Like many vehicles in the Yakima Valley, Kelly McTee’s has tinted windows.
Part of it is to show off the work he does at his Aftermath Custom Auto in Yakima, but there are personal reasons for it as well, such as privacy and comfort.
“When it’s 100 degrees in Yakima, you want that heat rejection,” McTee said. “It protects the interior from cracking and fading.”
But there’s a trend toward extending tinting to the front windshield of the car, one that Yakima-area window tint installers say they won’t do, nor endorse.
“It’s our guys’ job to let you know it’s not safe,” said Gerardo Altamirano, owner of America’s Window Tint and Graphics.
And Yakima police are also reminding people through social media that it is an illegal practice that can cost violators almost as much as a tint job on their car.
“School started a little while ago, and we need to remind people that there are regulations for this,” said Lt. Chad Stephens with the Yakima Police Department.
While police say driver visibility is a major concern, law enforcement also considers it an officer-safety issue. Police are vulnerable when they can’t see into a vehicle during a traffic stop.
For those looking to use tinting to cut down on heat inside the car, installers say there’s a perfectly legal way to tint a front window to do that without sacrificing visibility.
Under Washington state law, dark window tinting is allowed on all but the windshield, and the tinting must allow at least 24 percent of the light striking it to pass through. The law does allow some transparent tinting on the top part of the windshield, but only down to where the AS-1 mark is on the window, or about six inches.
There are exceptions for motor homes, ambulances, hearses and multi-passenger vehicles for darker privacy tints, but only on windows behind the driver’s position.
The law also allows medical exceptions, but those must be accompanied by a doctor’s prescription, said Jake Macias, owner of Jake’s Custom Window Tinting and Graphics.
And even then, they can’t cover the entire windshield, Yakima Police Sgt. Jim Moore said.
“The thought with the law is, if you need it to be dark, you can wear sunglasses,” Moore said.
Stephens said officers carry devices that allow them to measure how much light passes through a window to determine if it is legal.
Macias, who has been tinting windows for 40 years, said there are benefits to darkening some windows on a car. Along with keeping the inside cooler and less prone to sun damage, tinting can also provide some added security, he said.
“If you want to conceal that you are a traveler or a vendor with a little SUV or multipurpose vehicle, it gives you that privacy,” Macias said.
McTee said it could also deter a vehicle burglar, by making it hard to see what’s inside the car at night.
But recently, there’s been an increase in completely tinted windshields. Moore and Yakima County sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Swallow said they have both noticed it.
In an Oct. 22 post on the YPD’s Facebook page, the department reminded people that it’s illegal and carries a $139 fine. In comparison, tinting a vehicle can run between $150 and $400, McTee said.
Altamirano said he noticed the trend toward tinted windshields starting two years ago, and he gets customers coming into his shop wanting the same thing because they like how it looks.
But Altamirano and his employees tell those customers that they are not going to do it, partly because it’s illegal, and partly because it makes it harder for drivers to see at night.
“If we do a dark tint on the windshield, at night they are going to get glare,’ Altamirano said. “They can’t see through it at night.”
When someone asks for illegal tinting, Altamirano has a paper that customers can read outlining both the legal and safety arguments against tinting windows.
He’s also made it a part of his advertising, noting in a radio spot that he won’t tint windshields.
Another part of the law requires installers to affix a sticker either to the car post or somewhere near the driver’s window stating to what degree the windows are tinted and by which company. It’s a part of the law that Swallow said often gets ignored.
“I have yet to see anyone who’s done it,” Swallow said.
McTee said he doesn’t do it because his customers don’t want it, seeing it as advertising for the tinting company.
Macias and Altamirano said there are special tinting materials that can legally be used on windshields. They are designed to block mostly infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths of light, which eliminates a significant portion of the heat coming in, while permitting most visible light to pass through.
While installers say they won’t tint windshields, it does not deter people from doing it themselves. Macias said he cannot police what someone will do if they buy tinting material from him and take it home.
If people object to the law, they should seek a referendum instead of illegally tinting their windows themselves, Macias said.