Navigating the wide variety of windshield options available out there for your UTV can be a huge challenge. Well 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.
There are a wide variety of materials to choose from, so which one is best? Do you want acrylic? Polycarbonate? Or Lexan™? Do you need a coating? Which windshield material is strongest?
It doesn't matter if you own a Polaris RZR, a Can-Am Maverick, or a Ranger there are some things you need to know before you purchase the right windshield.
Let’s get started.
Here is a list of the top 6 things you should consider when buying a UTV windshield for your side by side:
What’s Up with All Those Names?
In your searches I’m sure you’ve seen polycarbonate, Lexan, acrylic, Plexiglas, and maybe even Makrolon or PMMA. Naming is really just a way for manufacturers to set themselves apart from the competition. While it looks like there are a million different types of windshields, there are really only 3: polycarbonate, acrylic, and glass. All those names fit into one of those three materials. Let's take a look.
PolycarbonateThere 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.
AcrylicThe names frequently used for acrylic are PMMA, Plexiglas, and Lucite. Again, there are more names, but these are the primary terms and brands used in the UTV industry. You should consider all these terms as acrylic as there is virtually no difference between them.
GlassGlass is easy to understand, and you don’t see fancy terms for it. You’ll see terms like “laminated,” “tempered,” and “safety glass.” If you find an application that doesn’t have approved safety ratings don’t ever consider using the material as a windshield. It is dangerous and illegal.
Choosing the Right Windshield Material
UTV windshields go by a ton of different names, but here are really just three material types that are appropriate for UTV windshields. So, what’s the difference?
When you are choosing the right 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 I choose a polycarbonate windshield over an acrylic windshield and vice versa? Is glass always best?
To answer those 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.
Windshield Materials Performance Qualities
When it comes to strength here is how the windshield materials line up. This section will elaborate on each:
- Glass: Strong
- Acrylic: Stronger
- Polycarbonate: Strongest
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. Don’t forget you'll need to replace that windshield ASAP.
Acrylic is about 10 times stronger than glass. Acrylic will take some heavy impacts 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 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 (Do NOT attempt to break a windshield with any firearm, please!). There is no stronger windshield material than polycarbonate.
Windshield Scratch Resistance
Strength is only half the story for windshield materials. Scratch resistance can be just as important. Scratches don’t just look bad, they can reduce visibility and enough of them 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 of the acrylic.
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 MR-10 (for Lexan) or AR2 (for Makrolon) hard coating, but we'll talk more about that later. For now, just know that hard-coated polycarbonate is very scratch resistant and is the most commonly used UTV windshield on the market.
Clarity is less important than the other aspects of windshield material, but it is important to many. All three windshield materials are "clear," it's just that some may look ever so slightly dimmer than another. 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 had a view through safety glass. Just think about what the world looks like out of your car window. Most standard vehicle windshields that are 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 3 materials coming in at 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 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.
Should Your Windshield Have a Coating?
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.
Improving Windshield Hardness
While a polycarbonate hard coating does more than just increase scratch resistance, it's scratch resistant properties are the single most significant effect it has. Polycarbonate is incredibly strong but prone to scratching. When you hard coat a polycarbonate sheet, you eliminate its one major weak spot. MR-10 (Lexan's hard coating treatment) and AR2 (Makrolon's hard coating treatment) hard-coated polycarbonate materials are nearly as scratch resistant as glass but still 250 times stronger. We believe that the best windshield material is Hard-Coated Polycarbonate. It's the best of both materials in one.
UV Protection for UTV Riders
Hard coated polycarbonate comes with another benefit: UV protection. UV protection is important for a couple 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 (several years) as it is exposed to direct sunlight. A hard coating that contains UV protectant helps to prevent any color changes.
Tinting Helps Prevent Glare
Tinting is a dark chemical layer that blocks out a large amount of sunlight. Tinting can be applied to glass, acrylic, or polycarbonate windshields. These types of coating help to block even more UV light, and help to 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% or 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.
Which Windshield is Right for Your Riding Style?
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 face-ward. 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.
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 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 air-flow.
For a serious rider that goes out in any weather or who enjoys the mud, the flip up windshield is a good choice.
Flip Down Windshields
The flip down windshield is similar to the flip up windshield but has a few disadvantages. The flip down windshield works by unstrapping the upper portion of the windshield from the roll cage and pushing it down so 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. Unlike the flip up windshield, the flip down windshield doesn't allow you to open it for a small amount of airflow, and you need to get out of the vehicle to flip the upper portion back.
Another potential issue is the use of the metal hinges that attach the upper and lower portions of the windshield together. For many drivers, these have a greater chance of blocking your sightline than any other windshield. Most people don't have to worry about that, but if you are particularly short, you might want to look for a different windshield. 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 use for 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 air-flow that enters the cab. A side by side with a rear windshield is a warmer ride.
Full Cab Enclosures
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 less 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 last much longer and protect you from rocks as well as wind and rain. You can count on keeping it on your machine for years.
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 materials.
When it comes to materials acrylic and non-hard coated 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. This might be fine for many riders, but for others, it might be worth the investment in a harder material. Hard-coated polycarbonate and glass are more expensive, but it may well be worth the upgrade for years of scratch free use. We recommend that anyone willing to invest should choose the hard-coated polycarbonate for its additional strength and lightweight qualities.
Weigh Your Options and Pick One!
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. We feel any windshield will make your ride better.
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!
Find out how we make our UTV windshields right here in Madison, Indiana - USA. Watch the video below!