If you’re looking to add a windshield to your side-by-side, there are a lot of options out there—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.
Here is a list of the top six things you should consider when buying a UTV windshield.
I’m sure you’ve seen terms like polycarbonate, Lexan, acrylic, Plexiglas, and maybe even Makrolon or PMMA floating around in your search results. So many terms can be overwhelming and, quite frankly, leave us puzzled.
While it looks like there are a million different types of windshield materials, 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, including Lexan, Lexan MR10, Makrolon, and Makrolon AR2. There are others, but we’ve never seen anybody use those for UTV windshields. Makrolon and Lexan are brand names for polycarbonate and are virtually identical. You should consider them the same material when choosing a windshield. The AR2 and MR10 modifiers refer to the hard coating on the windshield, but we’ll cover that later.
The names frequently used for acrylic are PMMA, Plexiglas, and Lucite. If you see any of these terms when searching for a UTV windshield, just know that they’re all different types of acrylic windshields.
Glass is easy enough to understand and you probably won’t see fancy terms replacing it. You may, however, see associative terms, like laminated, tempered, and safety. 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.
Now you’re probably wondering what the differences are between these three materials.
When choosing a material for your windshield, you have to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each. What’s the difference in strength 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 look at several factors for each material type. You’ll find the answer to “which windshield is best” is not entirely straightforward. Instead, the choice relies on your needs and riding style.
They might look similar to the untrained eye, but each of these windshield materials have some serious differences when it comes to strength. Let’s break it down.
Glass is as strong as… well… glass. It’s still a great UTV windshield option, but its fragility means it needs a bulky metal frame to keep it in place and keep it rigid. That means glass windshields add a little more weight to your machine than the other material options.
While glass windshields are the least strong material of the three, they still get the job done. Specifically, our glass windshields won’t scratch, keep the wind and water out, and are DOT approved and stamped! To learn more, check out this list of the top reasons why people love SuperATV glass windshields.
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 might still break with a good hit from a rock or 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 25 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.
(Since we’ve said this, we feel we need to note that we do NOT encourage attempting to break a windshield with any firearm.)
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, that means it is more likely to avoid scratches.
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 you wipe it clean. 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 a polycarbonate windshield 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.
With a quality hard coating and proper windshield care, polycarbonate can still give you years of clear riding.
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 in your acrylic windshield, they can be polished out.
Glass is by far the hardest and most scratch resistant of all 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.
Now that you know how hard each windshield material is, let’s talk about hard coating. Hard coating is one of the most important aspects of a UTV windshield. The right treatment can transform an average material into an outstanding material.
We mentioned hard-coated polycarbonate earlier when talking about scratch resistance. Polycarbonate is the strongest of the three windshield materials, but it scratches easily. That’s why we love XR Optic Hard Coating. It’s SuperATV’s proprietary hard coating blend that can be applied to both sides of your polycarbonate windshield to make it totally scratch proof. Most of our polycarbonate windshields come with the option to add XR Optic.
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. XR Optic Hard Coating adds unmatched protection against UV rays, keeping both you and your windshield safe while you ride.
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 usually only see dark tints on half windshields since they block out too much light to be practical on a full windshield. That being said, some riders still 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. If that’s something you’re into and you plan on making your side-by-side street legal, be sure to look into the laws in your area regarding tinted windows.
Clarity is less important than the other aspects of windshield material, but it’s still something to consider. 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 through your car windows. Most standard vehicle windshields made from auto glass are only about 86% clear, meaning they transmit about 86% of the visible light. Keep that in mind as we go forward.
Polycarbonate may look slightly darker than acrylic, but it will still seem more clear than your car windshield because it transmits about 89% of visible light.
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.
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 right next to each other.
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, flip down, and rear windshields, which are the types available for most side-by-side models. A full cab enclosure is another popular option, so we’ll talk about those 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 give you a little extra airflow.
Sometimes a full windshield can create a suction effect that pulls dust into the cab through the doors and rear. This doesn’t affect every vehicle the same way, and it can be alleviated by adding a rear windshield.
If you’re shopping at SuperATV, you can choose between a full glass windshield and a full polycarbonate windshield. Either way, you can’t really go wrong with this style. But we will give you one warning—if you’re a mudder, a full windshield will need wiped down pretty often to maintain visibility. You’ll be blind before you know it once that thing starts getting 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 they eliminate 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. All SuperATV half windshields are cut to the perfect height to give you optimal coverage without blocking your view.
Flip windshields are the most versatile windshields on the market. They latch down but can be opened up using gas struts. This means you essentially have a full and half windshield in one. You can switch between the two without having to exit the vehicle. Most flip windshields also have an option to leave it vented, or only opened a small amount, for those times when you only want a small amount of 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 great choice.
The flip down windshield is similar to the flip 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 windshield, this 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 that your rear tires are good at flinging mud up and into your cab. 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 if you want serious comfort and durability, but the cost is significantly higher. This 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. If you’re on a budget, it’s important to know which options are going to cost more than the others.
The first step is 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, with full, flip, and flip down styles being the most expensive.
Once you’ve decided on a UTV windshield style, it’s time to decide what material is right for you. Acrylic and non-hard coated polycarbonate are the cheapest options. While both provide sufficient strength, keep in mind that these 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 are ready to add some extra coverage to your ride.
Unless you have highly specific needs, you really can’t go wrong with a UTV windshield. Just remember, don’t sweat the small stuff—get the one that sounds best to you and roll with it. Whatever type of windshield you end up with, it’s better than nothing!
Updated by Tyler Smith-Lichlyter on 11/19/2019.