Getting a chip or crack in your windshield is an unpleasant yet common consequence of driving on public roads. Whether it’s a rock kicked up from another vehicle’s tires or getting caught in a hailstorm, taking care of windshield chips and cracks promptly is very important for continued safe operation of your car.
Here’s everything you need to know about cracked and chipped windshields:
What to do if you have a chipped or cracked windshield
Regardless of the size of the chip or crack, this type of damage is an issue you should address quickly. First, pull over when it’s safe and take a photo of the damage as quickly as possible so you have a record of the damage in its initial state.
This can be a little tricky to get a camera to focus on the damage itself – getting a friend to hold a dark object (such as a notebook or jacket) from inside the vehicle can help get a camera focused on the damaged glass. On a bright day, it may make more sense to take the photo from inside the car. Take the time to get the photo right as evidence.
Time is really of the essence with windshield damage, even if it’s a small chip. Small chips can very quickly spread and turn into a big crack, which will be more difficult to repair, increasing the likelihood that a replacement windshield will be required (that will be subject to your insurance’s deductible – more on that below).
The vibrations caused by continuing to drive your vehicle, along with changes in temperature from your car’s heater, air conditioning, or even outside temperatures can accelerate crack formation. Avoid driving your car until the chip or crack is repaired, if possible.
Ways to repair a cracked windshield
It is generally ideal to have a professional windshield installer replace your cracked windshield. Cracked windshields are structurally compromised, so it could quickly become much more dangerous if you attempt and fail to fix it yourself. However, there are DIY kits available that claim to work well.
RainX, a popular brand known for their glass products, offers this windshield repair kit. They do specify that the kit works best on round damage smaller than one inch in diameter and cracks not longer than 12 inches, and that it will not repair more than one layer of glass (multilayer windshields are common in cars with an emphasis on having a quieter interior).
To use this kit, follow these steps:
- Thoroughly clean your windshield with glass cleaner, followed by wiping it with rubbing alcohol to remove any surface-level contamination
- Mount the applicator to the windshield with its suction cups, centering the center ring above the damage
- Screw the resin chamber into the center of the ring until it makes contact with the damage. Do not over-tighten!
- Squeeze 3-6 drops of the repair resin into the resin chamber. Screw the pressure driver into the resin chamber
- Unscrew and remove pressure driver, re-insert driver. Repeat steps 4 and 5
- Check that the resin has been absorbed into the damaged area of the windshield.
- Remove the applicator from the windshield and apply the provided curing strips
- Move the vehicle into direct sunlight for 5-10 minutes, then remove the curing strips
- Use a razor blade at a 90 degree angle to remove excess resin.
Full instructions are available here.
Most people (myself included) opt to have a professional handle windshield repairs. Similar to the DIY process outlined above, most professionals will first determine if the chip or crack is repairable and if so, will attempt to fill in the damage with resin.
Multilayer windshields can complicate things, however. Sometimes, somehow, the inner layer of the windshield may crack, while the exterior layer remains intact. This results in a crack that’s visible but doesn’t breach the surface of the windshield. (I once had a 4-inch thick rock hit my windshield and it cracked the inner layer, but not the outer. Crazy!)
These types of cracks should still be inspected by a windshield professional. They will be able to determine if the windshield is weakened or structurally compromised. It may not be – in my case, they opted to leave it alone since it was not cracked on the surface.
Many larger chips and cracks, however, will necessitate a windshield replacement. This is a much more involved process that should not be attempted by anyone who is not a trained professional. This involves careful removal of the old windshield, installation of the new windshield, and thoroughly sealing the new windshield into place.
Well-known installers like Safelite offer removal and installation services at their shops or can meet you at your home or office. This is the “path of least resistance” to the average person (and my preferred way of dealing with windshield damage!)
The cost of repairing or replacing a windshield
The cost of repairing a cracked or chipped windshield can vary significantly, depending on the extent of the damage and the sophistication of your vehicle.
First, check your insurance policy for details on their glass coverage. Many policies cover glass under the Comprehensive coverage on your policy, so you may be subject to a deductible.
However, many insurance companies will cover fixing a chip or cracked windshield without a deductible if it can be repaired without removing and replacing the windshield. If the windshield needs repaired, it will most likely be subject to your deductible.
A quick example: let’s say your windshield cracked and a windshield shop quotes you $900 and your deductible is $500. You would pay that first $500 and your insurance would cover the remaining $400. Be sure to know what your deductibles are and consider them in relation to the repair cost if it makes sense to utilize your insurance coverage.
Another thing to consider: is your car newer or does it have active driving assists like lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, or automatic emergency braking? These technologies rely on a variety of sensors and cameras that integrate with the windshield.
So not only are there expensive components that could easily be damaged in the removal and installation process, but those sensors and cameras will need to be recalibrated once the new windshield is installed. Professional windshield installers and dealerships have the tools to calibrate these safety features – it is impossible to do without these tools and knowledge.
Your car will be very dangerous to drive without this recalibration – your car could potentially brake or swerve without warning.
If your car does not have this technology and you want to pay out of pocket, expect to pay at least $300 for a basic replacement windshield. OEM windshields typically cost more than aftermarket windshields. Expect a 40%-50% premium between an aftermarket windshield and an OEM windshield.
If your car does have this technology though, it will become very expensive, very quickly. Windshields designed to work with this technology can easily eclipse $1,200 for the windshield alone. Then, as mentioned above, the car’s active safety features require recalibration.
Sometimes, windshield repair shops cannot perform these calibrations, so the car must be sent to the dealership (which will inevitably be the most expensive route). I highly recommend configuring your insurance policy and deductibles to cover these large expenses according to your budget.
What happens if you don’t get a damaged windshield fixed? Is it safe to continue driving?
Damaged windshields are structurally compromised, meaning they may not provide the safety they’re designed to provide in the event of an accident or another impact from a rock or other flying debris.
Instead of chipping or cracking like it did with the first impact, an already-damaged windshield may violently shatter or “spider web”, greatly reducing outward visibility and making it very quickly unsafe to drive.
That being said, many drivers opt to not repair their windshields, especially if it’s a very minor chip. This is understandable but remember that a small chip can quickly develop into a large crack, leading to more expensive repairs. So, aside from safety, it’s in your best financial interest to get any windshield damage repaired quickly.
How long does it take for a windshield crack to spread?
The speed in which windshield cracks spread can vary widely. Some of them spread very quickly – within minutes of initial impact. Personally, I’ve seen a crack spread across the length of a windshield in less than a minute!
A big change in temperature (like driving in cold weather and pulling into a heated garage, for example) can trigger a damaged windshield to crack. Vibrations from driving the vehicle can cause cracks to spread. Other times, cracks may not spread at all. The way in which glass cracks is highly unpredictable, reinforcing the need for any windshield damage to be addressed quickly.
Aftermarket windshields – are they as good as the original?
Although it may be tempting to go with an OEM windshield, it’s important to note that OEM windshields are typically not manufactured by the cars brand (Toyota most likely doesn’t make their own windshields for their cars).
Instead, most automakers subcontract glass manufacturing to a supplier that specializes in automotive glass. Which blurs the line between “aftermarket” and “OEM” windshields.
That being said, those “OEM” windshields were made to the automaker’s exact specifications, so quality, fitment, and color are typically of the highest quality. But expect to pay a premium for an OEM windshield.
There are also “Original Equipment Equivalent” (OEE) options that are technically aftermarket but have been approved by the car’s manufacturer to meet their quality standards. This is a good middle ground between aftermarket and OEM windshields.
Most aftermarket options are very comparable to OEM options at a fraction of the cost. They may look exactly the same to the untrained eye. However, the potential for fitment issues (which can cause air and water leaks) is slightly higher with an aftermarket windshield. Most windshield installers, however, offer satisfaction-guaranteed warranties so any fitment issues can be easily fixed.
Overall, aftermarket windshields are the more cost-effective solution in most cases. The likelihood of issues stemming from an aftermarket windshield is relatively low, so it’s the best option if you’re on a tight budget. But there is a certain peace of mind that comes with knowing you have an OEM (or OEE) product protecting you from bugs and debris at 70 miles per hour!
Tips to avoid cracks and chips in your windshield
To prevent windshield cracks and chips, avoid driving in environments that have a high likelihood of having flying debris in the air.
This can happen in any season, in any climate. Big snow plowing trucks drop gravel and salt on roads in the winter for traction, gravel desert roads are comprised of loose stone, and even paved, temperate highways can have loose debris on them.
To avoid damage regardless of where you drive, it is recommended to leave plenty of space between you and the cars around you. Windshield damage commonly occurs from debris (rocks, gravel, even bolts and nails) kicked up from a leading vehicle’s tires and into the path of your car.
By leaving plenty of distance between you and the car in front of you, that debris is much less likely to impact your car. And if it does, its impact will be much less damaging at a 12 foot following distance instead of 4 feet.
If you want the ultimate protection against windshield chips and cracks, there are protective coatings you can have installed on your windshield. Very similar to paint protection film (PPF), windshield film is highly transparent and provides a physical barrier between your windshield and the environment.
Most shops that vinyl wrap cars will be able to install windshield protective film. Costs can range from $300 to $800, depending on the size and shape of your windshield and the specific film you’d like installed.
All told, windshield damage is extremely common and dealt with easily by trained professionals. You can attempt to fix a cracked or chipped windshield, but your results may vary. Once a windshield is damaged, it can get much worse, quickly.
The best course of action is to have a professional evaluate the damage and advise on the best repair method. Most insurance policies cover windshield damage and work easily with windshield installers. But you can minimize your risk of dealing with all of this if you simply maintain ample distance between you and other vehicles out on the road. Drive safe!