Friday, February 6, 2009

Will Your Windshield Absorb the Impact?

"Not So Clearly Dangerous." Do those words catch the attention of you, the law enforcement people of Nebraska? Would they catch the average consumer’s attention? What you’re about to read isn’t about a dangerous criminal, or a dangerous operation, either of which you’re likely familiar with.

It is about a dangerous situation—one, you may not see coming. In your careers in law enforcement, you have trained extensively to deal with dangerous circumstances to serve and protect the public. You have hours of education in procedures, practices, and protocols to prepare for any situation. You rely on your knowledge, experience and your equipment to do, quickly and decisively, what you’re trained to do. That’s what this is about.

Your work vehicle is one of your most important pieces of equipment, yet you may have not given it a second thought except for basic maintenance. Be it a car, truck, or SUV, all have carefully designed and engineered passenger restraint and crash management safety systems.

I want to draw your attention to something most people don’t think about. This story is based on a conversation I had with a Nebraska State Trooper on a Saturday morning in my shop, while I was repairing a stone chip in his windshield.

Your Windshield Matters

He was telling me he’d recently had the windshield in his patrol car replaced, and how he’d already been struck by a rock, causing a nasty little bull’s-eye. I couldn’t resist asking a few questions while I worked.

"Just had it changed recently?" I inquired.

"Yes" he replied, "very recently."

Within the next few minutes, I had obtained enough information to be sure this trooper had been driving his patrol car in a totally unsafe condition for at least a few hours and possibly a few days or even a week after the installation.

Knowing this man had been trained to observe detail, I asked the trooper pointed and detailed questions about the installation he’d stood and witnessed. As I did, I began to explain the reasons for my interest, and why he should be equally interested, since he likely pushes his vehicle to the edge of the safety envelope frequently. He was interested, and was notably irritated to say the least, when he learned what had happened to him.

I explained that the windshield in today’s vehicles is a major component of a highly engineered crash management system. During roof crush and rollover, it contributes as much as an extra 60% to roof support. In frontal collisions, the windshield is the backboard for the passenger-side airbag. A deploying passenger-side airbag strikes the windshield at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.

Next, the windshield must also absorb the impact of the occupant and the airbag as they both strike the windshield again in the following split second. The windshield must absorb this incredible force if the airbag is to cushion and retain the occupants in a collision. The means to achieve this structural integrity is bonding the glass to the body of the car, with automotive urethane auto glass adhesives.

Cure Time Matters

In the trooper’s case, the installer released the car to him in the time it took him to reassemble the car, wipers, cowling, radio antennae, and others small items, and the time it took him to complete the paperwork. This took, in the trooper’s best estimate, 20 minutes at most.

Two-Part Urethanes

The only fast-cure urethane auto glass adhesive approved for use by the manufacturer of the trooper’s car, Ford Motor Co, is Essex Beta-Seal U216; it is the only fast-cure urethane to pass Ford’s crash testing. Beta-Seal is a two-component urethane adhesive. This means it cures chemically, independent of and almost indifferent to, temperature and humidity present. The "Safe Drive Away Time," time for proper cure for Essex Beta-Seal is one hour.

Beta-Seal has a unique packaging system and dispensing gun, seeming to some akin to what you might see in a Star Wars movie. I showed the trooper a Beta-Seal adhesive package, and our Beta-Seal applicator gun. With wide eyes at such a device, he stated emphatically that this wasn’t used on his car. From what he could tell me about the package, container colors, dispensing system and other details, I surmised the installer had used a one-part urethane adhesive system.

One-Part Urethanes

One-part urethane systems depend on moisture and warmth, above freezing temperatures to cure. Generally, the colder the temperature, the lower the humidity; and, therefore, the lower the oxygen level available for cure. Lower temperatures also slow the chemical reaction required for curing to take place. In essence, many one-part urethanes stop curing below freezing and just sit there. Until temperatures warm above freezing, they can’t, and given enough time frozen, may not ever, cure properly.

I also showed the trooper the curing times recommended for Essex U400 urethane, the one-part urethane Ford also approves. Knowing that even this product hadn’t been used on his patrol car, he was shocked to learn that his vehicle hadn’t been safe to drive for a substantial amount of time after it had been returned to him—a fact that the installer hadn’t told him. With the temperature only above freezing for short periods over the next few days, we can only guess when the vehicle became safe to drive (if we correctly identified the adhesives used). The curing problem could have been avoided by following the adhesive manufacturer’s recommended cure times, listed with its products. However, that wouldn’t have let the installer give the trooper his car back quickly.

Improper Repairs

I further encroached upon the Saturday morning off-duty time of this officer to show him photographs we’re compiling and documenting with the results of improper and poor windshield installations that my staff and I witness regularly when we remove cracked windshields from customers’ cars before we replace them. I showed him pictures of improper, unacceptable installation materials, methods, and significant rust resulting from installers’ lack of knowledge or lack of caring. (Several of these photos accompany this article.)

When my staff and I find results such as these in a customer’s car, we immediately photograph and document what we’ve found for the customer. In order to perform a proper installation to return the car to its original structural design, we explain why we must have added time and procedures to "clean up the mess" caused by the poor previous installation. Federal regulations strongly discourage knowingly changing or rendering inoperative any safety element designed into a motor vehicle. We can’t ignore "changes" made by a poor previous installation. With many manufacturers’ standards, specifications, and requirements being higher than those of the government, the only safe approach is to adhere strictly to the Original Equipment Manufacturer’s (OEM) specifications. I hope that someday, our photo archive of poor installations will help the proper people, when it is realized that consumers too often receiving poor quality repairs without even realizing it until they have that fateful crash, but by then it’s too late.

In February, 2000, ABC News 20/20 did a segment on poor windshield installation. It focused on how the result could threaten your life because the highly engineered rolling safety capsules we call motor vehicles depend so heavily on the windshield to keep the occupants in the car so the rest of the life-saving systems can do their jobs. Alas, to my disappointment, it hasn’t left a lasting impression on consumers, which is why ACR Glass devotes its advertising effort to consumer education on safety and quality.

HMOs and TPAs

In light of insurance companies implementation of "HMO" type managed care packages for vehicles, and the formation of "approved" installers who meet the insurers requirements, consumer education has become crucial to our business. Insurers rarely, if ever, do quality post-repair inspections of work performed by their "approved" affiliate shops. In fact, it seems that all the insurer ever checks is whether the shop is installing glass at the insurer’s "pre-approved" prices. Consumers don’t know if they received a quality installation that they can, and may have to, bet their lives on. "Managed Care" type plans without any real verification of quality workmanship have become "Managed Price" plans for insurers.

After ABC’s 20/20 segment on poor windshield installation (February 2000), you’d expect to find insurers looking hard for providers who do quality work. You’d also expect systematic post-repair inspections to ensure that insureds’ vehicle safety systems are absolutely returned to original structure and design. Finally, you’d expect extra effort to retain repairers who consistently provide quality installations. After all, safe repairs that keep customers and their offspring alive to become insurers’ future market share seem only logical.

Unfortunately, what we have is insurer-hired Third Party Administrators (TPAs) who "help" insureds go to "approved" shops ("approved" shops being any that have agreed in advance with insurers’ desired pricing). Consumers don’t realize there’s no such thing in Nebraska as an HMO for your car. Moreover, some TPAs tell consumers they may have to pay a difference for choosing a shop that’s not an insurer’s affiliate. Nebraska law guarantees consumers the right to choose (Chapter 44-1540), and often "non-approved" shops charge less than insurer-approved prices, while still excelling in quality. Consumers aren’t told of this.

In "Around the Industry" from the September/October 2000 issue of AutoGlass Magazine, Leo Cyr, a veteran of the auto glass industry, and past vice president of Member Services for the National Glass Association, speaking of some insurer ‘agreements’ with repairers, said,

All [windshield] installations are not equal as was so graphically shown by ABC’s 20/20 news program in its recent expose on windshield installation. The program conclusively demonstrated what the AGR [Auto Glass Replacement] industry has maintained all along—there are right ways and wrong ways to install windshields. If we were discussing proper hubcap installation, this discussion would be moot. Who cares? Slap the darn thing in place and move on. A windshield can’t be so easily dismissed. Windshields are an integral part of a vehicle’s structural integrity. If the windshield dislodges in a collision or roll-over, the safety envelope designed to protect vehicle occupants will be compromised. [The rest of Cyr’s and other related articles can be viewed from links at our website:]

So where does this leave all of you reading this? I hope it leaves you with a handful of simple questions to ask the next person who installs a windshield in your vehicle, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ve chosen a professional who views you as the customer, not a cost-saving program mainly serving something other than your safety and your family’s.

Next time you need a windshield, will you, like that state trooper, ask questions and demand the quality your car manufacturer designed into it’s crash management and safety restraint systems? If so, I’ve done my job, and we’ll both sleep better tonight.

Five Items

Ask Your Auto Glass Installer:

1. What brand of glass will you install in my vehicle, and is it approved by my car manufacturer as an authorized replacement to retain my warranty, and maintain/restore my car’s structural integrity?

2. What urethane adhesive will you use to install the new glass, and is it approved by my car maker to retain my warranty, and maintain/restore my car’s structural integrity?

3. What recommended procedures will you use, and are they approved by my car manufacturer to retain my warranty, and maintain/restore my car’s structural integrity?

4. What is the recommended "Safe Drive-Away Time" for the urethane adhesive you’re using, and please show me the urethane manufacturer’s data on how you calculated it?

5. Do you document data on the installation you will perform in my car, including glass installed, lot numbers of urethane adhesives/primers used, Safe Drive Away Time, and other such data? How long do you keep those records?

"Approved Installers" Probably Won’t Tell you:

1. We agreed to the price with your insurer before you ever called us.

2. Your insurer/claims administrator has inspected our work. [It likely hasn’t].

3. We signed an agreement with your insurer and/or its claims administrator assuming any of their liability and damages, including punitive damages they may be liable for, if we do poor repairs to your car.

4. We view your insurer as our customer.

5. We agreed to drop our prices whenever your insurer tells us to.