Volume 9, Issue 5 - October 2007

Rusted Root
Despite Pivotal Role in Safety, 
Many Insurers Deny Corrosion Claims
by Les Shaver

Whenever Larry Diesbach Jr., co-owner of Bachman Auto Glass in Saint Peters, Mo., has to tell a customer he has a problem with corrosion on his car and that the customer has to pay for it, he uses a simple analogy. “It’s sort of like trying to put glue on dirt,” he says. “The adhesion doesn’t stick to the rust.”

Unfortunately, Diesbach and his colleagues in the retail auto glass business often have to tell their customers they must pay for corrosion correction because insurance won’t. The problem is that to perform a safe installation and adhere to the Automotive Glass Replacement Safety Standard (AGRSS™), glass shops must make sure the corrosion is corrected. “As the industry transitions to AGRSS, the question is, whose responsibility is it to pay for rust?” says Dave Zoldowski. Zoldowski is president of Auto One in Brighton, Mich., and serves as president of the Independent Glass Association (IGA).]

If insurers continue to maintain that customers must pay for corrosion correction or shops must eat the cost, many glass retailers won’t be happy. But surprisingly, not all shops are bothered by this insurance policy. Some understand it and even support it.

Rust Never Sleeps
Corrosion has always been a problem in auto glass installations. But with the increased importance of the windshield in the structural stability of modern cars, the need to correct corrosion has gone from desirable to necessary. If there’s corrosion on a pinchweld, the adhesive won’t adhere to the metal and the glass could pop out in a rollover or even when a side airbag deploys.

The AGRSS Council, the group that developed the AGRSS Standard, recognized the danger of installations over corrosion and required shops that follow the AGRSS Standard to either eliminate corrosion themselves or ship the car off to an auto body shop. “If you are an AGRSS-registered shop, you can’t do anything that will compromise the installation,” says Cindy Ketcherside, vice president of business development for JC’s Glass in Phoenix and chairperson of the AGRSS Council. “Rust will compromise it.”

There’s no debate about the problems corrosion can cause. The dispute revolves around who should pay for the fix. In reality, there are three possible scenarios: the insurer pays, the customer pays or the shop pays. 

“Glass shops say, ‘You want me to get rid of corrosion but you won’t pay me to do it,’” Ketcherside says. “Insurance companies say that’s its regular wear-and-tear on the car. If it has to do with wear-and-tear, they won’t pay for it.”

Many insurers, including GEICO and Progressive, wouldn’t comment about their corrosion correction policies. However, a few were willing to talk to AGRR magazine about this controversial topic. “Rust is normal wear and tear,” says Mike Siemienas, a spokesperson for Allstate. “Rust damage is not covered under your policy.”

Still, the insurer wants damage fixed before a windshield installation. “We work with the customer with regard to individual circumstances,” Siemienas says. “This may result in a customer remedying the rust situation before we would even install a new windshield.”

The nation’s largest insurer, State Farm, has a similar policy. “In the event that the glass provider notices corrosion on the pinchweld, the customer should be notified first,” says Maura Crittenden, claims team manager for State Farm. “If the corrosion is a result of wear-and-tear, we would work with the customer to seek resolution. Typically, the auto policy does not cover wear-and-tear.”

Somewhat surprisingly, a number of glass shops don’t have a problem with these policies. “All in all, I don’t think we’ve been treated too unfairly,” says Dave Burns, general manager for Ray Sands Glass in Rochester, N.Y. “The insurance company mentality is they don’t pay for rust. I really don’t see how they are liable for the rust.” 

Mitch Becker, technical instructor for ABRA Auto Body & Glass in Brooklyn Center, Minn., feels even more strongly that it’s not the insurers’ responsibility to pick up the tab for pre-existing corrosion removal. “When the windshield gets hit by a rock, the windshield is the only thing damaged,” Becker says. “The pinchweld is not. When you buy a car, if it didn’t have properly working airbags and it goes into a body shop, is the insurance company supposed to replace them?”

In fact, if insurers would start fixing wear-and-tear problems, such as corrosion, Becker sees a system ripe for abuse. “What stops somebody from buying a rust-covered car and going to the insurance company and saying they need it repainted because it’s all rusty?” he asks. “Or if a person buys a vehicle with a broken windshield and later files a claim on that glass? It was not insured by the insurance company at the time of the incident. We call that insurance fraud.”

Henry Grady Bernreuter, owner of Crystal Clear Glass in Inverness, Fla., will correct his customer’s corrosion issues on the pinchweld without even charging for the service. If insurers don’t pay to change oil or the brakes, he says they shouldn’t pay for rust. “We’ve had some pretty good success with it [paying to fix rust],” he says. “We found we’ve had a lot more success by removing the windshield, seeing the problem, showing the customers the situation, explaining it to them and educating them.”

Paid for Safety
Not everyone agrees with the Beckers, Bernreuters and Burns of the auto glass industry, though. Others argue that if correcting corrosion is that integral to the safety of the installation (and a vital component of the AGRSS Standard), insurers need to pay for it. “The shop is being forced to do the repair and the customer is being forced to pay for it,” Zoldowski says.

Diesbach says he runs into corrosion a lot when people with high deductibles who had bad cash installations bring their cars to his shop. Since the job wasn’t performed for insurance, insurers refuse to pay for the rust damage. This puzzles Diesbach.

“I don’t understand why rust is such a sticking point,” he says. “Rust is like cancer. It spreads everywhere. If you have a little bit of rust and you come back six months later, it will overtake your car. It’s like kudzu.”

Clyde Stephens, owner of Visions Glass in Perham, Minn., has never seen an insurer pay for corrosion correction. He thinks this is a problem. “If the customers come through insurance, we have to take them to court or arbitration to get paid,” he says. “We’ve had to deal with corrosion like crazy. Most of the time you have to eat it, because you don’t want the fight.”

That doesn’t mean Stephens thinks not getting paid is right. “I’ve gone around and around with insurance companies,” he says. “They say its normal wear-and-tear. It’s not normal wear-and-tear.”

In some cases, Becker thinks the dispute is one of misunderstanding. The glass industry, he says, thinks the insurance industry should insure the safety of their cars. “That’s not what insurance companies do,” he says. “They don’t guarantee the safety of the car. They fixed what’s damaged when people wreck the vehicle while it is covered by them. Insurance does repair back to pristine condition. It repairs it back to pre-accident condition. There’s a huge difference in that.”

Diesbach disagrees. “From their perspective, wouldn’t they want to get it fixed so that the customer is safe and there’s less liability?” he says.

Although there are extreme examples of new cars having corrosion on the pinchweld, usually the problem starts with a shoddy replacement. “It starts from previous installs,” Stephens says. “It starts from the first time the windshield got changed out and someone didn’t use primer.”

When that happens, insurers will go after the shop that performed the original installation, if the shop is on their program. “If that glass company has replaced the windshield, [caused] the corrosion and [doesn’t] honor it, the insurance company would because it’s under … their warranty,” Becker says. “Many [insurance companies] warranty any workmanship a participating program glass company does, but if the work was done prior to a customer purchasing the vehicle, it would be the owner’s responsibility.”

Allstate puts heat on the glass shop to fix an issue, including corrosion, caused by its shoddy installations. “Through our windshield program, if the windshield is installed incorrectly, the shop will remedy the situation and any other damage that has been caused,” Siemienas says. “Whether it’s the windshield or a pro shop for body damage, your repairs are guaranteed.”

State Farm also takes a hard line with shops on its network shops. “Anyone on the Offer and Acceptance program has agreed to perform work in accordance with the AGRSS Standard,” Crittenden says.

State Farm also would try to provide assistance when the shop isn’t on its network. “If there’s another shop involved, we would help the customer seek resolution with the other shop,” Crittenden says. “We’d hope all service providers would warranty their work.” 

Others think insurers should be even harder-nosed about chasing down shops whose poor work caused corrosion. “Why, if we caused rust, shouldn’t we be responsible to go out and fix it?” Diesbach says. “I don’t know why warranty departments don’t put the hammer down on people when there’s rust. Obviously, there’s a record of who replaced it last.”

The Informed Customer
When the offending shop can’t be found or there’s another problem, someone has to pay for corrosion correction. Since insurance won’t, it falls to the customer or the shop. And, not every shop owner shares Bernreuter’s philosophy of eating the cost. So they go to the customer. But perils lie in their way when they ask the customer for more money.

“The insured has this idea that they have full glass coverage and they don’t want to pay a dime,” Burns says. “I spend a lot of time advertising and promoting my company. I don’t need to be the bearer of bad news and tell them they need to pay. That puts me in an awkward position. That isn’t fair. It would be wonderful for the network and insurance companies to let people know that upfront.” 

So Burns puts that on the shoulders of the insurers. “We put them [the customer] on the phone to insurance companies and let them get the rejection notice,” he says. “The insurance companies put the glass companies in the situation of being an auto adjuster. We’re not licensed to do that.”

Whether they get the rejection notice from the shop or their insurance company, customers do have a choice: Do they pay the extra to get the rust fixed or forego the installation? “Some people say they don’t care,” Diesbach says. 

But sometimes a small explanation of the corrosion issue can go along way. “Once you show people, they have a better understanding,” Burns says.

Even if they don’t charge to fix corrosion, Bernreuter makes sure his customers understand the danger it poses. If they don’t want the corrosion corrected and just want the new windshield installed, he’ll educate them.

“Once you explain they need to sign a waiver [if they refuse to get the corrosion corrected], including how the air passenger side airbag works and the way urethanes work and what we want to be liable for, most of them want to do it,” Bernreuter says.

If the customers agree to a replacement, most shops will charge a small fee to correct that corrosion. For Burns, it’s about $25 to $35. “Some car owners will pay,” he says. “We try to get a nominal fee, but some people refuse to pay.” Stephens charges about $35 for an hour of work. 

Still, considering the effort in grinding off corrosion, Stephens thinks his price a bargain. “What shops [outside of auto glass] do work for $35 an hour?” he says. “The guy working on my furnace charges $90 an hour.”

Still, that doesn’t mean the customer will take Stephens up on the offer. “All we can do is make them aware of it [the dangers of corrosion],” he says. “Most customers say if they can get it for two or three more years, they’re happy.”

Or, even worse—they find someone to put in the windshield in who doesn’t care about corrosion. “They go the road and someone else puts it in for them,” Burns says. “That’s the saddest part of the whole deal. There are guys that don’t care and just scoff it off and do what they have to do.” 

Sending It On
When your shop ends up with a job in which corrosion is found, how should you proceed? The answer to that question varies throughout the industry. 

Though most agree corrosion should be corrected, some shops prefer not to deal with it.

Dave Burns, general manager for Ray Sands Glass in Rochester, N.Y., says he normally turns down two to three jobs a week because of corrosion. “We don’t even take the windshield out,” he says. “We know there’s a problem and we don’t even touch it. Even if you had a full complement of body shop tools and a sandblaster, it’s at best a two- or three-year repair.”

Mitch Becker, technical instructor for ABRA Auto Body & Glass in Brooklyn Center, Minn., agrees with this. “From being in the body shop industry, I know that rust is not repairable,” he says. “You can add longevity to the vehicle, but you can never remove the rust. If you replace the panel, then you can correct the rust. That’s the only correct procedure from the car manufacturers to fix rust. Everything else is a body shop procedure.”

Clyde Stephens, owner of Visions Glass in Perham, Minn., uses brushes and high-speed air tools to get the pinchweld back to the metal and prime it. But that doesn’t always work. “If it’s really bad, we send them to body shops,” Stephens says. “Otherwise we take extra time, grind down rust, get down to the metal, prime everything and show the customer what they had.” 

Tracking Installs: The Z26.1 Standard
The National Windshield Repair Association (NWRA) issued an alert to its members in August that it has learned that the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is working on a new updated Z26.1 draft standard that may require all “modifications” (including repairs and replacements) to original factory-installed glass be marked on the glass so as to catalogue all alterations. While little detail is known about the status of this draft standard, if it passes, windshields could be marked as to when they were replaced, who conducted the installation, etc., making it easy to track the course of a windshield’s life. Likewise, it could provide information as to who last worked on the windshield in the event of corrosion.

However, it would also raise a lot of questions, such as, if the information is available as to who last replaced the windshield, if corrosion is found, is that shop responsible? And, if it’s found that the last shop to replace the windshield was a “preferred shop” whose work was guaranteed by the network, is the insurance company that employs that network responsible?

See page 50 for more information on this topic. 

Les Shaver is a contributing editor for AGRR magazine/glassBYTEs.com™.

© Copyright 2007 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.