If you’ve ever called around to get pricing for tinting your car, you’ve probably noticed that the range is all over the map. Most shops will tell you their tint material is the best, and everyone has a lifetime warranty, yet prices range from $99 to $300, and for some higher-end films, all the way up to $800. So how do you know where to go and how do you decipher all of the information?
As with most things automotive, you get what you pay for. Even though a lot of tinting materials look alike, they are anything but alike. It is similar to getting your car painted. There are bodyshops on every corner in every city, but we all know that the quality will vary greatly, as does the price. If you want something that will perform well, look good, and last for a very long time, you will have to pay more for it.
It is good to know a few terms before you start inquiring about price. “Legal tint”, also known as the “back half” of the vehicle, refers to all of the windows excluding the driver and passenger front roll-down windows and the windshield. “Complete tint” usually refers to all of the windows excluding the windshield. Rarely will the front windshield be included in the price when inquiring by phone. The legalities of window film vary by state and you should ask about this before buying.
Window film comes in four basic categories – dyed, metalized, ceramic and spectrally selective. For each category there are usually multiple shades or levels of darkness to choose from. Materials affect the price more than any other factor. I recommend doing your research on the differences of these materials to see which features and benefits are most important to you. Avoid the $199 or less complete tint offerings unless you only plan to keep you car for a year or less. Just because it has a lifetime warranty does not mean it will last a lifetime. It is extremely rare to find a quality job in that price range. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, but you’d be very lucky to find a good shop willing to install anything of true quality in that price range.
There are places on practically every street corner that offer tint, but most do not specialize in window film. A lot of stereo shops that offer tint do not actually employee a window film technician. They will sub-contract to a mobile tinter, and usually the first one that is available that day. This means you never really know what kind of quality you’ll get, and neither does the shop owner. They also do the tinting in the same bay where the stereos are installed. Dust mitigation is probably not a top priority at a shop like this, but is essential to a top quality tint job. Look for a business that specializes in window tinting as their core competency. These shops will have on-staff technicians, usually factory trained, who do the work in clean bays dedicated to tinting. They will likely use computer cutting software and a plotter to cut the tint patterns. This means the technician will not cut the film on your car’s glass, which is good, because cutting on the glass can cause permanent scratches.
It’s a good idea to visit a few of these specialty shops, and hear what they say about their products. Look around and see how clean and detail oriented they seem to be. If the place is a mess, you can expect your tint job will follow suit. Everyone has different needs and interests when it comes to selecting the tint material to be used on their car. A good shop will ask you questions about what is important to you and guide you to the best product to meet your needs. If they are only trying to upgrade you to the most expensive options, without asking about what you want and like, you may want to keep looking as they may not have your best interests in mind. Window tinting is a major cosmetic upgrade to one of your biggest investments and should not be taken lightly. A poor outcome can cost you a lot of wasted time and aggravation to remedy. Invest in a good quality material at a specialty tint shop and you will likely be very satisfied with the results.