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Before tinting car windows, know the law

While virtually every new vehicle sold has some level of light tint on the glass, adding deeper tints continues to be an important source of revenue not only for tint shops but for new-vehicle dealerships. The AOA Accessories Trend report, which surveys new car dealers nationally, said that from January to May 2011, window tint was the second most popular add-on dealer accessory, just after mild exterior modifications, and ahead of floor mats.

But before you shop, be aware that Florida has a law that governs window tinting.

Tinting on the windshield is allowed, but only above what is called the "AS-1" line, which is roughly from the top of the window down to the rear-view mirror. It's illegal to tint the rest of the windshield.

Tinting is allowed on the entire front side windows, rear side windows and the back window, but the darkness of the tint is regulated and measured by "VLT" — Visible Light Transmission. This means that the tint you put on the window — plus whatever tint is already on the window, coming from the factory — must allow a certain percentage of light to pass through. Many police officers carry a small gauge that reads this percentage — too dark, and you can expect a ticket.

For front side windows, the VLT requirement is 28 percent, meaning that the tint must allow more than 28 percent of the light to enter the window. For rear side and the rear windows, it's 15 percent or more.

Also regulated in Florida is how "reflective" tint can be from front and rear side windows — reflective tint helps cut out light and heat. The law says the tint can't reflect more than 25 percent of the light. Florida does make exceptions in the tint regulations for medical conditions that may benefit from deep tints.

Tint shops are well aware of the law, and how dark and reflective tint can be. In fact, Florida law also requires that a sticker be affixed inside the driver's side door to show it's compliant. And even if you buy DIY tints, the film will bear the VLT number.

Why do we need laws on tints? One reason is that super-dark tints can limit your outside visibility in the daytime and severely impair it at night. The second is for safety for police officers.

Here are a few other factors to consider:

What brand? Expect products from top-quality manufacturers like SolarGuard and 3M to cost more than no-name brands, but even those quality manufacturers offer different price levels. Quality can sometimes be gauged by the length of a warranty — a lifetime warranty from a name brand suggests that it should be a pretty good product.

Do it yourself? A custom-cut tint kit for your vehicle can cost $50 to $125, depending on the quality and the vehicle. Some vehicles may be especially challenging with unusual curves in the glass, or windows that are hard to access from inside. Figure on spending at least two hours doing a proper tint job, and be sure to follow the directions.

Have it done professionally? Prices vary depending on the shop, the vehicle and the type of window film. Quotes may vary from $80 to $350 or more. Your best bet is to use a professional shop that has been in business for a while, and that offers several brands of film to choose from. Check with the Better Business Bureau (log onto BBB.org, and you can link to your clocal chapter), and make sure the shop has a local business license. Also, the national trade group, the International Window Film Association (www.IWFA.com) has a "consumer" section that has a business locator.

Before tinting car windows, know the law 08/30/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 4:30am]
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