September/October  2003

NWRA Update
association viewpoint

A Sign of Weakness

by Bill Batley

Recently, Independent Glass Association (IGA) chief executive officer Tim Smale wrote an article on behalf of the IGA that raised some old issues about the safety of windshield repair (see page 14). When I read the article entitled “How Safe is Windshield Repair?,” I was amazed and disappointed. 
I was amazed because this is an old question that has been asked and answered numerous times in the past since the early 1990s. I was disappointed because it appears clear to me that this association, which I once thought might be a reliable ally for our industry, has chosen to pursue this dead-end issue. To me, this article plainly identifies the state of weakness and desperation to which the IGA has resorted. Another issue that is disturbing is not even so much that the IGA published a spurious document that arbitrarily suggests windshield repair may not be safe, but rather that the IGA has lost sight of the single most important ingredient on which every windshield repair and replacement retailer relies—the customer.

Freedom to Choose
In America, “we, the people,” prefer choice and options. As consumers, we dislike it when self-interested parties with a particular bias try to eliminate our options. For the last 31 years, the consumer has had the option of choosing repair rather than replacement when his windshield has incurred minor damage. During all that time, the popularity of windshield repair has increased. Some individuals may dismiss the impeccable safety record of the windshield repair industry as “anecdotal,” but it is reassuring to my customers when I compare the windshield repair track record with dangers associated with altering the manufacturer’s original factory seal as is required in replacement. 

Other Issues at Stake
One of the few statements Smale makes in his article that is accurate is when he states, “There are indeed more pressing issue on which the IGA is focusing, such as alleged steering, windshield replacement safety issues, AGRSS standards and underpayments by insurers.”

Any one of these issues is of much greater concern to the industry and has a far greater impact on consumers than the obscure issue of the “inherent nature of PVB to absorb moisture through a crack or chip and the possibility of subsequent adhesion problems.” Where did that concern come from? Has there ever been a reported instance where moisture absorption caused injury?

Mr. Smale, why don’t you deal with something that is pressing and more within your area of expertise? The IGA has professed on a regular basis that up to 70 percent of all windshields may be installed improperly, thereby compromising the safety of the occupants of the vehicle. I don’t know if that statistic is accurate or not, but everyone in the industry is all too aware of instances of faulty replacements. It is unlikely that we will ever reach the level of having 100 percent of all replacements done properly according to industry standards. However, shouldn’t the industry focus its resources and energy on an issue such as this?

Let’s Look at the Facts
Contrary to the information presented in Smale’s dissertation, an extensive amount of testing has been done on the safety of windshield repair and the results have favored and benefited the windshield repair industry conclusively. 

Had he made a legitimate contact with the NWRA, this article may not have been published. One NWRA board member was contacted two days before the article was published, which hardly qualifies as justification for his statement, “Prior to making this study public, I contacted the NWRA.” 

Had the NWRA been contacted properly in a timely fashion, as his statement portends, we would have been glad to share the nature and results of such studies; studies that the industry has relied on for years. However, absent the appropriate dialog, one would hope more effort would have been taken to research the topic and facts prior to making a public statement. Numerous articles have been published and countless unbiased studies have been conducted that examine and investigate safety issues surrounding laminated glass and the nature of the interlayer once it is exposed to the environment. 

Flaws in the Research
Given the relative ease of availability of reliable data on the subject matter, I take great exception to the implied conclusion of Smale’s article. Clearly, the research needs to be “unbiased,” as he admits. Yet, by his own admission, Smale agrees that the IGA study has at least two faults. 

The first acknowledgment is that Solutia, Inc., the company that conducted the test, has a stake in the outcome. What is that stake? Solutia manufactures PVB for windshields so it would be benefited financially to undermine the windshield repair industry. Secondly, Smale admits the sample size was quite small. One dozen random windshields were removed from vehicles and 7 were repaired and tested. The repair industry has repaired millions of windshields without a single problem with this issue and now we are being told that a study of seven windshields raises questions about the safety of windshield repair. Such a conclusion defies logic, but the IGA didn’t stop there. I believe key members of the IGA then chose to present this tainted information to the State of Connecticut in support of legislation outlawing windshield repair. 

The Argument at Hand
The IGA’s findings report that increased levels of spalling resulted from moisture intruded PVB. The argument at hand is not whether moisture content in the PVB affects adhesion; the question is whether or not it is a safety issue in the application of windshield repair. The moisture content of the interlayer is an important factor when determining its adhesive strength to glass. When the moisture level is too high or too low the hydrogen bonding by the PVB is affected. However, to try and correlate this to windshield repair safety is difficult at best.

The test results presented by the IGA demonstrate substandard testing procedures and contrived results. The sample windshields do not appear to have been controlled. They were all conditioned differently and were different brands. Secondly, the actual pummel test was not performed equally. It appears that at least two samples were tested at the edge of the glass. The pummel test specifically denotes testing should be done in the center of the specimen. These two samples failed the test not because of moisture intrusion into the PVB by the break but rather moisture intrusion though the exposed PVB at the edge of the glass. The amount of exposed PVB at the edge of the glass is 1,000 times greater than the exposed area due to the break. When testing in this manner, the samples were preconditioned to fail not as a result of the break but rather the exposed PVB at the edges. This is one reason why a proper test could only have been conducted on windshields that remained in the vehicles. 

The testing procedure is not the only flaw in the results. The moisture measurements of the control and repaired areas do not follow the graph in figure 1 of the report. The graph reports that a moisture level of greater than 0.6 percent will cause the laminate to fail. However, base samples (un-repaired) #1 and #4 passed the test with moisture levels higher than 0.6 percent. The moisture level in all #3 samples had lower than 0.6 percent moisture. However, the base samples passed and the repair sample failed. 

Due to the flawed pummel test procedures and the inconsistency of the moisture measurements, the IGA’s test results should not be viewed as having any relevancy to the safety of windshield repair. 

As an independent auto glass repair and replacement retailer who has had success in this industry, I would appreciate a demonstration of leadership and a discontinuance of this irresponsible behavior of publishing misleading results of a contrived and tainted study. I think we can have a meaningful dialog on this subject if all involved parties agree not to dismiss or blatantly ignore all of the studies that have been done on this subject to date. Let’s work together to eliminate some of the more serious challenges facing our industry, rather than attacking the repair industry in a thinly disguised attempt at increasing the demand for replacements. 


Bill Batley is the president of Novus Windshield Repair in Bellevue, Wash., and the president of the National Windshield Repair Association.



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