Are Tinted Windows Legal in California?

Tinted windows can offer a variety of advantages. However, you’ll find that the legality of window tints can vary in different states. California in particular has some strict laws regarding the use of window tints for your vehicle. So, are tinted windows legal in California?

The California vehicle code, division 12, chapter 4, section 26708 states that all vehicles are only allowed to have a strip of non-reflective tint on the top 4-5 inches of the windshield and the front windows can be tinted up to 70 percent VLT. As for your rear windshield and backside windows, you can tint them however dark you want.

Still not completely clear about the regulations? Don’t worry because we’re here to explain all the factors you have to consider before installing window tints for your vehicle as well as answer any questions you might have.

Which Windows Can You Tint?

The state of California has specific guidelines for tinting different windows in your vehicle that you must comply with. These rules apply equally to all the vehicles on the road.

  • The Windshield

You’re not allowed to tint your windshield beyond a strip of non-reflective material at the very top, which is often referred to as the “Eyebrow”. The thickness is based on the size of your windshield.

From the farthest and lowest adjustment of the driver’s seat, you can only apply any tint from 29 inches and above from the seat level. While this can depend on the type of vehicle you own, most cars will only have a 4–5-inch room at max for applying tint. Additionally, you can’t have any opaque lettering on the material as well.

  • The Front Windows

When it comes to the front windows in your vehicle, you’re required by Californian state law to at least have a VLT rating of 70% for both the driver and passenger sides. If you’re applying an aftermarket film to your stock window, you may want to compensate for the tint that your window comes out of the factory with. On average, the factory tint is around 80 percent. So, you need to combine it with an aftermarket film rated no lower than 88% to achieve the required VLT.

  • The Back Windows

There are no restrictions on the level of darkness for tinting the back windows in your vehicle as they don’t obstruct your vision while driving in any way. However, metallic and reflective materials are still a no-go.

  • The Rear Windshield

Similar to the back windows, you’re free to tint your rear windshield as dark as you want. However, bear in mind that you’ll be required by the law to have two functioning side mirrors at all times after applying the tint.

How Dark Can You Tint Your Windows?

California has strict regulations for how dark you can tint your windows. Although you’re able to tint the rear windshield and back seat windows without any limitations, that’s not the case for your windshield and front windows. The darkness of your car window is measured in VLT. VLT or visible light transmission is the percentage of light that can pass through your window.

The lower the rating, the darker your glass will be. So, for example, a glass with a 50% VLT can block half the sunlight while a 30% rating would block. According to state law, your windshield and front windows must at least be able to pass 70% of the light through after installing window tints.

If you’re considering installing tints on your windows, keep a keen eye on its darkness rating. In the event that a police officer or state patrol deems your tints too dark, you might be pulled over so that the transparency can be measured using a light reading device to see if it’s within the accepted limit.

Is It Legal to Install Colored or Reflective Tints?

It’s illegal to install reflective tints in your car that are going to cause hindrances for other vehicles and pedestrians on the road. All tints installed must be non-reflective. Metallic chrome or mirror finishes are a sure-fire way to land yourself into trouble with the authorities.

The use of amber, red and blue colors for window tints is also restricted. According to the DMV, the material you use should be clear, transparent, and colorless.

Medical Exemptions

If you’ve got a unique medical condition that requires window tints, you can apply to the state for an exemption. This change was added to the regulation in 2017 and it states that individuals who can prove their need will be allowed to install darker window tints on their windshield and front windows.

However, this exemption only applies to driving during the daytime since tinted windshields can greatly decrease visibility at night. You’ll need an official letter or a signed document from a licensed dermatologist, physician, optometrist, or surgeon to apply for an exemption. You’re also going to have to keep it with you all the time while driving as proof. Notable conditions that are eligible for an exemption may include lupus, melanoma, daylight sensitivity, and photosensitivity.

Window Tint Certification

All automobile users in California with tinted windows are required to carry a signed certificate that clearly states the film’s VLT rating with them at all times. You can get this certificate from the tint manufacturer or the shop you install it from. The certificate must contain the name and address of that tint film manufacturer or shop. Before buying a tint film, make sure that it’s been certified for use in California or not.

Apart from the signed certificate, you’ll also need to have a sticker with the manufacturer’s name and address visible on it.

Related: Window Tinting price

Can You Get Ticketed for having Tinted Windows?

Tinted windows often draw unnecessary attention from cops and highway patrol. You’re cruising down the highway on a Sunday with your windows rolled up and music playing when you see the much dreaded red and blue lights turn on behind you. We get it, no one wants to get pulled over. While tinted windows are a common thing in California, so is getting pulled over for having one. If you haven’t violated any of the regulations we mentioned above, then you have nothing to worry about.

However, some people use illegal darker tints on their vehicles. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, if the level of darkness of your windows is higher than 70% of VLT, you’ll most likely get a ticket and have to get rid of your window tints. Additionally, you might also get a ticket if you’re pulled over and aren’t able to provide the necessary documents. According to the California Highway Patrol, there were a total of 193,025 tickets issued to drivers for violating the regulations from January of 2015 to August 2017.

While it’s up to the officer’s discretion whether or not he decides to give you a ticket, you can typically expect a fix-it-ticket for your first offense. You’ll have to address the problem as soon as possible and get the ticket signed by an officer of the law to get it resolved. Alternatively, you might receive a fine of $25 and have to remove your tints all the same. You’ll be fined $197 and charged with an infraction if you repeat the offense. 

Why These Laws Exist

Tinted windows do indeed save you from the harmful UV rays of sunlight and the peering eyes of onlookers. However, they also reduce the visibility by a significant amount and cause problems while driving.

The reason California has such strict laws about applying tints to the windshield and front windows is that they obstruct your vision and make it difficult to notice other vehicles and pedestrians on the road, especially at night. This can lead to the risk of accidents and traffic collisions. The other reason for these laws is the safety of officers. Tinted windows make it very difficult for cops to tell what’s going on inside the vehicle. As a result, it’s more dangerous for them to approach the driver after pulling someone over. So, the reason these laws exist is mainly due to safety reasons.

Final Words

Tinted windows are a great modification that can keep the sunlight and prying eyes away while adding aesthetic flair to your car. They also keep your vehicle from getting too hot which prevents the interior from being damaged. But, are tinted windows legal in California? Yes, they are. But there are some strict regulations in place that you must follow if you want to avoid a run-in with the cops.

The information presented in this article is not supposed to be used as a substitute for legal advice. Laws are subject to change all the time, so make sure to verify the information before you decide to tint your windows.

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