(ARA) - ABC's 20/20 news magazine has concluded unsafe windshield installations can cause unnecessary deaths and catastrophic personal injuries.
"Windshield is an outdated, misleading term, says Leo Cyr, Vice President of Marketing for NOVUS Windshield Repair. "Bumpers still bump and brakes still brake but windshields have evolved from passive weather barriers to indispensable components in the structural integrity and safety of a vehicle's passenger compartment."
35 million crashes and $9 billion in annual repairs have influenced insurance companies to seek creative ways to reduce costs. However, "windshields, seat belts and airbags are inappropriate cost-cutting targets," says Cyr, "because each is an integral component in the vehicle's engineered system for passenger protection. If one fails, vehicle occupants are at risk."
Safety experts agree with 20/20. Optimum consumer safety is achieved when the factory's original windshield installation is preserved. Two conclusions are unavoidable:
1.) Damaged windshields that can be repaired should be repaired to preserve the OEM windshield and the factory safety seal.
2.) Windshields damaged beyond repair must be replaced using materials and techniques which approximate factory conditions as closely as possible.
Arnold Diaz, the reporter on the February 25 edition of ABC Television's 20/20" concluded, "A windshield can be as important to auto safety as seat belts, air bags and anti-lock brakes. But installation is key: the difference between a properly affixed windshield and a poor job can be the difference between life and death."
When Barbara Walters asked Diaz, "What about asking your insurance agent to recommend a reliable installer," Diaz responded, "That could be a problem because sometimes they (agents) steer you to a place that does it cheap and that means they could be cutting corners."
Cyr disagrees with Mr. Diaz' conclusion. "A few years ago, agents did use their knowledge and experience to provide policyholders with a choice of several responsible auto glass companies. Personally, I liked that system because my agent knows the quality of work produced by every glass shop in town. She has a vested interest in ensuring my satisfaction because she wants me to renew my policy next year," Cyr says.
Contrary to 20/20's conclusion, few agents today are empowered to refer customers to glass shops. They are instructed by their companies to have customers call a centralized glass claims processing center. The center actually assigns a shop to perform the work. If the customer has a preference of glass shops that preference is supposed to be respected.
The problems reported by 20/20 occur primarily because "most motorists are not glass experts so assessing the quality of the glass and the installation is a problem," says Cyr. Insurance companies have contractual commitments with policyholders to restore their property to pre-damaged condition. But replacing a windshield is not like replacing a bumper. Consumers rarely know if substandard materials or procedures are used on their vehicles.
Cyr advises, "Motorists can protect themselves in several ways. First, any windshield that can be repaired should be repaired. That saves both the windshield and the factory's seal of windshield to auto body. Second, if the windshield must be replaced, be emphatic and insist on an OEM or equivalent windshield that is properly installed by a reputable glass dealer. If you are unsure who is reputable, ask for the names of several glass shops in your area. Check with the Better Business Bureau. Call your own insurance agent - and even several others - and ask who they use. Finally, ask if the installer is certified by the National Glass Association (NGA)."
Cyr, who is also Chairman of the NGA Windshield Repair Technician Certification Committee, cautions that "No certification program, auto glass or otherwise, is an iron clad guarantee. Our testing can only show that a technician has the knowledge to perform a safe and effective repair or replacement. It cannot guarantee that the knowledge is fully and properly utilized on every job.
The fact is there are thousands of responsible glass shops and tens of thousands of conscientious windshield installers in the United States. Because a properly installed windshield can save your life, people should invest a few minutes to check glass shop references just as they would a surgeon's references before surgery.
Of course, you may be able to avoid surgery on your car's windshield. Cyr strongly advises that windshields only slightly damaged by rock chips, scratches and cracks be repaired. "Repair not only eliminates unsightly flaws, preventing further spread, it also allows you to keep the factory installed windshield, which is safer, sounder, leak proof, etc. That is always the better option when possible," concludes Cyr.