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When faced with replacing a windshield, many car owners default to the lowest-price option. But if you take this route and are in a serious accident, your decision could cost you your life.
An incorrectly installed windshield could pop out in an accident, allowing the roof to cave in and crush the car's occupants. Furthermore, when the front airbags deploy, they exert a tremendous force on the windshield and will blow out one that is not firmly glued in place.
"There are a lot of schlock operators" installing windshields, says Debra Levy, president of the Auto Glass Safety Council, which offers certification for installers. She says using original manufacturer's glass is a plus, but choosing a good installer is even more important. To find a certified shop, visit Safewindshields.org and type your ZIP code into the box at the top of the page. Certification is valuable because it keeps installers up to date on advances in adhesives and changing automotive designs.
David Beck, one of two technicians at Windshield Express, near Salt Lake City, installs eight windshields a day and has been working in the auto glass business for 18 years. Beck agrees that certification is important and warns that there are many "tailgaters" — installers with no brick-and-mortar shop — who quickly "slam" windshields into cars with little regard for safety. They don't handle the windshield correctly, don't use the proper adhesives and leave the car unsafe for driving and prone to rusting and leaks.
"The thing I wish that drivers knew was that the windshield is the No. 1 safety restraint in your vehicle," Beck says. The windshield is two sheets of glass held together by an inner layer of strong vinyl. When the windshield breaks, the vinyl holds the glass in place rather than allowing the shards to fall into the car and cut the occupants.
The windshield is a layer of protection that "keeps you inside the car and things out of the car," Beck says. "This is not the place to cut corners on and go with the cheapest price."
Steve Mazor, the Auto Club of Southern California's chief automotive engineer, adds that if the windshield isn't strong enough and an occupant is thrown from a speeding car, "the odds of survival are much less." Thirty percent of all fatalities, he says, are due to people being ejected from the car.
An investigation by the ABC News program 20/20 on windshield safety shows technicians incorrectly installing windshields by not wearing gloves. The grease from their hands prevents the adhesives from bonding correctly, Beck explains. Another error that 20/20 caught was technicians failing to use all the necessary bonding agents, such as primer.
When you are looking for a good windshield installer, Levy recommends calling three shops and asking a few qualifying questions beyond just price and certification.
Levy says to ask the shops if they use original equipment glass, which is usually of higher quality and fits better. Also, she suggested asking how long the car should sit after the installation is complete. "If they say you can take the car right away, you should run in the opposite direction," Levy says. A car should sit at least one hour before being driven and sometimes up to 12 hours, she says.
Beck says if you take your car to a dealership for a windshield replacement, it will just subcontract the job to a glass shop and then mark up the price about 30 percent. He recommends going directly to the glass shop to save money. However, when a car is new, the dealership might be the only place to stock the glass, as was the case for a 2011 Infiniti M56 Edmunds long-term test car where the windshield replacement cost $1,300.
Most windshield installation jobs take only about an hour and can be done at your home or office, Beck says. Once the installer is finished, check for signs that the job was completed correctly. Make sure the molding is straight and that there is no sign of adhesives visible inside the car, Beck says. The car should be clean inside. Debris or dirt left in your car could be the sign of sloppy workmanship, he says.
In some cases, a rock chip or star in the windshield can be repaired, saving you the cost of a new windshield. Mazor says some installers claim that cracks can be repaired even if they're up to 15 inches long, but only if they intersect just one edge of the windshield.
Beck says rock chips, which he also fixes, are easier to repair when the damage has just occurred. Over time, rain washes dirt into the crack, making it harder to seal. He suggests carrying a roll of clear tape in the glove compartment to quickly cover a crack until it can be fixed.
Beck injects polymer into rock chips and cracks. After the polymer cures, he smoothes the area so it doesn't affect the travel of the windshield wipers. Beck says that if he gets to the repair within a week of the damage, he can generally make it disappear. Windshield Express' owner, Bryan Petersen says his rate for rock chip repairs is $29.95 for mobile jobs and $19.95 in the shop.
In the Los Angeles area, the rates for windshield repairs are higher — in the range of $65. Windshield repair kits are available at automotive stores for the do-it-yourselfer, but they don't do the job as well as the professionals can do it. The pros have better equipment and much more experience.
The Auto Glass Safety Council's Levy says studies show that windshield rock chips or cracks that are in your field of vision can actually slow your response to emergency traffic situations. She also says that old windshields that are pitted or hazed should be replaced — even if they are not broken — since they can magnify the glare of the headlights from oncoming cars at night.
Mazor says that a new windshield might be cheaper than you would think. In many cases, windshield repair is covered by car insurance (under your comprehensive coverage — not collision). The deductible for comprehensive coverage is sometimes only $50 or $100, so that would be the cost of a new windshield.