Some 10 million windshields are replaced annually, a market worth about $3 billion in 1997. By contrast, the service industry repaired about 500,000 damaged windshields in 1990. By 1995, the volume had risen to 3 million.
“The insurance companies are realizing how much they can save,” says Leo Cyr, marketing director for the 500-franchise Novus Inc. chain based in Minneapolis.
Some 200 insurance companies now pay 100 percent of a windshield repair hill, waiving the deductible in an effort to sway consumers away from windshield replacements whenever possible. There are potential benefits as well as pitfalls for service shops. While the art of repairing cracks has matured in the past decade, it still does not always restore the glass to perfect condition. Some damage requires more expensive repair, and traces of the damage remain when the work is done.
Also, a windshield is part of a vehicle’s structure and helps prevent the roof from being crushed during some accidents. In some cases, a damaged windshield must be replaced in order to maintain the auto’s structural integrity. But for most jobs, glass repair efforts can restore a windshield to like-new condition at a sizable saving to the consumer, Cyr says. That translates to customer satisfaction – in more ways than one. By repairing a vehicle’s original windshield, the shop can leave the more secure factory seal intact. Wind noise and moisture problems sometimes plague vehicle owners whose windshields have been replaced.
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New developments in resins and in “curing” the resins have helped the repair trade.
To correct damage in the glass, technicians follow four steps.
- They clean the crack in an effort to stop the damage from spreading.
- They restore the structural integrity of the glass by applying resin to the cracks.
- They restore clarity to the damaged area, making sure the resin is “optically matched” to the glass.
- The glass is smoothed for cosmetic purposes and to make sure the repaired area will not interfere with the windshield wiper blades.
Traditionally, a shop’s ability to make a repair depended on where it could apply and cure the corrective resin. Cracks along the edge of the windshield were difficult because they sometimes extended under the seal. The process was limited because it relied on ultraviolet light to cure the resin. Ultraviolet light could not reach into unseen areas.
In the past two years, Novus began simultaneously using ultraviolet light and chemicals to cure the resins. The chemicals enable technicians to reach into crannies where ultraviolet light cannot go, Cyr says.
There are roadblocks, Cyr admits. “We’re not accepted by the replacement industry. We’re taking business away from them. They’re in the business of making and selling new parts, not fixing old ones.”
But Cyr says a large number of Novus franchisees now do business with new- and used-vehicle dealers. This month, the chain will launch an automatic call-routing system to make its technicians easier to summon. When a call comes into the system’s 800-77NOVUS line, the system will detect the area code of the caller and rout the customer to the nearest repair technician.
Insurance companies have realized how much they can save from the repair instead of the replacement of car windshields and may require automobile repair shops into conducting repairs. The drive for windshield repairs are triggered by the improvement in glass-repair technology and the savings for insurance firms. Statistics show that glass repairs, which cost from $50 to $60 each, have risen dramatically to three million in 1995. Windshield replacement costs from $250 to $300 each.