Cracks & Chips: How to Tell if Your Damaged Windshield Needs to Be Fixed or Replaced?
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UPDATED: Oct 2, 2020
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If you notice that your windshield is damaged with a chip, crack, or other sign of damage and impurity, it can be difficult to know just how serious the damage is by looking at it.
Smaller damage, or less significant damage, is something that can be repaired as it is more minor, and while you shouldn’t ignore it the vehicle should still be safe to drive.
If you have a small chip or crack, no bigger than a quarter, you should get it fixed. If not, you could end up replacing the whole windshield which is costly.
In this case, you can make an appointment to get it repaired and drive your vehicle there just fine.
More extensive, larger, or significant damage can cause more serious problems with your vehicle depending on the features it has, and might even make your vehicle unsafe to drive.
Image Courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Note: You can take a cracked windshield to a professional. However, there are many windshield repair kits on the market for $10 to $20. If you let the crack go you may end up bringing it to a professional and getting the whole windshield replaced.
In these cases, it is advisable to get a tow truck to take your vehicle to get the windshield replaced rather than driving it in its unsafe condition.
Here’s how you can tell if the damage to your windshield is serious enough that it needs to be replaced rather than repaired.
Windshield repair kits cost about 20 bucks, but replacing windshield averages $200 to $400. Some may cost over $600 to replace. If you have a chip or crack get to it as soon as possible. Though the crack is small it will not stay that way.
How Big is the Crack or Chip?
The first question to ask yourself is how big is the damage?
In America, the National Windshield Repair Association has a guide called the Repair of Laminated Automotive Glass Standard — or ROLAGS.
It lists all the different types of windshield damage and how extensive the damage has to be before it is not safe to just be repaired.
You can consult their guide for exact definitions of the damage types, but here is their list to consult:
* Crack: a cracked line in the glass longer than 14 inches.
* Multiple Cracks: three or more long cracks emanating from a single impact point, even if they are each less than 14 inches in length.
* Surface Pit: a nick in the glass that looks like a small pit larger than 1/8 of an inch in diameter.
* Star Break: a series of small cracks emanating from the same center point larger than 3 inches in diameter.
Image Courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Note: The types of cracks illustrated above are “Star Breaks”, though the one on the right could be a “Combination Break”. If star breaks are more than 3 inches in diameter you need to replace the windshield. Particularly if they obstruct the drivers view. Combination breaks need to be replaced if they are 2 inches in diameter.
* Bulls-eye: a cone, or half-moon partial bulls-eye, in the outer glass with a dark circle in the middle larger than one inch in diameter.
* Combination Break: damage with multiple types of damage listed above, where the damaged area is larger than 2 inches in diameter.
So if you see any sort of damage to the windshield, you can use a quarter (just under one inch in diameter) or a credit card (over 3 inches wide on average) to get an idea of whether or not it is too large to be safe.
Does your auto policy coverage damage to a windshield? Sure, if you have comprehensive coverage. Some states offer Full Glass Coverage which is part of comprehensive and you do not have to pay deductible. This is important since glass claims are the most frequent at 7.5 millions claims per year.
Where is the Damage Located Exactly?
However, sometimes the location of the damage can make it impossible for a windshield to be repaired safely or effectively.
The most serious problem is if there is a crack that reaches the outside edges of the windshield — even if it only a few inches long it can pose a serious flaw in the windshield’s integrity.
Any cracks that reach the edges should be replaced as soon as possible.
Image Courtesy of OCRegister
Note: If you have crack near the edge as illustrated above you may have to replace the windshield. The crack or chip compromises the strength and integrity of the windshield and therefore passenger safety. Most insurance adjusters most likely would have it replaced if you happen to file a claim.
To a lesser extent, it is also a problem to have any visible damage in the driver’s line of sight, which is defined by the rough area where the driver-side windshield wiper operates.
It is not considered safe for there to be anything impeding the driver’s clear view, and just repairing it is not considered safe enough.
Any damage that is in the view or area of more advanced vehicle features, such as rain sensors, lane departure warning, automatic driver assistance, and so on can also make it impossible to repair it.
If the affected area for those features is not fully intact and solid it can prevent them from working or even cause them to malfunction, so it is less costly to just replace the windshield.
How Deep is the Damage in the Glass?
Another issue is how deep the damage is on the windshield. Laminated windshields — the type that most cars use now — are two layers of glass on the outside with a plastic middle layer that bonds the glass layers together.
When the glass breaks in an accident, the plastic holds them together to prevent shards of glass from flying everywhere and potentially killing or seriously injuring anyone.
Image Courtesy of MadeHow.com
Note. In the illustration above car windshields are manufactured with a plastic inter-layer for safety. This is called “Laminate Glass”. Which is stronger and less likely to shatter than safety glass. If you have a crack which penetrated to the plastic layer you probably have a windshield that needs to be replaced.
So if the crack or chip or any other type of damage penetrates either, or both, layers of glass and damages the plastic layer, it is considered too deep to properly repair.
If the plastic layer has been damaged, cut, or discolored, your windshield should be replaced immediately — if the windshield does break in a collision with the plastic layer damaged, it could cause that layer to fail and cause a serious safety risk due to flying shards of glass.
What is the Repair Shop Capable of Repairing?
Another potential problem with repairing or replacing the windshield is if the repair shops in your area are capable of repairing it.
Even if the damage is not as large or as deep as listed above, or located in a problematic area, it might be too tricky for a windshield repair technician to safely repair it.
There are a few reasons why it might be more difficult to repair — whether the windshield is a more rare type, if it’s from an older car with a much older windshield, or it’s a very new and advanced car, and so on.
New cars with all those rain sensors, driver assist, or automated driving systems can also be more difficult to repair.
In fact, whatever shop you take your vehicle to will hopefully realize the potential issue and ask you if it has any of those kinds of features.
If they do not ask you, you should consider that a big red flag and should take it to a different shop.
Best Windshield Repair Kit
Out of all this I should mention the best windshield repair kit if you decide to go that route.
There are a ton of repair kits on the market and not all of them are created equal.
The Permatex Bullseye Windshield Repair Kit would be my first choice since it is safe and easy to use.
You can pick a kit up for $10 to $20 depending on where you buy it.
Note: Demonstration of resin being set into a windshield crack for repair. There are videos by Permatex demonstrating how to do this yourself.
The Permatex Bullseye Kit does take a little more time for the resin to set in.
However, if done properly the kit produces excellent results over others.
The results are clean and clear and in some instances could make the the crack hardly noticeable.
How Much Peace of Mind do you Want?
Your safety should always be the top priority when dealing with a damaged windshield.
You might think it’s okay to just leave a little chip or crack alone and drive the car around until it gets much larger, but any damage can compromise the strength of the windshield to keep you safe in a collision.
In fact, it can also compromise the strength and integrity of your whole vehicle.
Windshields on modern vehicles actually contribute to the structural integrity of your vehicle’s cabin in the event of a front-end collision or a rollover.
This is because the windshields are essentially fused to the vehicle structure with resin adhesive.
Any compromise to the windshield means your vehicle will not protect you as much as it should.
So even if the windshield damage does not meet the any of the criteria mentioned above to warrant an immediate replacement and you could get by with a simple repair, you might want to consider replacing it anyways if it’s close enough to the limits of what is safe.