Driving in winter in the snow belt can be tough on your vehicle. From salt to gravel to black ice, danger can live around the next corner. While careful driving can minimize some of these dangers, there's almost nothing you can do to prevent one common winter driving hazard - a damaged windshield.
My friend Joe, "the answer grape" Reid says that to minimize stone chips on the front of your car is to leave a lot of distance between you and the car ahead - he says be back far enough so you can't read the car in front's license plate. Joe lives in a less congested part of New Jersey so that may be sound advice for his neighborhood. In my part of the Garden State, if you leave even three quarters of a space between cars, someone will slide in ahead of you. You, of course, have heard the old joke: If all the cars in the world were lined up, bumper to bumper, someone from New Jersey would pull out to pass them!
Unfortunately, that's what happened to me last week. I was easing onto Rt: 78 west, just past the Short Hills Mall, when an SUV the size of Rhode Island zipped across several lanes, cut across my bow and kicked up some stones that pepped my windshield - one stone making a sound like a firecracker going off inside the car. "What the heck was that?"my wife asked. "A chipped windshield," I answered!
A couple of years back, a similar thing happened to this very same vehicle and, foolishly, I ignored the star-like chip, thinking no harm, no foul. But the next chilly morning, when I turned on the defroster, the windshield's glass expanded (remember 8th grade science class?) and the little chip grew to a foot-long crack. Hundreds of dollars later, I learned that when you get a chip, drive immediately to a repair facility for evaluation. In many cases, these can be treated, preventing the total replacement of an expensive windshield. And, even more surprising, often the fix is covered for free under your car's comprehensive insurance policy.
My wife used her smart phone to find a local repair facility and while we were driving, made a 9AM appointment for the next day. I, having experienced the damage that heated defroster air can do to a windshield, sent all heat to the floor and drove home.
Early the next day, I drove to the Safelite Auto Glass facility in Fairfield, NJ - hoping that the crack didn't expand and that when I got there, they would say it was repairable. I was greeted pleasantly by the receptionist, my insurance information taken and I was escorted quickly out to my vehicle by a technician. After a thorough examination, I was told that the chip was repairable and that, oh, by the way, did you know you have two chips? Like I said, thorough examination!
After signing a waiver that explained their liability, the tech told me the process they use to heal the chip. First, they clean the windshield completely so their "tool" adheres properly to the glass. Then they use a special drill bit to - ever so carefully - make a hole in the center of the chip. This interrupts the crack, preventing it from expanding. Then, they place a suction-cup like tool over the new hole and inject a high-strength polymer under high pressure into the hole. The pressure is so great that it forces the polymer (you can think of it as "glue") into the tiny cracks that usually "spider-web" out from the initial chip. The remarkable thing is that the polymer has similar optical characteristics to glass, making the repair (at least to my eyes) invisible. In a relatively short period of time, my tech successfully fixed both chips and pronounced the repair "a good one".
When Safelite returned my keys to me, I discovered that they had cleaned all of the windows (not just the front) and they even vacuumed out the interior - front and back. So, how cool is that for free?
The morale of the story is that chips happen but there are competent, professionals out there who, if you act quickly, can salvage a bad situation and turn it to a positive one.
If you get a chip in your windshield (has to be front glass, side glass is tempered, not laminated) rush to a competent repair facility - based on my personal experience I can recommend Safelite - before the chip grows into an expensive windshield replacement.