Window Films: Sunscreen for Your Car

(ARA) - You don't think twice about applying sunscreen to yourself, or your children, when spending a day in the sun. You probably even wear UV protective sunglasses while driving to reduce glare. But did you know that you (and your passengers) could be soaking up more damaging ultraviolet rays in a few hours in your car than you do in a day at the beach? Or that rear headlight glare can be as dangerous as the sun's? Did you know that window film is an easy do-it-yourself solution to the problem?

Next to housing, a family's biggest financial investment is its vehicle. Consumers are maintaining their vehicles longer, and are spending increasingly more time commuting to work and other activities. As a result, protecting the vehicle's interior and making it safer to drive becomes as important as maintaining its outside appearance.

Why Do I Need Protection from the Sun in My Vehicle?

The sun emits two types of energy in the winter that can make driving more difficult and can even expose you to harmful rays. The most dangerous and least noticeable energy is ultraviolet. These destructive rays can bleach fabrics, rot upholstery, and over time, cause sunburns and stimulate skin cancer and other skin-related problems.

Because it is the result of light, glare can affect people in different ways, but most state law enforcement and safety groups support the belief that reducing glare by at least 40 percent improves driving comfort, vision and safety.

How Does Window Film Protect?

UV Rejection

Doctors tell us that the sun's ultraviolet rays -- coupled with the eroding ozone layer -- are leading to unprecedented increases in skin cancer and other serious medical conditions in people of all ages. In fact, skin cancer is now the most common and rapidly growing form of cancer in the United States, with more than one million new cases diagnosed each year.

Typical car windows offer some degree of sun protection, blocking most of the sun's skin-burning UVB rays, but not deep-penetrating UVA. In addition, exposing a vehicle's interior to ultraviolet rays can cause deterioration of seat belts, car seats and interior upholstery. Automotive window films can block over 99 percent of UVA and UVB rays, protecting you, as well as the interior of your vehicle.

Glare Control

Window films also reduce glare by as much as 80 percent, creating a much safer driving environment in strong sun, snow or rear headlight glare.

Safety Aspects

According to Lisa Killen, automotive marketing manager at CPFilms, manufacturer of GILA products, window film can also perform a valuable safety function. "Since 1978, American car makers have not been required to install laminated safety glass to the side and back windows of cars. As a result, these tempered windows can sometimes shatter from impact during an accident, exploding tiny glass shards around the passenger compartment. Window film can provide some anti-lacerative protection by helping to hold shattered glass together." The result, she concludes, is greater safety.

Seat belts, warn the National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration, can deteriorate due to sun exposure.

How Do I Choose the Right Film?

Many people associate window film with dark or faded purple tints that can be seen on some older vehicles. Actually, it's the lighter, higher performing films that provide the most protection and look the best on a car. Darker films can give needed privacy, but many people do not want their vehicles looking like limousines -- and they don't have to.

The first decision a consumer should make before purchasing a do-it-yourself film is what light transmission to use. Light transmission measures how much light passes through the film; the higher the percentage, the better the visibility inside and out. The lower the percentage, the darker the film and the more privacy it offers.

Each state (and Canadian province) regulates the darkness of film allowed on vehicle windows. Most states permit some tinting on the front side windows, usually from 35 percent to 50 percent light transmission. Back side and rear windows are generally allowed darker tinting, provided the vehicle has left and right side view mirrors for visibility. Anyone planning to tint a vehicle should consult with state police or the film manufacturer to determine the exact level of light transmission permitted. Most window film manufacturers offer do-it-yourself films in densities from 5 percent (the darkest) to 50 percent (the lightest).

Window films are also available with different performance features. Economy window films are constructed of dyed or coated polyester and offer good UV and glare protection, but little heat rejection or durability. The next level of performance is scratch-resistance. These films offer the same benefits as economy films, but add an anti-scratch coating that keeps the film looking good longer.

The best heat rejection available comes from metallized films. Metallizing a film does not make it dark and shiny, but increases the active heat and rejection. The highest performing films available contain UV absorbers, as well as metal, to offer the maximum protection for both the vehicle and its passengers. These films -- such as GILA's new UltraShield products -- offer the greatest durability and highest performance available.

Many manufacturers also offer a variety of specialty films including graduated tints, mirrored tints and colored tints. Customizing a vehicle with a specialty film not only protects it, but also increases its beauty and value.

Can I Do This Myself?

Absolutely. Window film technology has improved greatly over the past several years, bringing with it more user-friendly products. Complete instructions are available inside each carton of film, and the basic tools needed are a spray bottle, firm squeegee and utility knife.

Windows must be completely clean and free of contaminants before applying film. With patience and the proper tools and time, anyone can get a professional-looking tint job in just a couple of hours at home. Each manufacturer's application instructions may vary somewhat, so it is important to read them carefully to achieve the best-looking tint job.

Is there a Cost Benefit?

Of course, for you and the environment. The average cost for tinting your own vehicle is around $20 to $40 -- depending on the type of film used -- compared to $150 to $350 for professional installation. In addition, the benefits received for such a small investment make window film an excellent afternoon project, resulting in a safer, more comfortable and attractive vehicle.

The environment benefits from the added fuel economy which film can generate. As Killen notes, "When you run the air conditioner, you are burning more fuel and emitting more pollution. Reducing heat gain by up to 50 percent improves the efficiency of your A/C so you can run it at a lower fan speed, burn less fuel, and reduce pollution." These savings are especially important if you drive a minivan or SUV which have larger glass areas than most vehicles.

Do-it-yourself window films are available at most automotive aftermarket retailers, as well as mass merchandisers and discount stores. For more information about GILA window films or to find out the tinting regulations in your state, call 1-800-528-4481 or visit the company Web site at

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