Volume 12, Issue 5 - September/October 2008
Mike Burke has been tinting cars for more than 20 years. So it’s safe to say that when most of the challenging i n s t a l l a - tions of the past two decades, like the Chevrolet Beretta, come through the doors of his SunStoppers franchises around the country, the installers can pick up the phone, call him and he knows what to tell them to do.
As a general rule though, Burke, who owns and operates the Matthews, N.C.- based window film franchise, doesn’t think the cars people are rolling off the assembly lines are as difficult to apply tint to as the ones that came out in the 80s and 90s. “Cars are getting easier,” he says. “I would say either the film has gotten that much better or the shrinking has gotten that much better." And he isn’t alone. Other veteran installers see the same thing. “There’s not such a thing as a difficult one,” says Eric St. George, owner of SPF Sun Control in Jacksonville, Fla., who says commercial installs are harder. “They’re just cars. There’s nothing hard about them. It just takes time.”
The reasons for this are many, ranging from technology to car manufacturing. Still, installers can find difficult cars. And, when they roll in, they make customers pay more.
Why It’s Easier
“Over the years vehicle manufacturers have made it a lot less difficult for the window film installer to do his job,” says Jay Moore, senior sales consultant for Enpro Distributing, a film distributor based in Houston. “The vehicles now have large borders around rear glass instead of rubber seals and the curvature of the rear glass in most vehicles now require even less shrinking than ever before.”
But that’s not the only reason. Technology helps too. “Tinters now use forums and the Internet and other avenues to communicate problems they’ve had with cars,” Burke says.
To prove his point, Burke references a tinting video he put up on YouTube. “I got e-mails from Florida and California off of the YouTube video,” he says. “There’s an underground forum for tinters now.”
“Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, in this business, sometimes you get to do the difficult ones over, and over, and over,” Wanke says. “This is generally because those vehicles are very popular with consumers.”
But once tinters get experience with these cars, they have no choice but to get better and find them easier. “It’s not hard. It’s just a matter of practice,” St. George says. “It’s nothing else. It’s really just practice. No one is going to practice enough on one car to get it right.”
The VW Beetle
According to most of the film applicators interviewed for this story, the poster child for these tough installations is the Volkswagen Beetle. “This vehicle is extremely challenging to the novice and seasoned pro alike,” Moore says. “The windows are smaller in length and height and every window in the car requires extensive heat shrinking.”
Unlike other cars that may have one difficult window, all of the Beetle’s windows present some sort of challenge. “Typically, it is the rear window that makes a car difficult,” Wanke says. “On some, however, such as the Beetle, the entire car is hard to do, and usually it is because of the curvature of the glass.”
Moore sees problems with the side windows. “On the doors, the tinter must cut the pattern and heat shrink the top and the bottom of the glass because it’s a very curved window,” Moore says. “And the same even applies to the rear quarter glass as well.”
But, Danny Sanders, installation manager for Custom Sun Control in Marietta, Ga., says you can’t forget about the back window either. He says unskilled installers have to do it in two to three pieces and he’s seen people do it in as many as five to six.
Les Helton of Performance Window Tinting Inc. in Carrollton, Ga., first-place automotive winner of this year’s Tint-Off™, sees this as well. “In order to do it in one piece, it takes so much heat and so much strain on the film because the window is curved,” he says. “It’s real difficult to heat. It takes three or four times as long to do the back glass as it does on a basic quarter, which is a lot simpler.”
Helton has some specific tricks he thinks will help. He instructs installers to leave too much film at the top and too much film at the bottom. They should heat the whole glass out and trim out the edges.
“We pull from the top and we pull the film from the bottom as we’re heating,” he says. “It pulls to the glass a lot quicker and a lot simpler if you do that.”
Even after the prep work is complete, it’s hard to adhere the film to the top edge of the rear glass, according to Moore. “At times the film just will not stick to the shaded portion of the rear glass that the manufacturer uses to hide the inner roof line,” he says. “Many try sanding the ‘dots’ down and then there are some that simply just cut the film at the beginning of the dots so they don’t have to deal with fighting the film down and making it look correctly installed.”
2005 to 2008 Corvette While most tinters point to the Beetle as being the hardest car, the first one off of the lips of Sanders, named best tinter in the world in the 2005 International Window Film Tint-Off™, is the most recent Corvette, especially the Z06 model. “That’s the most back-breaking one as far as difficulty is concerned,” he says.
The problem is the curved side glass. “The Z06 has a wider fender by a couple of inches,” Sanders says. “It’s a real hard reach getting over top of that thing. Heating those fingers takes an extreme amount of time and a lot of patience. They’re difficult to heat because they’re so large.”
The regular Corvette poses application problems as well. “The rear glass has a very complex curve and narrows toward the bottom which makes it very difficult to shrink,” Moore says. “The doors are very similar to the Bug in the fact that they must be heat shrank on the top and the bottom due to the curvature of the glass.”
Helton says it takes him about 30 to 45 minutes to shrink the film, but he does it in one piece. “It really takes experience—knowing how the film, when it gets to the edge, is either burning and melting or heated up just enough,” Helton says. “You need to know what limitations you have because you can ruin a piece of film in no time by applying too much heat or not enough.”
Sanders says there are a lot of tinting methods available for the Corvette, but he prefers the dryheating method. “Doing a dry-heat method allows you to heat a lot more surface area,” he says. “You have to be really patient when you’re doing the heat forming because applying too much heat in certain areas will cause the film to melt or you will put streaks in it.”
Burke also has specific methods for dealing with the Corvette, including over shrinking the back window. “I shave the edges when I [apply] the film on the side windows and I shave the actual edge all the way to the top edge where there’s no gap,” he says.
The dot matrix also presents a problem, forcing Burke to pull out the sandpaper. “If you use 400-grit sandpaper and a bit of rubbing alcohol, right before you put the film on, it will go down perfect,” he says.
Audi A6 and A8
He actually ranks the Audi A8 as the most difficult car to tint. “It’s not a hard car to shrink and it’s not a hard car to mold,” Burke says. “The hard part is installing the film onto the glass. It’s a well engineered car.”
Sanders sees this as well. “The Audi is another can of worms,” he says. “That’s an application issue. The heat forming on that car is simple. The windows are flat and there’s nothing to it.”
It’s what is surrounding the windows that causes issues. “Those vehicles have a full rubber trim seal all the way around,” Sanders says. “It doesn’t allow you to remove the rubber stripping on the bottom edge.”
One of the big problems is there’s very little window to adhere the film to. “It’s one of the most difficult cars to do due to the fact that you’re trying to tuck six inches of film on the back window below its deck lid,” Burke says. “You will have about a three-inch window actually taking the film. You’re taking about a five-byfour foot piece of film and you’re trying to fold it and bring it to the back glass over head rests through about a three- to six-inch span of height.”
Sanders also tried to tuck the seal. “We normally would remove that trim so that you can get the film installed properly,” he says. “It doesn’t bunch the corners or edges. This car has a full rubber trim sealed all the way around. There’s no removal piece. The inner door edge is smaller than the glass you’re installing the film on.”
There may be fewer difficult cars these days, but those that do present problems truly earn the title “Hard Cars.”