There is a common misconception out there that car window tint is a temporary upgrade, while in fact with the right window film installed by skilled professionals, car window lasts for years and years, and will often even outlast the vehicle’s engine, frame, and every other component. Simply put, car window film should last for the entire lifespan of your vehicle. If, that is, you chose the right window tint for your car. And that can be a big if!

Why do so many people think window film only lasts for a few years? Because earlier generations of window tint did have a short effective life, so to speak. In fact, many older window tints and many modern cheap window tint can only be counted on to last for a year or two at best, if they even make it that long before they look so worn and work so poorly that you decide your car is better off with basic glass windows again.

Cheap window tint lasts 1 to 2 years on average.

Cheap window tint films that you self apply or have installed by a cut-rate outfit usually use only dyes to block the sun’s heat and to add privacy to the interior of the vehicle. These films usually experience bubble, cracks, peeling, and discoloration — or a blend of a few of these issues or, in the worst case scenario, all of those afflictions — within one to two years of use, and they become so aesthetically unpleasant and ineffective, even reducing the clarity of view out through the glass, that they eventually must be removed. If you live in an area with lots of hot, sunny days, this damage and degradation will occur even faster. This is the type of window tint that was commonly seen besmirching the windows of cars in the 1970s, 1980s, and even through the 90s and into the 21st Century, and it is this cracked, bubbled, of purple-shaded window tint that has sullied the reputation of all car window film in the minds of many people.

Hybrid window film should last for five years or so in most conditions.

Hybrid window film for cars saw widespread use begin in the last decade of the last century. Hybrid tint uses dyes but is also infused and often coasted with millions of minute particles of metals such as titanium. These microscopic metal particles not only provide additional heat and UV light rejection, but they also help to stabilize the dyes in the film, preventing the discoloration of material for many years. Blended metallic and dyed window tint can be expected to last for five years on average in most weather and driving conditions. If you park your car in a garage or in a reliably shaded area, these tints will last even longer, especially if your part of the country is not prone to excessive heat and more direct sunlight. In the words, window tint installed on a car in Portland, Maine is going to last longer than window tint in Los Angeles or in Miami.

Nano-ceramic window tint will last indefinitely, often outlasting the car itself.

The latest (and greatest) window film for cars is nano-ceramic based tinting that uses no dyes and no metallic particles. The ceramic bits, which are truly microscopic (each particle is significantly smaller than the width of a human hair) are inherently inert; they are not damaged or changed by sunlight, heat, cold, moisture, or any other factors. Thus it should be no surprise that this type of window film costs more than dye-only or hybrid window tints, but you can also count on ceramic window tint to last for years and years; in fact, it will last indefinitely if not damaged by physical scratches or cracks the glass itself sustains. This is why so many window films made exclusively using nano-ceramic technology have lifetime warranties.

How to protect car window film against damage.

As mentioned just now, even the best vehicle window film in the world can be damaged and will require replacement if that damage is noticeable enough and/or if it impairs proper function significantly. Keeping windows with tint clean is the best way to protect the appearance and function of the window film. Use a glass cleaner that is vinegar-based or that is designed specifically for tinted glass to ensure that you don’t damage your film, especially if it is a more fragile dyed window tint.

One of the leading causes of damaged window tint are minute little scratches and abrasions that are caused by sand, gravel bits, and other debris that becomes lodged between the window glass and the seal around the base of the windows. Every time you roll up and down the side windows of the car, these bits of material risk scratching the tint, and even tough, durable films will eventually be scored by these particles after repeated raking exposure. Clean out the area between these strips of sealing material and the glass periodically to protect tints that are installed on either the interior or the exterior of the car.

Also watch out for that seatbelt tip that can go snapping into the window. Tempered auto safety glass should be able to resist cracking with these little impacts, but even decent interior window film can be scratched by the seat belt, and it will need to be replaced wholesale if enough little chips and gouges are created.

And while this might seem obvious, for exterior window tinting, try to avoid letting foliage (or anything else!) drag across the glass. The thing is, it might not be obvious that you’re actually about to cause an issue: You might never have noticed a bush or small tree you regularly brush your windshield or side windows against as you park each day because the glass was never scratched. Window tint is not as resilient against scratches as auto glass, so if you don’t notice and then change your parking habits, you might unwittingly scratch new window film shortly after it’s applied.