Are Tinted Tail Lights Legal: Your State-by-State Guide

Window tint is a common upgrade for both car enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike. There is always a concern with the legality of window tint, and it is no different when it comes to tinting your headlights or tail lights.

Tinted or smoked tail lights can give your car a unique look depending on how it’s executed. It’s definitely a more aggressive aesthetic than plain, red stock lights.

If you’re thinking about tinting your tail lights, you need to be aware of your local laws before doing so to avoid legal issues down the road.

In this guide, you’ll find out if tinted tail lights are legal, along with other relevant information on lighting laws in every state, including Texas, Florida, and California.

Blacked-Out Tail lights Are Illegal

White hatch back with dark smoked tail lights

For street-driven cars, fully blacked-out tail lights are illegal no matter which state you’re in. The only cars that can have blacked-out tail lights are those that aren’t driven on public roads, such as race cars.

Let’s go over the local regulations for tail lights, starting with where it is always illegal to tint your tail lights, then onto states that have more ambiguous rules.

States That Prohibit Tinted Tail Lights

Regular tail lights vs tinted tail lights compared

There are six states that explicitly prohibit drivers from tinting their tail lights if the vehicle is going to be driven on public roads.

Of course, if you have a track-only car, you are free to tint the lighting as desired, as long as the vehicle is not actually running on the roads. 

These are the states where it is illegal to tint your tail lights:

  • Illinois
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin

All Other States

One thing that all states have in common, including those mentioned above, is that they all require your tail lights to be red.

Smoked carbon fiber pattern tail lights

Most states do not have explicit laws regarding tail light tinting in particular. However, they do have rules about the type of lighting allowed and the mandatory visibility.

With this information, you can determine if blocking out a percentage of light emitted by your tail lights violates minimum visibility requirements (denoted by distance in meters).

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule about how much tinting reduces the amount of light emitted because it depends on the shade and color of the tint as well as the tail lights themselves and how bright they are.

Below we’ve outlined the required visibility range for each state where tinting is not explicitly made illegal, as well as other information worth noting.


Visibility Range (m): 500


Visibility Range (m): 1,000


Visibility Range (m): 500


Visibility Range (m): 500

Reflectors must be visible from 350 feet away.


Visibility Range (m): 1,000


Visibility Range (m): 100

Clear visibility is required under normal sunlight.


Visibility Range (m): 1,000


Visibility Range (m): 500

District of Columbia

Visibility Range (m): 500


Visibility Range (m): 300

Clear visibility is required under normal sunlight.


Visibility Range (m): 500

All tail light lenses must be in good condition and adhere to manufacturer specifications.


Visibility Range (m): 200


Visibility Range (m): 500

If the car is at least 30 years old, a small (no more than 1″ in diameter) blue or purple tail light insert is permitted.


Visibility Range (m): 500


Visibility Range (m): 500

OEM lights must be kept in working condition or replaced with similar lighting equipment.


Visibility Range (m): 1,000


Visibility Range (m): 1,000


Visibility Range (m): 1,000


Visibility Range (m): 100

The 100 ft rule applies to brake lights.


Visibility Range (m): 1,000


Visibility Range (m): 500

Installing aftermarket lights that do not comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations is restricted.


Visibility Range (m): 500


Visibility Range (m): 500


Visibility Range (m): 500

If the car is classified as a street rod, a small (not more than 1 inch in diameter) blue or purple tail light insert is permitted.


Visibility Range (m): 500


Visibility Range (m): 1,000


Visibility Range (m): 500


Visibility Range (m): 500

New Hampshire

Visibility Range (m): 1,000

Tail lights must be in perfect working condition at all times.

New Jersey

Visibility Range (m): 500

New Mexico

Visibility Range (m): 500

The state does not require your tail lights to be in 100% perfect condition, only that they work well enough to be visible.

North Dakota

Visibility Range (m): 1,000


Visibility Range (m): 500


Visibility Range (m): 1,000


Visibility Range (m): 500

If the car is older than 1959, a small (not more than 1 inch in diameter) blue or purple tail light insert is permitted.

Rhode Island

Visibility Range (m): 500

South Dakota

Visibility Range (m): 1,000


Visibility Range (m): 1,000


Visibility Range (m): Unspecified

Visibility distance is not specified; it is best to contact your local county DMV for information.


Visibility Range (m): 1,000


Visibility Range (m): 500

If the car is classified as a street rod, a small (not more than 1 inch in diameter) blue or purple tail light insert is permitted.

Additional Important Considerations

There are a few other things to consider before you get into modifying your rear lighting to make sure you are within legal limits and have a safe vehicle.

Let’s start with reflectors, then required lighting for license plates and an alternative to applying tail light tint.

Do Not Tint Your Reflectors

Yellow Ford Focus with moderately tinted tail lights

Many modern vehicles have reflectors in addition to tail lights. Sometimes these reflectors are part of the tail light assembly, whereas other times they might be separate.

It’s advisable to avoid tinting the reflectors especially when they are separate from the tail lights themselves.

When the reflectors are part of the tail light, adhering to the distance requirements for the tail lights will be sufficient.

License Plate Lighting

You are required to illuminate your license plate when driving on public roads, and these lights have to be white in color. Using other colors or illuminating the license plate frame isn’t permitted.

Additionally, the license plate lighting should not obscure the license plate itself or be directed elsewhere on the vehicle or toward the road. It has to illuminate the license plate so it is visible and readable.

Other than the white light for the license plate, you should not have any other white light fixtures on the rear of your car.

An Alternative to Tinting

Aftermarket smoked tail light

Instead of tinting your tail lights, you can also install clear tail light housings, or consider installing DOT-certified aftermarket tail lights.

Without tinting, though, you do not have to worry about how much you have reduced visibility, which is a benefit.

In conclusion, as long as your tail lights emit red light and fall within the mandated visibility range, they’ll be legal.

Using any tint that obscures your tail lights beyond the specified limit or changes the color shade is illegal.

Similar laws apply to headlights. If you’re wondering whether it is legal to have colored headlights, check out our guide on the subject.

What do you think about smoked tail lights? Would you rather use tint or just install aftermarket lights? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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1 comment

  1. Bought a set of tail lights for my 04 Toyota tundra that are DOT & SAE certified with a Darker red lens but not tinted from Autoholic Ink ,look great and in my opinion meet the 1000 m requirements for the state of Oklahoma.
    P.S. I did switch to a Briter LED bulb just for reassurance.

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