Chip Foose was the first person I remember that talked about tinting your headlights. He was working on a car on the popular series Overhaulin’ (check out our list of the top rebuild shows ever made to see where his show falls on the list).
Growing up, I’d seen friends use window film to tint their headlights and tail lights but until this episode with Chip, I’d never seen anyone use paint.
He mixed up some clearcoat with just a little gray or black paint added and then sprayed it on the headlights. It looked awesome.
There was just enough “smoke” on the lenses that you could tell they were tinted but it wasn’t too dark. They were nice and it added just the right touch to the build. When the lights came on you couldn’t tell they were tinted at all.
But that got me thinking… can you tint your headlights (with either film or paint) and is it legal?
You can tint your headlights on any show vehicle or custom car in most states as long as it’s registered as such. If you plan on tinting the headlights on your daily driver, then you’ll have to check the laws and, in some states, be able to pass a vehicle inspection.
If you are looking to modify your vehicle, then you may want to consider tinting your headlights. However, not all states allow you to modify your own vehicle’s headlights. Therefore, you may be wondering is it OK to tint headlights in your state. Here’s what you need to know.
Is it Legal to Tint Your Headlights?
The bottom line is that some states – such as Florida – will not allow you to alter the color of your headlights or apply anything that will “alter the factory output” of the headlights.
Other states will allow you to tint your headlights as long as they meet the minimum brightness output required by law. This usually has to do with the amount of light visible at a certain distance from the car.
And, finally, there are dozens of states whose laws fall somewhere in-between. If you want to tint your headlights, you’ll have to check your state’s specific vehicle code.
Which States in the US Have the Strictest Laws About Tinted Headlights?
Is tinting your front headlights legal in your state? There are a number of states that do not allow tinting your headlights. These states include Florida, Texas, Illinois, Michigan New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington DC. Be sure to check your local laws before starting any headlight tinting project on any motor vehicles that will be driven regularly.
How can you tint your head lights?
As mentioned in the intro, there are several approaches to headlight tints. You may be wondering can you tint your headlights by yourself? Yes, that is possible. However, if you don’t have lots of experience working on your own vehicle, you may want to leave it to the pros. Here’s a look at how you can tint your headlights.
Headlight Tints Using Paint
The first approach is to tint your own headlights using paint. This is sometimes called “smoking” your headlights as well. The primary thing to remember is that you want to use a tinted clear coat, and not a black or gray (even if lightly misted) as colored paint will have poor translucence and you want good transparence.
In order to paint your headlights, you will need to get the tint lens spray as well as painter’s tape and the tools needed to remove the headlight assembly from the vehicle.
First, you will want to remove the headlight from the vehicle. From there, you should clean the headlights and then tape over the areas of the headlight which you don’t want to tint. After that, you can apply the paint to your headlight. Be sure that you don’t over-paint the headlight and excess your state’s minimum visibility requirement. Allow the paint to dry and then re-install the headlight assembly to your vehicle.
You can also have your vehicle’s headlights professionally painted. This is the recommended approach if you don’t have lots of experience with modifying your own vehicle. A vehicle painting technician should be able to paint your vehicle’s headlights within your state’s minimum viability regulations.
After your headlights are tinted to the desired level, make sure you test them to ensure you are getting adequate light and that you don’t drop below any legal limits (you can check out our article on how to test your headlights’ brightness and the amount of light visible here – using a light meter).
It’s better to test them before you get pulled over and have a police officer tell you they’re too dark or unsafe.
Tinting Your Headlights Using Film
Another way to tint your headlights is to have them tinted with window tints or special light film. In this case, you will need to buy the headlight film, liquid soap, microfiber clothe, sandpaper, and rubbing alcohol. First, you will remove the headlight assembly from the vehicle. Next, you will want to clean the headlight and then sand it down. Next, apply the film to the headlight. Wait for the film’s adhesive to dry. Finally, reinstall the headlight assembly to the vehicle.
This is another area where it’s probably a good idea to have it professionally done as it will last longer and will be under some sort of warranty if it doesn’t adhere properly. We’re all for DIY at GearSlap – that’s kind of what we’re about – but there are some areas where it’s better to take your vehicle to someone who has the right tools and access to better materials.
Not to mention the skills, training, and warranties that come with a professional automotive service business that specializes in tinted windows or tinting headlights.
Buy Pre-Smoked Lenses or Smoked Headlight Covers
Smoked headlight covers or pre-smoked headlight assemblies are another way to get a “tinted look” for your car. You can find smoked lenses or headlight assemblies for just about every mass-produced car. Smoked lenses come from the manufacturer with a light amount of dye injected into the polycarbonate cover.
These look great in most cases and you won’t have to worry about the tint peeling off or getting chipped, crazed or cloudy. A headlight cover is usually pretty cheap, but you get what you pay for. We prefer getting a smoked assembly or lens instead of just a smoked cover.
The pre-smoked lenses just look better and will last longer – in most cases. However, the biggest issue you’ll face with many of these aftermarket lights is quality.
What you may find is that the cover is made out of cheap plastic instead of automotive-grade polycarbonate. This would potentially cause the lens to crack or shatter if hit by any road debris. The other issue you may face if you have to buy the whole assembly is leaking seals.
The worst thing you can have is a seal leak that causes condensation or water to get into the headlight and look terrible – or worse yet, cause a short and take out your headlights. This makes for a VERY unsafe trip home at night (been there, done that!).
You can find some pretty good ones on Amazon or eBay – watch for our review on best aftermarket smoked headlights which we’re working on now.
Can you legally smoke your headlights?
Just remember, even though you can buy smoked lenses, it doesn’t mean that they’re legal in your state. Some online retailers’ systems are sophisticated enough to prevent you from buying something that’s illegal in your state. But MOST aren’t that high-tech. Don’t assume that because you can buy them online they’re legal.
In addition to tinting your headlights, you may also be able to smoke your headlights. Smoking your headlights will be subject to the same minimal viability laws as tinting your headlights. Therefore, if your state allows you to modify the amount that can be emitted from your headlights, then you can legally smoke your headlights.
Will Tinted Headlights Pass Inspection?
In order for your tinted headlights to be road-worthy, they will have to pass your state’s motor vehicle inspection if you have one. During the inspection, the inspector will check if your vehicle’s headlights meet the minimum amount of visibility. For instance, some states require that at least 70% of the light can still be projected through the tint. Therefore, you will want to be familiar with your state’s specific tinting laws.
You’ll also want to make sure that whatever you put over your headlights to tint them that it has the same (or similar) index of refraction as your non-tinted covers.
This is just a fancy way of saying you want to make sure the light can come out “straight” from your headlights. You don’t want your tint to act as a diffuser and send the light in multiple directions.
Obviously, this would be dangerous since ensuring that your headlights are properly aimed is a safety best practice. And if the light is diffused then it’s not pointing in the direction you want it to.
What is the Difference Between Tinted and Smoked Headlights?
Now there is a distinct difference between tinted headlights and smoked headlights. With a tinted headlight, you are applying a film or a spray over the headlight in order to alter the color of the headlight or reduce the amount of light. Smoked headlights use a lens that has been altered to reduce the amount of light that is emitted from the bulb. Both tinted and smoked headlights will be subject to a state’s minimum viability regulations.
Smoked headlights can also refer to just the darkened cover that is applied over your factory headlights. This is not recommended as they usually don’t last and are often too dark anyway. Besides, I think headlight covers look cheap.
How Much Does it Cost to Get Your Headlights Tinted on Average?
Cost of Using Paint to Tint Your Headlights
The cost of tinting your headlights will depend on the approach that you use and whether you are having the headlights professionally tinted. For instance, if you opt to spray tint your headlights yourself, then you will need to purchase the tint lens paint as well as other painting equipment and headlight assembly tools. This will cost about $40 to $50 in total.
If you are looking to have your headlights professionally tinted, then you can expect to pay $65 to $130 per lens. Higher-end vehicles will have a more expensive cost per lens but light tint really makes a luxury or supercar, car stand out.
Cost of Using Film to Tint Your Headlights
The cost of applying tint film as a DIY project will cost about $50 when you include the cost of the tint film and the associated equipment needed to complete the project. If you are looking to have your headlights professionally tinted, then you can expect to pay anywhere between $65 to $130 per headlight lens.
When I saw the finished product when Chip tinted the headlights so many years ago, I was shocked at how good it looked and how it complimented the overall design. If done correctly, it can make your car look very classy and be just the right touch to complete your build. Most window tinting shops will also tint headlights and taillights. (If you’re interested in taillight tint, you should check out our article here which discusses it).
Whichever method you choose, just make sure you’re not taking on more risk just to make your car look good. You want to be able to see, and be seen, at night.
Putting yourself in danger is never a bright idea!