The State of California enacted automobile window tint regulations in 1999. Since then the laws have been modified, but in essence, drivers are required to use window tint that conforms to a specific color, darkness, and positioning depending on the window and other factors.
The windshield, for example, can only have a four-inch strip of tint along the top. At least 70% of available light must be able to penetrate that four-inch strip. What else do you need to know about California window tint law? We review the facts below.
First, a definition. What IS window tint? For the purpose of this article, window tint is a film or treatment of the vehicle’s windows designed to reduce Visible Light Transmission or VLT.
California window tint law has specific requirements for VLT depending on the window on the vehicle. For example, the four-inch strip of tint permitted on front windshields we mention above?
That tint must be non-reflective according to California laws passed in 2022. Front side windows must be at least 70% VLT rated but there may be more strict rules for front side windows depending on the nature of the tint (factory-installed or aftermarket).
Rear windows don’t have the same requirements as the front windshield (see below) but in general, you can have a window tint of any darkness for rear passenger windows. The front side windows and the windshield are the most heavily regulated including requirements for specific VLT ratings.
Window tint comes in a variety of grades where VLT is concerned. Not all your vehicle’s windows have the same VLT guidelines, as we’ll see below.
Window tint VLT ratings don’t matter for the rear passenger side windows, and while the rear window can also have any VLT rating, if your rear windows are tinted you may be required to install side mirrors on the vehicle in order to stay in compliance with California state law.
VLT is only part of the concern for windows in the front of the car, truck, or van. The reflectivity issue mentioned above is an important one and unfortunately is a bit subjective. Specifically, your front windshield cannot have a tint that produces “more reflection” that is viewable through an ordinary, untreated window.
How a police officer or State Highway Patrol officer might interpret that may be a sticking point during a traffic stop, but ultimately the authorities decide who they choose to ticket or let off with a warning.
Reflectivity is only one issue. California state law says you cannot use any film that changes the “natural” color of the window. No amber, tint, red, silver, or any other color-altering film can be applied legally to any window of a motor vehicle in California.
Some might balk at this, but since the majority of traffic warning indicators are color-coded (red for stop, green for go, yellow for caution on both traffic lights and road signs) it makes sense to want drivers to be able to see those colors on the indicators.
The “big three” window tint questions are:
- What is the legal amount of window tint in California?
- What is the darkest tint I can legally have in California?
- Is there a medical exemption from the California window tint law?
Window tint may be applied to all windows of a vehicle, but the front windshield must have only four inches of tint applied. Additional rules apply including a prohibition on stickers or other visual obstructions on front-facing windows.
This becomes relevant here because if the window tint on the front or side windows is not installed properly and/or begins to bubble or deform with age, this potentially creates a visual obstruction for the driver that could result in a traffic stop.
The 2022 California window tint law declares that front windshield and front side windows can have window tint that is rated at 70% VLT. That means that the tint allows 70% of the available light into the window.
The rear and back windows can be tinted to any darkness, there is no legal limit. Tinting the rear view window may require installation of side mirrors as mentioned elsewhere in this article. Window tint reflectivity could be an issue; California state law isn’t the only guideline–city or county laws may also further restrict window tinting.
There are conflicting reports about the ability to get a medical exemption for California window tint laws passed in 2022. It’s best to get a formal letter from your primary care provider explaining the specific medical need for an exemption, then apply to the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles for a formal exemption. Multiple sources report that starting in 2022, drivers who need the exemption may be required to install transparent and colorless treatments instead but it is a good idea to apply for the exemption in any case.
Non-compliance with California window tint laws can result in a traffic stop. You may be let off with a warning, you may be issued a low-cost ticket ordering corrections on a second offense, and a third offense could earn you a fine of around $200.
Remember, state law isn’t the only enforcement issue you’ll have to worry about; county and local regulations above and beyond state law are also possible. Furthermore, there is no distinction under the law for vehicle type; window tint laws apply no matter if you drive a car, truck, SUV, van, 18-wheeler, etc.
If you aren’t sure whether your vehicle is currently in compliance with state law, contact your nearest California Department Of Motor Vehicles to learn your options and requirements.
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