Should you tint your car windows? And if so, how?
A reader asks about window tinting. It is worthwhile to do? Does it cause the A/C to work less hard? Do those do-it-yourself kits work?
To answer the first question, it depends on where you live and why you want to tint your windows. If you live in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, or Florida, there are window tinting companies on every street corner, and indeed mobile tinting companies that come to your home. And speaking of home, they will tint your home windows as well.
If you live in a Southern State, tinted windows make sense, as a car can turn into a furnace in the hot sun in a matter of minutes, quickly turning every piece of plastic in the car into a hard brittle flaky chunk of crap, within a few months. It also means you will literally burn yourself on your seats, if you leave an un-tinted car out in the hot sun - and the A/C will have to work a long time to pump all that heat out of the car.
Now, on the other hand, if you live in Pennsylvania, do you really need window tinting, or are you just going for a bad-ass gangster look? You really don't need window tinting so much in Northern climates, so why bother? It is largely a cosmetic thing.
Many cars today come with tinted windows. My cheap Nissan pickup truck had dark tinted rear windows from the factory and the Florida dealer where I bought it had already tinted the fronts to match. Here in the South, it really helps.
We've had windows tinted on our cars, trucks, a boat, our condo, and even a motorhome. Anything that sits in the hot sun can benefit from this treatment.
If you live in Sun country, getting windows tinted is pretty cheap. Like I said, in the South, there is a tinting place on every corner, and people will come to your home to tint your car or house or boat or RV.
And the prices are pretty cheap. All of them use the same stuff - 3M or other brand window film. You have some choice in the type of film. You can go crazy with expensive stuff, and you can go stupid with jet-black films that might not be street legal. My suggestion is choose something mid-grade and not a gradient pimp-ride tint. This is for practical reasons, not cosmetic.
A tint that is too dark might not be legal in your State, and it could cause more trouble than it is worth. Really dark tint jobs are cop magnets. If you leave roaches in your ashtray, think hard before you go with a gangster "limo" tint job. I had a Toyota pickup I bought from a guy in Texas. He had the windows tinted jet black, which looked cool, but was a nightmare at night. It survived three Virginia inspections until one dick inspector made me scrape it all off with a razorblade before he would pass the truck. Super-dark tint ends up being wasted money. If they don't just make you remove it, you may likely get a ticket from it. Cops hate it and basically assume you are hiding something.
The cost of having a professional do it is pretty reasonable, and those guys do a good job, in a short period of time, and leave professional results. They also will (or should) know what is legal and not in your State. While not free, they are reasonable, and the resulting job is worth something and looks good.
DIY window tinting kits, on the other hand, are quite difficult for the amateur to use. Practice makes perfect, as they say, and a guy who does windows all day long can make it look easy. For the amateur, it just ends up as wasted money on a job that comes out looking like crap - with air bubbles and pubic hairs in it.
I tinted only one set of windows successfully in my life, and I remove them from the car before I attempted it. Compound curve windows, windows with rear defrosters? Not for the faint of heart. The cost of one window tinting "kit" can pay for a professional to do half the job. And spray-cans of "tint" just make the car windows look really, really dirty. Avoid at all costs.
So to answer his question, yes these can be useful in the scorchingly hot areas of the country in the South. Elsewhere, they are just useless cosmetic add-ons. If you decide to do one, call a professional company to have it done. In the South, they are all over the place, so it isn't hard to find someone to do the job - right.