4-in. of extra film at the front and back of the glass.
  • Pull down on the film until it’s one inch lower than the bottom of the glass.
  • Wet the bottom of the film and gently lift the film away from the bottom of the glass/body.
  • Lower the window one inch.
  • Wet the glass and smooth out the film with the tint squeegee.
  • Cut the top edge of the film using the glass as your guide.
  • Leaving the one inch overhang at the bottom of the glass, carefully cut away any extra film at the front or rear of the glass.
  • Smooth out the corners or any wrinkles.

Apply the Tint Film

  • Thoroughly wash and completely dry the inside of the window and all window trim and seals again. Dust or dirt left behind will cause the film to bubble.
  • Spray the inside of the glass with plenty of soapy water.
  • Remove the adhesive backing before removing the film from the outside window.
    • Pro tip: Spraying the adhesive with soapy water allows the film to slide into position more easily.
  • With the window lowered one inch, carefully peel the film from the outside glass.
  • Apply the wet adhesive side against the inside glass.
    • Pro tip: Before applying the film, roll up the bottom edge to keep the adhesive from picking up any dirt.
  • Spray the film and slide into position.
  • Center the film and leave it about 1/16-in. of space below the top of the window.
  • Working toward the sides and top, use the tint squeegee to push out water and air bubbles.
  • Raise the window.
  • Spray the bottom of the film and glass.
  • Again, use the tint squeegee to push out all the water and air bubbles from under the film.
  • Using the squeegee or applicator, carefully tuck exposed edges of the film under the window seals.
  • To prevent tearing, continue spraying the film as you work out air bubbles.
    • Pro tip: A heat gun can help remove air bubbles, excess water and stretch the film to properly fit curved windows. Don’t get too close or keep the heat gun on one section too long. Too much heat can damage the film.
  • Once finished, dry the film with a lint-free microfiber cloth

Repeat these steps for each window. Once finished, don’t lower the windows for at least seven to 10 days to allow the adhesive to fully cure.

Bob Lacivita
Bob Lacivita is an award-winning ASE and General Motors auto technician, educator and freelance writer who has written about DYI car repairs and vehicle maintenance topics. His work has been featured in The Family Handyman, a Reader's Digest book and Classic Bike Rider magazine. He has been a career and technical educator for 25 years teaching automotive technology, as well as writing state, federal and organizational foundation grants. He also helped design a unique curriculum delivery model that integrates rigorous, relevant academic standards seamlessly into career and technical education.