Owners Tips

How to Deal with a Damaged Windshield

Snap, crackle and pop may be a welcome part of a complete breakfast, but they’re not the sounds you want to hear while driving. That’s especially true if a loud crack is the sound made by a stone bouncing off your windshield, leaving behind nasty damage.

According to statistics published by the insurance industry, it’s estimated that at any given moment, more than 1.1 million Canadians are driving around with a damaged windshield. The question is, what should you do when it happens to you?

Prevent the Spread

The right answer is to fix it as soon as possible. If you get a crack or a chip repaired fast enough, you’ll prevent it from spreading to the point where a fix will no longer be possible and your only option is a full windshield replacement.

A small crack or chip can grow quickly, especially here in Canada where temperature extremes will stress the glass. “Temperature greatly affects glass,” explains Vern Gervais, National Director of Operations for NOVUS Glass. “It’s a cold day, you have a small chip in the windshield, and then you turn on the heater, and that chip spreads. It’s all about cold and heat and the way they cause expansion and contraction.”

The difference in price alone should be enough to encourage you to fix the damage as soon as you can. According to Gervais, most chips and cracks can be fixed for as little as $100, while a complete windshield replacement can cost as much as $1,500.

Furthermore, if you opt to have the damage repaired, most insurance companies will cover the entire bill without charging you a deductible. That means you pay nothing to have the chip or crack fixed (check with your insurance provider to see if you’re covered). On the other hand, if the damage is left unattended, and the entire windshield needs to be replaced, you will have to pay a deductible.

Another key consideration is the amount of time you’ll need to carve out of your schedule in order to tend to the damage. A chip or crack can be fixed in about an hour while you wait. On the other hand, if you need your windshield replaced, you’ll have to leave the vehicle with the repair facility for much longer, giving them the time to cut the old windshield out of your vehicle, install the new one, allow for the adhesive to cure, and adjust all your Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) equipment.

ADAS isn’t a concern if you drive an older vehicle, but if your vehicle is newer, and is equipped with cameras that look through your windshield, those will need to be calibrated after the windshield is installed in order to make sure they are pointing in exactly the right direction. Any deviation in camera angle and position from what was set at the factory will result in faulty ADAS readings, which could result in a collision.

Passenger Safety

Windshields play an important part in the overall safety of vehicle occupants. They’re not there simply to keep the wind out of the driver’s face, or to allow you to see what’s ahead of your vehicle. Windshields are an integral part of the structure of a vehicle and are designed to transfer energy during a collision to other parts of the frame of the vehicle. So if the integrity of the windshield is compromised by a crack that is allowed to spread and spider out from the initial point of impact, the windshield will not perform as expected.

In addition, if the windshield can’t maintain its integrity, the deployment of the passenger-side airbag will be adversely affected. “That airbag generally deploys from the dashboard, out to the windshield, and back to the front passenger,” Gervais explains. “So if the integrity of the windshield has been compromised, then that airbag may not deploy the way it’s supposed to.”

A cracked windshield will also be an issue when a vehicle is involved in a rollover. “If the windshield is already compromised and the car rolls over, it no longer has optimal strength, and will not protect occupants as it should,” Gervais adds.

Beyond Repair

While most chips and cracks can be repaired, Gervais says that there’s a limit to what can be done. “Cracks that are longer than 18 inches (46 cm) in length, can no longer be repaired,” he says, adding that you want to get the damage looked at within a couple of days of the incident. If you wait too long, you risk contaminating the crack with dirt, rain, road grime, and windshield washing fluid, thereby making it difficult to fix correctly.

“We can still fix it,” Gervais adds, “but the durability of the repair and the look of the repair will be diminished.”

The longer the crack, the more time it will take a technician to fix, and the more it will cost to do the job. So while a small chip may cost $100 to fix, a long 18-inch crack will cost more. At a certain point, multiple chips and cracks will cost almost as much to fix as you’d have to pay to replace the entire windshield. In that case, a replacement may be your best option.

Realistic Expectations

While it’s possible to restore the integrity of a windshield with a repair, it’s not always possible to make the repair invisible. In many cases, you’ll still see a small scar, but there’s certainly a world of difference between a little scar and the original damage.

“Whether or not the repair is invisible depends on the contamination that’s already in the glass, as well as the type of damage,” Gervais explains. “Results will be different for a small crack versus a baseball-sized chip.”

While a chipped or cracked windshield is a headache that no one wants to deal with, getting it fixed as quickly as possible cuts costs and saves time while assuring that the integrity of the windshield is maintained, and that safety systems continue to function as designed.