We know there’s a lot of options out there and the research can be overwhelming. But don’t panic! We’re here to clear up the jargon, lay out the pros and cons, and give you everything you need to make an informed decision.
I’m sure you’ve seen terms like polycarbonate, Lexan, acrylic, Plexiglas, and maybe even Makrolon or PMMA floating around in your search results. This can all be overwhelming and, quite frankly, leave us puzzled. While it looks like there are a million different types of windshields, there are really only three: polycarbonate, acrylic, and glass. So all of those search terms we mentioned at the beginning really fit into one of these three categories. Let’s take a look.
There are a few different names for polycarbonate: Lexan, Lexan MR10, Makrolon, and Makrolon AR2. There are some others, but we’ve never seen anybody use those for UTV windshields. The AR2 and MR10 modifiers refer to the hard coating on the windshield, but we’ll cover that later. Makrolon and Lexan are brand names for polycarbonate and are virtually identical. You should consider them the same material when choosing a windshield.
The names frequently used for acrylic are PMMA, Plexiglas, and Lucite. You, however, should see these terms and think of them as acrylic.
Glass is easy to understand and you don’t see fancy terms replacing it. You’ll see associative terms like “laminated,” “tempered,” and “safety glass.” When researching glass windshields, we will warn you: If you find an application that doesn’t have approved safety ratings, don’t even consider it. It is dangerous and illegal.
We know what you’re probably wondering right now: what’s the difference?
When you are choosing the material for your windshield, you have to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each material. What’s the difference between polycarbonate, acrylic, and glass? Why should you choose a polycarbonate windshield over an acrylic windshield, and vice versa? Is glass always best?
To answer these questions, we’ll have to look at each material’s relative strength, scratch resistance, and clarity. You’ll find the answer to “which windshield is best” is not entirely straightforward. Instead, the choice relies on your needs and riding style. Here is a comparison of each material’s strong points and where they might fail.
When it comes to strength, here is how the windshield materials line up. This section will elaborate on each:
Glass is as strong as… well… glass. It’s very easily broken. It’s more than suitable for most riding, but its fragility means it needs a bulky metal frame to keep it in place and keep it rigid. That limits visibility and increases weight.
When you’re riding down the trail with a glass windshield, you’ve got to watch out for the rocks the guy in front of you is shooting out with his rooster tail. A good hit from one of those will turn your glass into a spider web of cracks. The rock won’t get through, but you won’t be able to see anything. Not to mention you’ll need to replace that windshield ASAP.
Acrylic is about ten times stronger than glass. Acrylic will take some heavy hits without breaking, but it’s far from indestructible. Even though it’s stronger than glass, it’s still possible to break with a good hit (we’re talking a really good hit) from a rock or a rollover. The problem with acrylic is that it isn’t laminated or tempered the way glass is, so when it breaks, it can shatter. This can be dangerous for the occupants of the vehicle.
Polycarbonate is about 250 times stronger than glass and twenty-five times stronger than acrylic. It is virtually indestructible. There is no obstacle you will encounter that will break a polycarbonate windshield, including small-caliber firearms. In fact, polycarbonate sheets are often used as bulletproof screens in banks, police stations, and anywhere else where someone might need to stop a bullet. And since we’ve said this, we feel we need to note that we do NOT encourage attempting to break a windshield with any firearm. With all of this being said, yes—polycarbonate windshields are the strongest on the market.
Strength is only half the story for windshield materials. Scratch resistance can be just as important. Scratches don’t just look bad—they can also reduce visibility, and enough of them will cause a nasty haze. All three windshield materials handle scratches differently. Keep in mind that when we talk about the scratch resistance of a material we are talking about its “hardness,” and when we talk about “hardness” we are never talking about strength. If a windshield material is hard, it is more likely to avoid scratches.
Glass is by far the hardest. It is the most scratch resistant of the three windshield materials. Most small objects won’t damage it, and you don’t have to worry about branches or underbrush causing scratches either. Over time, and with enough high-speed driving in sand or dust, you may start to notice a speckle here and there like you do with older car windshields. This won’t affect clarity. One advantage to glass is the ability to repair the odd scratch that you do manage to get.
Acrylic is another very hard material, though it’s not nearly as hard as glass. Branches and rocks are both capable of putting scratches in acrylic, though it will take solid hits from either. You’re probably not going to scratch acrylic simply by wiping mud off your windshield, but repeated wipes with a sandy or dirty cloth can start to haze uncoated acrylic. If you do get a scratch, they can be polished out.
Polycarbonate is the least scratch resistant of the three materials. Without a hard coating, polycarbonate scratches easily. Small rocks or mud can scratch it when wiped clean. Small branches and bushes can also scratch polycarbonate, and you can’t polish or repair polycarbonate scratches—once you get a scratch, it’s there forever. But wait! That doesn’t mean it is useless.
Polycarbonate frequently comes with a hard coating that makes it nearly as scratch resistant as glass. Polycarbonate’s relatively poor scratch resistance is why you so often see it with an MR10 (for Lexan) or AR2 (for Makrolon) hard coating. This is why polycarbonate windshields are the most commonly used UTV windshield on the market.
Coatings are one of the most important aspects of a UTV windshield. Different coatings can transform an average material into an outstanding material. We mentioned hard-coated polycarbonate earlier in the context of scratch resistance. Polycarbonate was the strongest of the three windshield materials, but it scratches easily. By hard-coating it at the factory, SuperATV creates a material that is super hard and strong. There are several coatings in addition to hard-coat that can be beneficial.
Hard-coated polycarbonate comes with another benefit: UV protection. UV protection is important for a couple of reasons. First, it helps to prevent your exposure to harmful rays from the sun. Any light that passes through a hard-coated polycarbonate windshield will have the majority of UV light removed. That doesn’t mean you won’t get sunburnt—it just means the UV light is much less intense.
Second, the UV resistance of the hard coat protects the polycarbonate windshield itself. Polycarbonate has a tendency to yellow over time (think several years) as it is exposed to direct sunlight. A hard coating that contains UV protectant helps to prevent any color changes.
Tinting is a dark chemical layer that blocks out a large amount of sunlight. Tinting can be applied to glass, acrylic, or polycarbonate windshields. This type of coating helps block even more UV light and prevent glare. Tinting acts much like a pair of sunglasses would. Tinting films are measured in visible light transmission (VLT) levels, which is measured as a percentage. So when you see a window tint being referred to as a percentage, this is the VLT.
A dark tint will be low in VLT, say 5%—since it only allows 5% of visible light through. A 70% VLT would be much lighter because more light gets through. You’ll usually only see dark tints on half windshields since they tend to block out too much light to be practical on a full windshield. That being said, some choose a dark tint for their full windshield for the aesthetics of it—usually, they’re going for that “murdered out” look with all tinted windows and a black graphics wrap.
Clarity is less important than the other aspects of windshield material, but it is still important to many. All three windshield materials are “clear”—it’s just that some may look slightly less dim than others. That can be good or bad for you, depending on how much you like to dampen sunlight. Let’s take a look.
Glass is a good measuring stick for clarity—most everyone has looked through safety glass. Just think about what the world looks like out of your car window. Most standard vehicle windshields made from glass are only about 86% clear, meaning they transmit about 86% of the visible light. Keep that in mind as we go forward.
Acrylic is the clearest of the three materials, coming in with about 92% visible light transmission. If you put glass and acrylic side by side, you’ll notice that the view through acrylic is slightly brighter and clearer than the view through glass because more visible light is getting through.
Polycarbonate may look slightly darker than acrylic, but it will still look better than your car windshield because it transmits about 89% of visible light.
While there are differences in these materials when it comes to clarity, most UTV drivers wouldn’t be able to tell a noticeable difference in light transmission between non-coated materials unless they were side by side.
Now that you’ve got a handle on the material and coating options available to you, let’s take a look at the most common windshield styles. A windshield’s style refers to the way a windshield is cut and assembled to achieve different functions on your UTV. We’ll be looking at full, half, flip-up, flip-down, and rear windshields, which are the types available for most side-by-side models. There are also full-cab enclosures available, which we will touch on too.
A full windshield is just what you’d expect—a complete windshield that covers the entire front of the cab. This is probably the most common windshield and is very practical. It blocks incoming wind and rain, as well as rocks and debris that might be headed right at your face. Some full windshields feature vents that can be opened or closed to allow a little more airflow through.
Sometimes a full windshield can create a suction effect that sucks dust into the cab from the doors and rear. This can be alleviated with a rear windshield and doesn’t affect every vehicle the same way. A full windshield is a good choice for most UTV riders, but if you are a mudder, be aware that a full windshield will need lots of wiping and can make you blind once it’s covered in slop.
A half windshield is a great choice for riders who like wind in their face but just want a little less of it. Half windshields have a small lip along the top edge to help direct air up and over the cab and passengers. It works really well, and you’ll notice a major decrease in airflow through the cab.
Half windshields are also the top candidate for that darker tint since it eliminates some glare without blocking your vision. If you think a half windshield is right for you, make sure it isn’t too tall—the last thing you want is for the top edge of the windshield to be right in your line of vision.
For the sake of not confusing you when comparing to flip-down windshields, we’ll refer to these as flip-up windshields. Flip-up windshields are the most versatile windshields on the market. Flip-up windshields latch down but can be opened up by utilizing the gas struts that hold it in place. This means that you essentially have a full and half windshield in one. You can switch between the two without having to exit the vehicle. A good flip-up windshield will also have a mechanism that allows you to open it a small amount for increased airflow.
For a serious rider that hits the trails in all types of weather or enjoys getting dirty from time to time, the flip-up windshield is a good choice.
The flip-down windshield is similar to the flip-up windshield. However, the flip-down windshield works by unstrapping the upper portion of the windshield from the roll cage and pushing it down so it sits on the hood of your machine. Some designs allow you to fasten it to the hood, so it doesn’t flop around as you drive.
Like the flip-up windshield, it is essentially a full and half windshield in one. On the flip side (see what we did there?), the flip-down windshield doesn’t allow you to open it for a small amount of airflow, and you have to get out of the vehicle to flip the upper portion back.
One possible disadvantage we will note is the placement of the metal hinges that attach the upper and lower portions together. If you are particularly short, you might want to look into this before purchasing. If this isn’t an issue, this is a versatile, all-weather windshield that you can keep on the machine year-round.
Rear windshields offer similar protection to front windshields. They keep debris out of the cab and can eliminate that dust suction effect when used in conjunction with a front windshield. It can also be used along with full doors, a roof, and a front windshield to fully enclose your cab.
The main purpose of a rear windshield is to stop debris. If you’ve done enough riding, then you’ve probably found your rear tires flinging mud up and into your cab from the rear. It’s not very pleasant, but a rear windshield will put an end to that right away.
If you are a cold-weather rider, a rear windshield will greatly reduce the amount of airflow that enters the cab. A side-by-side with a rear windshield is a warmer ride.
Full-cab enclosures are a great way to get a cozier ride and better temperature control. They’re especially popular in winter or for people who primarily use their side-by-side for work.
There are two types of full-cab enclosures. One option is to get a soft fabric or plastic enclosure that covers the whole cab. This “soft enclosure” is more economical, but less versatile and not as durable. It is a good solution if you’re not after automobile-style comfort, and it will still keep out the elements—it just won’t stand up to much abuse from rocks or brush.
Buying hard front and rear windshields, full doors, and a roof is a better option for comfort and durability, but the costs are significantly more. It will, however, last longer and protect you from rocks, wind, and rain for years to come.
Naturally, the windshield material and style will affect how much you pay. The first step would be to determine which style you need. Are you in need of a full windshield or a half? Generally, the most inexpensive windshields are half models, followed by full, flip-down, and flip-up styles being the most expensive. Once you have decided on a style, the most important decision is deciding what material is right for you.
When it comes to materials, acrylic and non-hardcoated polycarbonate are the cheapest options. These are economical choices, and while both provide sufficient strength, keep in mind those materials are much more prone to scratching. Hard-coated polycarbonate and glass are more expensive because of their premium qualities such as scratch resistance and strength.
Picking the right side-by-side windshield can be overwhelming, but hopefully this article has helped educate you. By now you should have some idea of what to look for when you shop for your UTV windshield. Unless you have highly specific needs, you really can’t go wrong with any windshield. Remember, don’t sweat the small stuff—get the one that sounds best to you and roll with it. Whatever you get, it’s better than nothing!
Updated by Tyler Smith-Lichlyter on 11/19/2019.