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May/June 2003

Independent's Day
an iga viewpont

Can You Save Money By Buying Aftermarket Glass? 
by Tim Smale

Many independent auto glass retailers have told me about their financial struggles and have asked for ideas about what they can do to increase profits while continuing to give customers quality and safe workmanship. I recommend they first look at how they can cut costs, since saving $1 has the same financial effect on the bottom line as selling $3. How can one cut costs without sacrificing quality installations, safety and customer service? A great place to start is in your purchasing department. 

Many independents have told me that they have cut costs in the past by buying “aftermarket auto glass” instead of “Original Equipment Manufactured (OEM) glass,” but few realize the true distinction between aftermarket and OEM glass. Most aftermarket windshields are not the same as those installed at the OEM vehicle assembly plant. When making windshields for a new vehicle, the glass manufacturer usually does not just make extra windshields to be sold in the aftermarket. 

What is OEM Glass?
OEM glass for new vehicles is made by the manufacturer to exact specifications as required by the vehicle manufacturer. Since the vehicle is new, the tolerances can be controlled tightly, and robots even can install the windshields. The OEM glass manufacturers use processes that produce consistent quality over time, and glass is tested at frequent intervals—sometimes even 100 percent of the time—to ensure consistent quality. Aftermarket glass, however, is a completely different story, even for OEM glass manufacturers. The OEM glass manufacturer has the original specifications if they produce that part for the vehicle manufacturer and can use these specs to make aftermarket windshields.

Having worked on the automotive parts manufacturing side for 18 years, my experience has been that OEM parts manufacturers have to meet very high quality standards and they try to apply these same standards in their aftermarket production facilities. On the whole, independents report that the major U.S. OEM and aftermarket glass manufacturers have very good overall quality across their entire line of products. Even though aftermarket glass typically has wider tolerances than OEM glass, it will fit the application generally because trained technicians install the glass in the vehicle instead of robots.

Import(ant) Matters
However, what about offshore glass made by suppliers that are not U.S. OEM manufacturers? You may be surprised to learn that some of the offshore glass is made by manufacturers who supply OEM in their home country. Their manufacturing process, as one glass manufacturing representative stated after touring a Chinese glass-making plant, “produces consistent high-quality glass.” The recent U.S. International Trade Commission case against Chinese manufacturers provides compelling evidence of the OEM versus offshore aftermarket glass manufacturing issue. A U.S. glass manufacturer representative stated in his testimony 
“… the best of the Chinese producers probably are close to as good as the best U.S. producers. The average Chinese windshield will fit in the opening and is accepted for use by a significant portion of the U.S. marketplace and is equivalent to the average domestic ARG windshield.” 

I have also heard more people satisfied with the overall quality of offshore-manufactured glass than not. There are a number of other things to consider when evaluating product and supplier changes: 

1. Quality installation is key.
    A quality windshield installation is determined primarily by the method technicians use to remove the broken windshield and install the new one, combined with proper selection and use of an adhesive system. It is critical that technicians receive proper training and follow standards, such as the ANSI/AGRSS Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standards. 

2. Test it yourself.
    The primary concern glass installers face in the field is whether the glass fits the vehicle without large gaps between the glass and the pinchweld. The only way you will know for sure if a particular brand of glass will work for you is by trying it yourself. Experts recommend that you inspect the windshield prior to installation and dry-fit the glass before it is installed in the vehicle each time, and be sure to check closely for distortion and gaps. Simply adding more urethane in the pinchweld to make up for gaps will not do. You have the ultimate responsibility to make sure products work and are problem-free, even if they arrive with defects from the manufacturer. 

3. Compile data
    Rank every piece of glass that your company installs, regardless of the manufacturer, according to levels of distortion and quality of fit and report it to your purchasing department. Enter the data into a spreadsheet that will track the quality of glass according to part number, the price and the manufacturer. In no time, you will know the parts that have better quality by part number. 

The bottom line is insurers are not willing to pay you more for using one brand over another, and the cash market certainly doesn’t care either. By testing all the products and making educated purchasing decisions you will deliver safety and quality to your customers while 
maximizing profitability. 

Tim Smale is the chief executive officer of the Independent Glass Association. Smale serves on the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standards (AGRSS) Council and chairs three AGRSS subcommittees.


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