Window tinting makes sense in the UAE - even with the AC blasting, it gets incredibly hot in cars, especially during summer.
Tales from the dark side
Window tinting makes sense in the UAE - even with the AC blasting, it gets incredibly hot in cars, especially during summer. It is almost a rite of passage for a driver experiencing their first UAE summer to recoil in shock at an untouchably hot steering wheel or suffer the indignity of a seat-belt burn. The harsh sun will not only make life uncomfortable for the occupants of cars, it will also cause the interior finishes to deteriorate much faster than in less sunny climates. A car with professionally tinted windows can also improve in value and appearance and the glass may be less susceptible to shattering, which can be other motivations for motorists to consider tinting.
But there are laws in the UAE with regard to window tinting, as well as vastly differing standards in window tinting. Along Satwa Road in Dubai or various establishments in Abu Dhabi's Musaffah district, the on-street window tinting operations are not too hard to spot, but they are probably not necessarily the best choice even though they may be the cheapest option. Common problems with substandard window tinting jobs include the colour of the tinted film fading, usually to a pallid brown or purple, bruise-like colour, or the film cracking, bubbling or peeling off. Another sign of a poor job is if a window is tinted using more than one piece of film.
Legally, car windows in the UAE should not be tinted any darker than 30 per cent and in Abu Dhabi, the penalty is a Dh10,000 fine and impoundment of the car for 30 days. Between Jan 1 and March 12 this year, 631 drivers were fined for over-tinted windows in Abu Dhabi and a clampdown in February resulted in 242 drivers being fined over a 12-day period. At Sunprotech and Tint My Ride, two window tinting businesses, the managers explain the benefits of window tinting as well as how to ensure a good job is done.
Idriss Makdoud, the managing director of Sunprotech, a Dubai and Abu-Dhabi-based company, says Sunprotech offers metallic and the more advanced ceramic window tinting. "The film is darker on metallic-based window tinting but the heat rejection on ceramic tinting is just as good," he says. Ceramic film, made with small particles of ceramic, is much clearer than metallic, made from nickel, aluminium, gold or silver, and easily meets the legal 30 per cent or less requirements.
"Ceramic film is around 24 per cent darkness while metallic is around 30 per cent to 32 per cent," he says. At Tint My Ride, an authorised 3M window tinting outlet based in Dubai Marina Mall, there are three levels of window tinting based on price. A dyed film is the entry level tint, the mid-level is carbon-coated and the top-of-the-line crystalline tint that has 200 compressed layers and, like ceramic tinting, protects while still letting in light. All the 3M tints offer 99 per cent ultra violet light protection.
Salman Quraishi, general manager of Tint My Ride, and Makdoud agree that all good window tinting businesses will do all their work on the cars indoors. "In order for us to be a licensed 3M distributor one of the conditions is that we do all our work indoors," says Quraishi. Tint My Ride has an indoor workshop in the mall's car park. At Sunprotech, the spotless workshop is filled with all manner of expensive cars all being tended to by staff in immaculate uniforms when The National visited. "You should never tint a car window out on the street," says Makdoud.
When he shows me around the workshop, he points out a car with the inside door panels removed to ensure the side windows are properly covered with the film. "This is why our service might take a bit longer but the results are worth it," he says. "If you tint a car outdoors, particles of dust and sand can easily stick to the film and this will cause a poor result. "Or if you see tinting done on the street, they often cut the film in two parts rather than a single piece."
Makdoud also says that a less-than-professional outfit might not be able to properly tint cars with difficult window shapes. Both Makdoud and Quraishi named the curved back window of the Volkswagen Beetle as one of the most difficult to tint. Getting the temperature right when the film is heat-sealed on to the glass is another important factor in ensuring a professional result. "We have to adapt the temperature to the film when we 'cook' the tint," says Makdoud. "But usually it is somewhere around 390°C or 400°C. The whole process can take five hours, depending on the car, but it will be a better result than the one-and-a-half hours for a street job."
"Our stall are all trained by 3M - there is a team of trainers from the US whose job it is to travel around the world training window tinters," says Quraishi. "The training gets updated every year." Sunprotech and Tint My Ride both emphasise the importance of warranties, which consumers won't often get with an on-street operation. Tint My Ride's warranties vary from two years to five years, while Sunprotech offers 10-year warranties. Both companies also have complete price lists so customers can compare the difference between the types of tint and the different costs depending on the size of the car.
But what about the customers who demand window tinting that is darker than the 30 per cent legal limit? "We highly discourage that," says Quraishi. "If someone asks for darker than the legal limit, we will tell them the laws and they know we'll take no responsibility for any fines." But he also points out that many customers who request a darker tint do so because of misinformation rather than a desire for an extreme level of privacy. "There is a misconception that the darker the film, the greater the heat rejection.
"We put in writing the information on the legal film tint limits," says Makdoud. "If a customer still wants it done [at more than 30 per cent], it is at their own risk." Like Quraishi, Makdoud says that many customers change their minds about excessively dark tinting once they realise that they can get the same protection from ceramic tinting or a film that is within the legal limits. While there will always be customers who demand total privacy, Quraishi and Makdoud hope that with more consumer awareness, we'll see fewer cars on the road with excessively darkened windows. With the Abu Dhabi Police citing overly tinted windows as the fourth biggest cause of accidents in the emirate, a change in attitudes to tinting may make the roads safer too.