For some car owners, factory tail lights just aren’t enough. Fortunately, anyone can add a little edge to their ride with tinted tail lights. These bring the color way down, creating a black-cherry-like hue that can work really well aesthetically with darker colors, especially reds. However, while it may look cool, tinting your tail lights isn’t a cut and dry affair, and there could be negative consequences.
In this article, Part 1 explains how to check if you’re legally allowed to tint, Part 2 describes how to apply the tint, and Part 3 walks you through how to remove the tint if you have second thoughts down the road.
Part 1 of 3: Make sure you’re legally allowed to tint your car tail lights
Show cars look amazing partly because they’re not legally allowed to drive on public roads and can be modified in extreme ways. While there may be no federal restrictions on tinted tail lights, laws do vary state by state.
Check your state’s vehicle code to ensure you have the legal ability to apply tint to your tail lights as there is a lot of grey area here. In New York for example, no vehicle manufactured after 1952 can have rear tail lights where the red can’t be seen from 1,000 feet.
A quick internet search for your state plus the phrase “vehicle code” can pull up the legitimate details you need to determine if your tinted lights are legal.
Part 2 of 3: How to tint your tail lights with film
- Heat gun or hair dryer
- Microfiber cloth
- Spray bottle
- Window tint film
Just like you would with tinted windows, tinting your tail lights with film is a solid method of adding a little darkness to your ride.
Step 1: Cut the film to the general shape of your lights. If you have a little extra on the edges, it’s okay as you can trim later once the film is applied.
Step 2: Clean the tail lights with water. Clean the lights to ensure there is no debris - it’s best to work with a clean, smooth surface.
Step 3: Apply the tint film. You’ll need to act quickly to apply the film as any trapped dirt can cause bubbles and wrinkles in the film.
Step 4: Smooth out the film. This is where the squeegee comes in handy as you can smooth out the film, removing any excess water and bubbles.
Step 5: Apply heat. Once the film is applied, grab your heat gun or hair dryer and add the finishing touches to ensure the film is secure.
Step 6: Trim the excess. Cut away the excess to match the contours of your lights.
Part 3 of 4: How to tint tail lights using a tinting spray
- Automotive-grade wet sanding paper
- Car polish and wax
- Clear coat spray
- Masking Tape
- Microfiber cloth
- Tinting spray
- Tools to remove the tail lights
Another method is to use tinting spray, such as what’s offered by the Rust-Oleum brand. This process is a bit more involved than using film.
Step 1: Remove the tail lights. The best way to spray tint tail lights is to remove them.
This will vary by car, but most are pretty straightforward:
- Find the retaining bolts/screws
- Remove them
- Disconnect the wiring harness
- Pull the entire housing away from the body of the car
Step 2: Mark off the housing. Once your tail lights are removed, use the masking tape to mark off the housing (except the lens itself) and the reverse light portion.
Step 3: Clean the tail lights. You should use the automotive-grade wet sanding paper and some soapy water to clean the tail light surface.
Dry it with a microfiber cloth to ensure it’s truly clean before you apply the spray.
Step 4: Apply the spray. When the light is clean, you can then apply the spray.
Work in a well-ventilated area (outside, preferably) and apply the spray in long sweeps.
Let them dry for at least an hour before applying the finishing touches: sanding, clear coat, wax, and polish.
Part 3 of 4: How to remove tail light tint
- Goo Gone
- Heat gun or hair dryer
If you ever want to remove the tint - either if you applied film or spray - the process is uncomplicated. For film, use a heat gun or hair dryer and peel the film as you heat it up. Adhesive remover - such as Goo Gone - can help the film come off a bit easier.
Step 1: Remove or tape of the tail lights. Make sure to tape off the body of the car, or remove the headlights so you don’t get any paint thinner/cleaner on the body.
Step 2: Sand the lights with a cleaner. For spray, use automotive-grade sandpaper - again with some Goo Gone or mineral spirits/paint thinner. Apply whatever “cleaner” you desire and use the sandpaper to clear away the spray.
Tinted tail lights can definitely add an extra flair to a car, but it’s not for everyone. It’s always smart to have an “exit strategy” when modifying a car - especially if you decide to sell it.