- Hint: it's not this one.

Emergency Consumer Advice: Which Window to Break?

If you need to break a window on your vehicle, which is the easiest to break and the most cost-effective to replace? (From personal experience).

A few weeks ago a very close friend of mine (who happens to be married to me) was putting her children (who happen to be descended from me) into her Dodge pickup (which I happen to co-own). She was in a hurry to pick up her husband from the hospital, as he (I) had received medical treatment and was unable to drive. She put her youngest child in the truck first, and as she was leaning over to buckle him into his car seat two things happened: the lock button on the key fob was activated, and the keys fell off the carabiner that attached them to the strap of her purse and down to the floor of the vehicle. She turned to attend to her older child, shutting the door behind her only to find that the truck was now locked with the keys and her youngest child inside.

Now, my friend lives in South Texas (in a house with me), and every year or so the local news reports the tragedy of an unattended child dying from heat stroke or dehydration inside a locked vehicle while their parents are shopping or whatever. Aware of this information, when my friend called her husband she was quite worried (hysterical). Her husband reminded her that those incidents tend to happen in August, not in February, and that the day was overcast with a chill wind and there was no danger from the sun. She was then worried about suffocation, and her husband reminded her that Dodge Rams are not known for their airtight weatherproofing. In other words, even a well-maintained, 2006 Truck of the Year American vehicle still has plenty of ventilation when closed its tightest.

Not surprisingly this reassurance did little to calm the spirit of a mother bear separated from her cub by less than a centimeter of automotive glass. While her husband was calling for a ride to head home and unlock the vehicle himself, my friend climbed into the back of the truck with a flathead screwdriver and a mother's determination. The back window is is a three-piece unit with a manual slider in the center. She attempted to insert the screwdriver and pry open the clasp that holds the slider shut. What she did was immediately shatter the non-sliding panel behind the driver. Ten minutes later she picked up her husband at the hospital, with both children in their seats safe and happy. Their truck, however, now had a rear window that was 2/3 glass, and 1/3 plastic, cardboard, and tape. My friend was feeling quite embarrassed.

Her husband is a noble and understanding gentleman who is quite aware of the power of motherly instincts. His main concern was the emotional and physical health of his family, but once that was established he took to Google to assess the damage. What he learned I share with you now, for the benefit of the child-rearing automotive public and car thieves on a budget.

If you need to break a window on your car, which one is cheapest to replace?

According to the most recent census performed by my friend's oldest child (who is just learning numbers, we're so proud!) our Dodge has 7 windows - 1 front windscreen, 4 door windows, 1 3-panel rear window, and 1 sunroof. Which is the most cost-effective to sacrifice in an emergency? This is helpful, since thinking it through beforehand it will save you valuable calculation time in a tense situation. And there are three factors involved in the decision - your ability to actually break the glass, the price of the replacement part, and the cost of the replacement procedure.

The front windscreen is immediately eliminated. My friend is strong and attractive (her husband doesn't mind if I say that), but she is not a Terminator and therefore unable to punch through a windscreen.

The second option is the sunroof. With enough of of a strike my friend probably could have shattered it, so that's a positive mark. The frame that holds the glass also unscrews from the opening mechanism, theoretically making replacement easier. However, the sunroof is motorized, and to access all the attachment points for the frame the headliner would have to come out along with many plastic trim pieces. Besides the tedium, replacement glass on a frame is also rather expensive, from $500 - $1000 USD depending on the completeness of the kit. And there's the danger that the internal components of the mechanism would be damaged in the breaking, or that my friend's child would be showered with broken glass as his car seat was situated directly beneath the sunroof.

The third option is one of the door windows, preferably the front passenger side - the rear door windows risk shards of glass finding the child, and if you break the driver's side you'll have to sit on broken glass to drive somewhere. Door glass has 3 distinct advantages. First, it is designed to be broken in an emergency. My friend could have done it with a sharp strike from the metal end of her screwdriver. Second, it is easy to replace. Door windows fit in in a track that is raised and lowered by an electric motor. Pop the door skin off the inside to access the moving parts, remove what's left of the old glass from the track, put the new glass in the track, close the patient and you're done. My friend's husband has experience replacing all the different parts involved and would have completed the repair in anywhere from one hour to four days. The third advantage is that door windows are cheap. The front passenger window of the vehicle in question costs around $50 USD, which is actually less than what most locksmiths in our area charge to come and unlock your car (my friend's husband also has experience with locking his keys in his car; we live a rock and roll life).

The fourth option is the rear window that my friend actually broke. As previously established it was terrifically easy to break, so there's one point in favor. It would also seem that the replacement of one of the panels in the three panel rear window would be both easy and cheap. Not so. The window comes as a complete unit, three glass panels on a frame. The window itself costs between $200 - $300, but it also has to be replaced by an auto glass professional, which my friend's husband is not. The lowest estimate he could get in his area was $350. In the end he decided to buy an aftermarket "patch panel" and some urethane for around $100 and try to fix the broken piece himself. Youtube videos show that it's possible without removing the entire window frame, so he's going to give it a try. Wish him very, very much luck.

So what have we learned? Children are expensive. If you need to break some glass on your vehicle to access one of them and you can't wait for a locksmith to arrive, the most economical, easiest-to-replace option is a door window. I hope this saves you some time if you're ever in in a similar emergency.

Bonus option: have the Fire Department come and extricate your child with the jaws of life. It's time for a new vehicle anyway.

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Comments (11)

  • Keep a spare key attached to the truck in a hidden spot. What ever the cost of another key fob, I can diffidently say it's cheaper and less stressful them a broken window.

      3 years ago
    • I've thought about it but unfortunately that won't work where we live for reasons of crime. We should at least keep a spare in the house though.

        3 years ago
    • There must be a spot some wear you can hide it. Do it in a car wash some wear so no one sees. Then when you do have to use it find a different spot. There's magnets, I don't like those. Or a wire tie. I have done that in the past. It's on a spot really hard...

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        3 years ago
  • Terrific read! And, of course, good luck with the repair.

      3 years ago
  • Hi congratulations - your post has been selected by DriveTribe USA Ambassador for promotion on the DriveTribe homepage.

      3 years ago
  • Hilarious!

      3 years ago
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