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What is Legal Tint in California? – Window Tint Laws 2023

Whether it's to beat the sizzling California sun, drive in-style, or simply for a bit of privacy, tinting your vehicle's windows can be the best route to take. But it's not as simple as picking out the darkest, coolest tint and slapping it on your windows. In the Golden State, there are specific laws and regulations regarding window tinting that drivers need to follow to avoid penalties.

So, what are these window tinting laws in California and are there any exceptions? 

The legal window tint in California depends on the window location. There are clear specifications for the percentage of light allowed to pass through the tint (Visible Light Transmission or VLT%) and the level of reflectiveness permitted.

  • For the front side windows, you must have a minimum of 70% VLT. 
  • For the front windshield, you can only tint the top four inches of the windshield.
  • For the back and rear windows, any tint darkness can be used.
  • California law also prohibits the use of amber or red tinting and restricts the usage of reflective or mirrored tints.

What is Visible Light Transmission? (VLT%)

The term 'Visible Light Transmission' might sound like it's straight out of a physics textbook, but it’s  really quite simple. VLT refers to the percentage of light that a window tint film allows to pass through your vehicle's window. A high VLT% means more light passes through, while a low VLT% means less light does.

The Importance of Tinting Regulations

California's tinting laws aren't designed to restrict privacy or allow police to pull you over for questionable reasons, but rather to ensure safety. A heavily tinted front window could limit a driver's visibility, especially at night or in poor weather conditions.

Yes, ceramic tint is legal in California as long as it complies with the state's window tint laws. The legality of window tint isn't determined by the material of the tint, but rather by factors such as its VLT% (Visible Light Transmission), color, and reflectivity. So as long as your Front side windows, Windshield and back window allow 70% VLT and aren't reflective, you should be fine driving on California roads.

California Tint Law Exceptions

While there are pretty strict rules around window tints in California, there are certain exceptions. The exceptions are mostly health-related, and are for individuals with medical conditions that require them to limit their exposure to sunlight.

The Process of Getting a Medical Exemption

If you need darker tints for medical reasons, it's not a done deal. There's a process for it. You need to get a signed document from a licensed dermatologist stating your condition and why you need an exemption. This document must always be kept in the vehicle.

What Does a Medical Exemption Allow?

With a medical exemption, the 70% VLT rule for the front side windows can be circumvented. This allows individuals to get darker tints to protect them from harmful UV rays or excessive light. However, the exemption does not allow for the usage of colorful or reflective tints.

Penalties for Violating California Tinting Laws

Breaking tinting laws in California can lead to being pulled over by highway patrol officers or other law enforcement. You could be looking at a "fix-it" ticket or even a fine.

The "Fix-It" Ticket

This is typically the first step. If an officer stops you and deems your window tint too dark or otherwise illegal, they can issue a "fix-it" ticket. You'll have to remove the illegal tint and get the vehicle inspected. The next step would be to show a judge proof of your newly compliant vehicle, along with paying a 25$ fix it ticket price.

Financial Penalties

If you fail to correct the violation, or if it's not your first offense, you could face a more hefty penalty. The fines for illegal window tints can range anywhere from $25 to $500, depending on the county.

California's tinting laws allow a non-reflective tint on the top 4 inches of the front windshield, but anything below that must allow 70% of light to pass through.

Why Are Front Windshield Tints Restricted?

Again, It's all about safety. The front windshield is crucial for the driver's visibility. A heavily tinted windshield can significantly impede visibility and potentially lead to accidents. It also prevents law enforcement from making visual contact with drivers, which is often necessary during traffic stops.

California Tint Laws vs. Other States

Comparing California's tinting laws with other states can help shed light on why they are what they are. Plus, this info may come in handy if you're planning to take your tinted vehicle out of state.

How Do California's Tint Laws Compare?

Compared to other states, California's tint laws are on the stricter side. Most states allow a lower VLT% for the front side windows, and a few don't even regulate it. California is also one of the few states that restrict reflective tints. Delaware also has similar stringent tint laws.

Florida for example, allows Front seat side windows to be tinted up to almost 72% or have a VLT of 28%, whereas California only allows a maximum of 30% tint or a 70% VLT. That's almost a 50% difference in tint!

Did you want Limo tints on every window? That’s not a problem in the Great Lake State! Michigan is the only state in the U.S that doesn't have any rules or regulations regarding window tints.

What Happens If You Drive Out of State?

If you're planning a road trip, remember that while your window tint might be legal in California, it could also be illegal in other states. So, it's wise to learn more about the tint laws of any state you plan to visit, that is if you DON'T like getting pulled over.

The Role of Tinting Professionals in Compliance

With such stringent laws, the role of window tinting professionals is more important than ever. They can guide you in picking out tints that comply with state laws and make sure the installation is done right.

Choosing a Reputable Tinting Professional

Not all tinting professionals are created equal. When choosing one, make sure they're knowledgeable about California tint laws and have a proven track record of quality installations. Be sure to check their online reviews and BBB rating! 

Why Professional Installation Matters

A poor installation can lead to a host of problems, from bubbles in the tint to an uneven look. Not to mention, an incorrectly installed tint could violate state law. Professional installation adds another layer of reliability and guarantees that your tints look great and are in line with legal requirements.

Certificates of Compliance

Reputable professionals provide certificates of compliance that confirm the tint meets California's legal requirements. This certificate can be incredibly helpful if you're pulled over for a suspected tint violation.

Keeping up with Changes in Tint Laws

Just as with any laws, tint laws can and do change. So, we suggest staying up to date. Changes in tint laws can happen overnight, due to evolving technology and new research about health and safety. The current California vehicle code that governs this law is Vehicle Code 26708 CVC.

How to Stay Updated

To guarantee you’re always in compliance, it's a good idea to occasionally check the DMV website or sign up for our firm’s monthly newsletter. Keep your finger on the pulse of California's ever changing rules and regulations with WCTL updates by clicking here

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