Car tinting is something rather controversial in the UAE. With the hot desert climate, it seems almost a necessity to have your car tinted. At the same time, many people in this region prefer some privacy for their family or to hide their douchy behaviour (we’re talking about you, Mr. Patrol Driver in the left lane). I commonly get questions from friends and colleagues regarding tinting and many people have a lot of misconceptions when it comes to the subject. To clear some of these doubts, I figured I’d write a guide to help people pick the right tinting for them.
Understanding VLT and UAE laws
The UAE recently changed their tinting laws to allow 50% tint on the side and rear windows, and a 5.5 inch sunstrip on top of the windshield. These numbers that are commonly heard (30, 50, and 70 percent) are arbitrary despite being used by the government and all tint shops. These numbers have no meaning at all, as window film darkness is measured in percentage Visual Light Transmission (% VLT). I’ve inquired with two of the major tint companies in Dubai (3M and VKool), and the often used terms compare to %VLT as follows:
5% “UAE-standard”: 100 – 50% VLT
30% “UAE-standard”: 30 – 40% VLT
50% “UAE-standard”: 15 – 20% VLT
70% “UAE-standard”: 5 – 10% VLT
Visual Light Transmission means the amount of light that can be seen going through the glass. For example, 20% VLT allows 20% of visual light to be transmitted and blocks 80% of visual light. Please note that the values above are for quality films from reputable brands. If you go to Satwa these numbers will be completely arbitrary and, in my experience, you will receive darker tints (lower % VLT) than described above.
Types of film and heat rejection
Contrary to popular belief, the darkness (or VLT) of a window films has nothing to do with its heat rejection. Heat rejection is done by absorbing solar heat rather than transmitting it. The solar absorption depends on the type of film used and the product line chosen. There are three main types of window film. The first and cheapest option, often found in Satwa shops, are dyed films. These simply contain a dye which blocks some visual light from entering the cabin (therefore making your windows look darker), but do virtually nothing in terms of heat rejection. This makes them not ideal in this region, though they do help if all you are looking for is some privacy. The better option are metallic and ceramic window films. Depending on the manufacturer and product, these have varying degrees of solar absorption and will help maintaining the comfortable temperature in your car, as well as providing privacy.
Please note that a car parked in the sun for several hours will get hot, even with the highest quality window film. The film will transmit LESS solar heat, but does not completely block it out. Due to this, your car will heat up slower than a car without tinting, but if the sun burns on it for an extended amount of time, it will eventually reach the same temperatures. It does however help when your car is parked in the sun in the morning, if you quickly park your car for 30 min. and when driving around (less AC required to maintain the same temperature).
Where to go and what to get
Try to go to a reputable outlet as many of the cheaper stores use poor quality glue, which makes it difficult to remove the film if you wish to change it. Even more, removing this glue often requires a blade which might damage your defroster lines on the rear window. Also make sure to always get the tint applied on the inside of the windows, NEVER on the outside as this will wear out in less than a few months.
What tint you should get depends entirely on your requirements. If the goal is only privacy, a simple dyed film will do the job. Metallic and ceramic films can often be found for several hundred dirhams and will offer heat rejection, privacy and durability. Most well-known brands in the UAE will offer you some warranty as well, and will hopefully use appropriate sizing and fitting tools.
As for the darkness, 50% (15-20% VLT) is currently legal with a 5.5 inch sunstrip. If you go darker than this, you risk a hefty fine with a 30-day impound. I do not in any way encourage you to break the law, but I will explain the reality. If you live and work in Dubai (Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are stricter on dark tinting), you will most likely get away with 70% (5-10% VLT), BUT don’t take my word for it. You are at risk and could get fined at any point. I myself use 5% VLT with a 10 inch sunstrip and have never had any issues, but this really is your own responsibility.
70%, or 5-10% VLT as described above, will not give you that completely black windows look that locals often have on their Land Cruiser or Patrol. To obtain this you will need layers, where two layers of 5% VLT will completely black-out your windows. This also gives you a visual light transmission of 0.25% (5*0.05). You might be fine with this during the day, but at night you will see absolutely nothing. NOTHING. Your mirrors might as well be gone. There is a reason many people who have this drive with the windows down at night. 5% VLT will offer plenty of privacy while not compromising your visibility too much, there is really no need to go any darker besides looking “cool”.