Window Tinting Requirements

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Driving a vehicle on a street, highway, or public vehicular area in North Carolina in violation of the window tinting restrictions set forth in G.S. 20-127 is a Class 3 misdemeanor. In 2013, there were more than 12,500 charges filed for such window tinting violations. For some drivers, the violation leads to far more serious criminal charges. A police officer who has reasonable suspicion to believe that a vehicle’s windows are tinted in violation of state law may stop the vehicle to investigate. Appellate court opinions chronicle circumstances in which evidence of more serious criminal activity is uncovered during the course of such a traffic stop. See, e.g., State v. Williams, 366 N.C. 110, 110-11 (2012) (vehicle stopped for window-tinting violation; defendant-passenger subsequently arrested after sixty-five pounds of marijuana were found in the vehicle); State v. Davis, __ N.C. App. ___, 721 S.E.2d 408 (2012) (unpublished op.) (defendant’s vehicle stopped for illegal tinting on windows; defendant arrested after marijuana and cocaine found in vehicle).

So what are the window tinting requirements? They are different for windshields and windows.

Windshields. Generally, the windshield of a vehicle may be tinted only along the top of the windshield and the tinting may not extend more than five inches below the top of the windshield or below the AS1 line of the windshield, whichever measurement is longer. G.S. 20-127(b). An untinted clear film that does not obstruct vision but reduces or eliminates ultraviolet radiation may be applied to windshield.

Windows. Any window of a vehicle other than the windshield may be tinted as follows:

  • The total light transmission of the tinted window must be at least 35 percent. A vehicle window that, by the use of a DMV-approved light meter, measures a total light transmission of more than 32 percent is conclusively presumed to meet this restriction.
  • The light reflectance of the tinted window must be 20 percent or less.
  • The material used to tint the window must be nonreflective and may not be red, yellow, or amber.

Exceptions. The window and windshield of commercial motor vehicles must comply with federal regulations governing tinting.

Moreover, the window tinting requirements do not apply to the following vehicle windows:

  • A window of an excursion passenger vehicle, as defined in G.S. 20-4.01(27)a.
  • A window of a motor home, as defined in G.S. 20-4.01(27)d2.
  • A window of an ambulance, as defined in G.S. 20-4.01(27)f.
  • The rear window of a property-hauling vehicle, as defined in G.S. 20-4.01(31).
  • A window of a limousine.
  • A window of a law enforcement vehicle.
  • A window of a multipurpose vehicle that is behind the driver of the vehicle. A multipurpose vehicle is a passenger vehicle that is designed to carry 10 or fewer passengers and either is constructed on a truck chassis or has special features designed for occasional off-road operation. A minivan and a pickup truck are multipurpose vehicles.
  • A window of a vehicle that is registered in another state and meets the requirements of the state in which it is registered. (There is no corresponding exception for the windshields of vehicles registered in another state. See State v. Schiffer, 132 N.C. App. 22, 28 (1999).)
  • A window of a vehicle for which the Division has issued a medical exception permit under subsection (f) of this section.

Factory finish. Even though window tinting laws vary greatly from state to state, owners of vehicles with factory tint don’t have to worry about whether state law requirements are satisfied. That’s because, as explained in this New York Times article, vehicle manufacturers must comply with federal regulations that are as strict as the strictest state.

After-market tinting. But folks who purchase vehicles with after-market tinting can’t be so assured. While it is a Class 3 misdemeanor to apply tinting to the window of a vehicle that is subject to a safety inspection in North Carolina if the tint does not comply with the restrictions of G.S. 20-127, a person easily could purchase a car with after-market tint that has been lawfully applied in another state but that does not meet North Carolina requirements. The owner may first learn of the noncompliance through a vehicle inspection, as North Carolina inspection stations are required to test vehicle windows with after-market tinting with an approved light meter. See 19A N.C. Admin. Code 3D.0551.  Those inspections are $10 more expensive than is routine. G.S. 20-183.7(a).

19 comments on “Window Tinting Requirements

  1. No after market tint on my 2012 Subaru Legacy and Grease Monkey Huntersville still did a $10 tint test, which was never done before. How do they determine if it’s after market?

    • If light transmittance is less than 65%, it’s considered aftermarket regardless of if it is or not.

      • That is not true, I have a Range Rover, I didn’t have to start paying the extra $10 until I got my front 2 windows tinted! My mom has an Honda Pilot and pays $30 a year for inspection & her back windows are factory tinted! So, that statement you made is not correct “FAKE NEWS”

  2. The interesting question is, how much tinting is enough for the officer to justify a stop?

    Heien v. North Carolina seems to give pretty broad forgivness for officers’ “reasonable mistakes”. Suppose officers want to make reasonable mistakes, ex. to make a pretextual stop. Does it even matter anymore if the tint was actually legal?

    Can an officer say, “I thought the tint was dark enough that I could reasonably suspect a violation, so I pulled him to do a meter test?” (FYI – since you have to open the window and/or door to do a light test it’s a great excuse to snoop around a vehicle you can’t legally search, maybe lean over a bit so you can look under the seats, get a good look into the door pockets)

    Can an officer make a citizen sit on the side of the road while he waits for another officer who has a light meter to arrive? If, in the mean time, the officer also calls a drug dog to come is there any violation there? The answer would seem to be that such a seizure is legal.

    This leaves us with a situation where, if a vehicle has any tint on it at all, the driver is subject to being legally stopped, detained and questioned by officers who are trained to be very pushy and probing. This seems counter to the legislative desire to make window tinting legal, and ripe for pre-textual abuse, a la State v. Rose.

    These are not really hypotheticals. I almost never see a window tint violation all by itself. They are almost always written in conjuction with an alcohol or drug charge that was detected following the stop for the tint, and the tint frequently turns out to be legal.

    • I understand the concern, I think the issue isn’t really too dangerous or too much of a “slippery slope” though because the first piece of evidence is going to be a picture of the defendant’s windows, and if it’s plain they are not too dark instant dismissal.
      Also, I’ve driven in a lot of vehicles, ridden in others, and I have yet to find a car where someone can see UNDER my seat from OUTSIDE the vehicle.

      As a general rule of thumb, in NC under our tint limit, if you cannot see the driver clear enough to determine race/gender, it’s probably too dark.

  3. I recently had two vehicles, purchased new at the dealership with dealer installed tint, inspected and had the additional $10 inspection fee assessed. Those dealers are required to meet state regulations. During 2013, the Raleigh police department made 18137 stops for speeding (there were over 27,000 such stops in Wake county, and that excludes the Wake county stops made by the NC Highway Patrol, which made 352,789 speeding stops across the state. (source: http://trafficstops.ncdoj.gov/) Thus ~12500″window tint stops” constitute an extremely small fraction of traffic stops. There were about 7.8 million registered vehicles in the state in 2013 (source: Statista.com). I bet a large number of us are paying a fee to address a low incidence “crime”, but it’s probably a moneymaker for the state.

  4. I can find a 2016 to 2017 updated law version but I have heard there is a new one for window tint issued this jan 2017 effective immediately for North Carolina

    I want compact SUV s Laws for the surround. (Front side back sides and rear on a compact SUV body style auto tint)

    • According to the North Carolina General Statutes 20-127, there is nothing that has changed regarding tint law here in North Carolina. New York did implement a very harsh change in their window tinting laws, effective January 2017, so that may be the source of confusion.

      Here is the link to the NC tint law: http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/statutes/statutelookup.pl?statute=20-127

      This might be too late to help you, but might come in handy for a future reader.

  5. Bought my truck in florida in 2001 has the windows done. Moved here in 2003. Now in 2017 it all of a sudden is not legal.! What gives? Nothing changed for me except time and I’m told I have to remove it all. Meanwhile unmarked police cars are as dark as night. Illegal is illegal. What makes them special

    • Same here. Bought our SUV used here in NC about 10 years ago. Passed every year. This year, it won’t pass. Furious!

    • Its bogus that you bought a car with tint installed and is suddenly illegal due to a new law, you would hope that it be grandfathered in.
      However, police cars are tinted primarily for officer safety. As a civilian you are less at risk of someone just walking up to your parked car and blowing your brains out because of your uniform.

      • Not buying the officer safety argument. Yea…I’m sure that is what they use to justify it, but you’d (not specifically you B Lewis) have to be a complete moron to not know an officer is in the vehicle when it’s either marked and tinted completely dark, has it blue lights on, or its unmarked and is the same make/model as every other unmarked car and has state plates. Yes I know there are K-9’s as well and tint reduces the heat so no argument there. As a former police officer I think the law enforcement agencies should have to follow the same rules as the public. This includes the rules around tinting as well as speeding without blue lights/siren and etc. Yes, there are instances, once you are in the vicinity of an incident where you don’t want lights and siren (especially siren) but these few exceptions don’t account for the constant abuse by some (not the majority) law enforcement. In my opinion, its time for GPS and what “call” they were on to match up. If you were not heading to a B&E with lights and siren then why were you doing 70 in a 55? After all, they are the law. They are the standard for behavior. They should obey the rules like they expect the public to obey the rules or face a consequence. All of this IMHO. Yea I know, this is a window tint forum. My apologies, sincerely, to those of you who didn’t want to read my rant on an older thread. I do respect all opinions even though I may not agree.

  6. The nc tint law applies to all people. Law enforcement officers personal vehicle s. Are. Not. Exempt… From the law…some county deputies. Seem. To think. They are. Above. The law..but everyone must follow the laws. Of. The state..only police apointed vehicles. Are. Exempt…

    • This isn’t true.. at least for the county that I live in and every county I travel to surrounding. Officers are allowed to have any darkness of tint that they please.

  7. Had the same thing happen to me. Same place I go to every year. Charged me an extra $10. Sticker on all 4 Windows say it was installed by Toyota and meets the rule. I even have the original paperwork saying that the car hadn’t even been sold when the sticker was placed on the Windows…..wth?

  8. James Miller, your period button seems to be stuck 😉

    Time to re-register my truck in SC.

  9. I have after market UV film on my windshield to reduce heat. The state inspection station says it is tinted below the 5″ max and therefore fails inspection (19A NCAC 03D .0551 (e) (3)). Paragraph 19A NCAC 03D .0551 (h) states that if light transmission exceeds 65% the vehicle shall not be considered to have after-factory tint. Is my inspector confusing “tint” with the presence of a windshield film? Is his failing of my vehicle correct? Seems to me he is off base. What can I do?

  10. I personal think it is beyond unfair standards to have a suv or van or truck n be able to have back windows as dark as possible but if you own a sedan its total bs that all the windows have to 35 percent thats a double standard law wich seems to be bs!!! Cars have to b 35 percent and all others can be blacked out in rear n side doors total bs …. but it’s ok that the state charges the extra money if they are tinted at inspection time 10 to 30 dollars extra … seems its all a money racket to me ……..

  11. Husband took our 2016 Hyundai Sonata to get it inspected today (3rd year) and they failed it. Stated the tinting was below the AS-1 line. I’ve never heard of that, the tinting is not even in our line of vision for the road. Funny that it has passed the previous two years with NO changes!!

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