Volume 11, Issue 1 - January/February 2009

The Coming Crisis in Quality
by Les Shaver

Each week Donna Braden, vice president of Jack’s Glass in Allentown, Pa., keeps a report logging items that could impact her company’s customer service or result in lost jobs. Overwhelmingly, there’s one problem that comes up over and over again. It’s not poor customer service or poor installation. It’s the materials.

Take Braden’s report for early October. Jack’s had problems with two 9442 mirror brackets from Pittsburgh Glass Works (PGW) (formerly PPG Auto Glass). In both cases, the brackets were upside down on the windshield. The notes from Braden on the report, “customer not too happy” and “customer not even happier,” say it all.Jack Braden, who owns the shop, which has been in his family for multiple generations, is keenly aware of the problems. Even though he thinks things have actually improved in the past year, he acknowledges there is a general issue with the quality of glass. “Years ago, our reputation with the public was much stronger and pretty well fail- proof,” Braden says. “But if you put parts in and take them out, people think you’re putting an inferior part in your car. It hurts your reputation.”

Ever-Present Problems
Bonkers might be an apt description of what glass shop owners feel when their customers call complaining of poor optics and mirrors falling off. Not only does it hurt the shop’s (and industry’s) reputation with consumers, but it also adds loads of unnecessary time and costs that, quite frankly, is difficult for any business to absorb today. With all of that, it’s easy to see how problems with the quality of glass could very soon reach the crisis level. And, to halt this coming crisis, shop owners may have to stop assigning blame and take matters into their own hands.

Braden’s report didn’t end with the windshield brackets. There was more. She had a 9460 from PGW with a bad retainer and a 9458 from PGW with bad lamination on the under tape on corners.

Unfortunately, those are of two of a myriad of diverse and resource-consuming issues when they install a new piece of glass. Though Braden actually thinks things are getting better, many shop owners think parts are getting much worse and continuing to deteriorate. 

“I think it’s on the verge of being a crisis,” says Clyde Stephens, owner of Visions Glass in Perham, Minn. “It can’t get much worse or we’re installing junk in people’s cars. Ten years ago, I would be appalled at what we’re installing now. But we get conditioned to expect it because we have to.”

All junk isn’t created equal, however. Neil Duffy, owner of Auto Glass Menders in San Jose, Calif., sees lots of windshields that don’t fit correctly or have distortion issues. Braden says he also used to see a lot of fit and distortion issues from PGW, but those things have improved. (Despite repeated attempts on AGRR’s part, manufacturers PGW in Pittsburgh and Pilkington North America in Toledo, Ohio, would not comment for this story.) “Those patterns have improved in fit and lack of distortion,” he says. “We went through a period for a year and a half, or maybe two years, where their product was giving us fits.”

Braden has had his share of problems with fits from other manufacturers as well. He recently ordered two aftermarket windshields for a GMC Envoy. “We got one from one manufacturer and it wouldn’t fit,” he says. “We got one from another from another manufacturer and it wouldn’t fit. We had to order from the dealer.”

Mitch Becker, technical instructor for ABRA Auto Body and Glass in Brooklyn Center, Minn., thinks cars with tighter openings play a role in these fit issues, as well. This, combined with problems in quality checks, can lead to problems.“

When the glass is bent, it must meet tolerances set by either the glass manufacturer or vehicle maker,” he said. “Lately it seems quality checks on glass bending tolerances are not being strictly watched during manufacturing. This creates fit problems on newer vehicles that have very tight build tolerances. Panels and glass are designed to look good and stream air over the vehicle to reduce noise and drag. When glass does not fit correctly, aesthetics and functionability are compromised.”

Hardware problems still plague glass shops as well. Braden says the most recent issue he’s seen is with rearview mirror brackets from Pilkington. “When you adjusted the mirror, the whole bracket came out with the glass on it,” he says. “That was pretty alarming.”

Duffy has seen similar issues. “I’ll have hardware fall off of tempered,” he says. “I’ll see hardware misbonded and put on in the wrong places.” 

But considering all of the new equipment on windshields, Rich Glover, assistant vice president of manufacturing and distribution for Safelite, a glass retailer and manufacturer based in Columbus, thinks the industry does pretty well.

“It is amazing how fast the proliferation of part numbers used in our business, along with the complexity of added-value features, has taken place,” Glover says. “There is a lot more to check than curvature, bend, size and optics; for example, heated wiper blades, diversity antennas, encapsulation and mouldings, rain sensors—the list of complex value-added features is very long.”

But not everyone agrees. Tom Grim, general manager of All Star Auto Glass in Seattle, said that, in the month before presstime, he had seen at least six parts come back to him in the last 30 to 60 days. They all had the same problem.

“The tabs were actually broken off the bottom of the glass,” Grim says. “I’ve never seen that before. The tabs would come off and the epoxy would let go, but these would break. Either the plastic is not good or the bend is wrong, putting stress on the part.”

Stephens sees problems with mouldings. “There are a lot of moulding issues,” Stephens says. “Mouldings are cheaper [than they used to be]. We used to never have a moulding issue.” 

While fit, hardware and optics are big issues, they certainly aren’t the only issues. Many of these seem to have their genesis in the part of the globe from which the glass arrives. For instance, Braden says he’s seen strain cracks in some Mexican glass and Stephens sees stains or film from the glass he gets from China.

“Anything coming from has China has stains on it,” he says. “It could be an insect repellent or something they spray on before they ship it to us.”

Growing Costs
Regardless of what country glass problems start with, they can be a major resource drain and public relations problems for glass shops. Even the little ones, like smudges, cause a headache. Stephens says he has to use vinegar, water, cerium oxide and a rag to rub the spots off.

With mouldings, Stephens adds a little bit of glue. “You have to make sure that encapsulated parts will stay on,” he says. 

But, in other cases, like problems with ill-fitting glass, the installers are out in the field before they see a problem. That means they may have to drive back and get another windshield and run back out to install that one. That wastes both time and gas.

“With fit problems, you hear more from the installers because it takes twice as long to install the glass,” says Joe Abbruzzi, vice president and general manager, Guardian Automotive, a glass manufacturer based in Auburn Hills, Mich.

In many cases, though, problems aren’t apparent when the installer gets out in the field. “A lot of times you can’t find distortion until you get in a car and see it a different angle,” Duffy says. 

The people who usually first see that distortion problem? Your customers. “When it comes to optics, you will get more complaints because they come from the end user,” Abbruzzi says.

The problems arising from customers finding distortion or other issues with their glass are twofold. First, installers have to run out and redo the job. That increases gas and materials costs. “When you go out to a car or you get a complaint, you have to go back and do the job or you have to have the customer come back and do the job,” Grim says.

Blame Game
Regardless of how well you handle the customer and cost fallout of bad parts, it’s still something you shouldn’t have to deal with. Any discussion about fixing the problems usually starts with the sources. And to most shop owners, that’s the manufacturers.

Foreign glass, specifically that from Asia, has been vilified for almost ten years now and sometimes that’s with good cause. “There are so many bad brands out there; we kind of want to know where they’re coming from,” Duffy says.

Many shop owners contend that foreign glass itself isn’t the only problem. It’s also bringing down the quality of domestic manufacturers as well. Case in point, PGW has been producing glass in China for several years.

Duffy also points the blame at manufacturers for bringing some obscure foreign glass, which he contends are riddled with quality issues, into the United States. “Distributors are importing glass from all over the world,” Duffy says.

Abbruzzi, who says 90 to 95 percent of Guardian’s aftermarket glass comes from its OE facilities, doesn’t think the Chinese manufacturers spend enough on testing that could pinpoint both optical and fit issues. “They don’t do the level of testing we do,” he says. “And in some cases, they don’t test the optics.”

Rod Watson, Carlite technical services manager for Zeledyne, a glass manufacturer in Allen Park, Mich., says that regardless of where they’re producing glass, manufacturers must focus on the smallest issues. “There are a lot of things that could go wrong if they don’t pay enough attention to detail,” he says.

But not everyone agrees that you could make a broad statement about the quality of foreign glass anymore. “Keep in mind that the U.S. vehicle population contains glass made originally from all over the globe,” Glover says.

And, Braden even thinks PGW, which received a lot of criticism from various shop owners, is getting better. “[PGW] parts have markedly improved in the last year,” he says. “When they went to China and started bringing the parts into the country, there were lots of problems and they had a lot of customer complaints.”

Manufacturer bashing is easy, but not necessarily productive. Grim thinks shops can do more than just talk. For one thing, they should push harder to be compensated for subpar parts. “We should be able to go to them and say, ‘Look guys, we can’t do business this way,’” he says. “’You do not have the right to sell me bad parts. If you do, I don’t just want a new one, I want to be compensated for my time.’”

Ultimately, each shop is responsible for what it buys. “It is up to each company to create acceptable quality standards in all of the vehicle glass they purchase,” Glover says. 

OE is A-Okay

Although glass companies report problems with aftermarket glass shipped in from all over the world, generally they don’t see many problems with original equipment (OEM) glass.

“In some Audis we have had problems with the dealer, but generally OEM is OK,” says Jack Braden, president and owner of Jack’s Glass in Allentown, Pa.

Rusty Earles, owner of Earles Auto Glass in Troy, Ala., only uses OEM. Other than once getting some parts that were a little too short, he’s totally satisfied with it. “I don’t use anything but OEM and I have no problem with the fit of OEM,” he says. “It’s been a long time since I had something that really caused us a problem.”

Of course, there’s a downside to OEM—mainly cost. That’s an especially big issue in a time of economic woe. “When a customer who has a high-end car comes in, they insist on OEM,” says Clyde Stephens, owner of Visions Glass in Perham, Minn. “Then we get it for them and someone pays the price. We don’t.”

That price could come down if a shop buys an OEM part that isn’t through a dealer. “If I can buy an OEM brand for substantially less than the dealer price, I am a big OEM fan,” says Neil Duffy, owner of Auto Glass Menders in San Jose, Calif.

To Tom Grim, general manager of All-Star Auto Glass in Seattle, buying OEM means going through a dealer. And that means a lot of extra cost, which is why he only uses it on high-end cars. “OEM, to me, is only a part purchased from the dealer,” he says. “I don’t have any problems with dealer parts. It’s all aftermarket as far I’m concerned.”

Tips to Avoiding Bad Glass

Have a problem with bad glass? Here are some ways you can avoid these parts before they find their way into a customer’s car.
1) Inspect each new type of product purchased. “We also use a process known as “first-article inspections,’” says Rich Glover, assistant vice president of manufacturing and distribution for Safelite. “Our focus is not only on safety and standards, but also fit and function, compatibility with automotive adhesives, packaging, technician usability, and overall customer satisfaction.”
2) Dry-set. “An installer should be dry-setting to check the fit of the glass before he installs,” says Mitch Becker, technical instructor for ABRA Auto Body and Glass in Brooklyn Center, Minn. “This is to alert him of any issues the glass may present.” 
3) Return it. “If it is a bad fit, the glass should be sent back and a different piece ordered,” Becker says. “If the technician goes ahead and installs the glass, then he is the problem more than the glass. The danger is technicians not catching these issues during installation.”

Les Shaver is a contributing editor for AGRR magazine.

© Copyright 2009 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.