Transparency Is Key.
After quite a few summers installing auto glass, I've got a decent collection of stories, and even some tips & tricks.
Since I was 15, I've spent my summers between years of high school (and now college) working for my uncle. He owns a small auto glass shop in Pennsylvania. I serve as a jack-of-all-trades of sorts- performing any task needed to keep the place running. Usually I'm an installation assistant, when other roles don't need filling. My other jobs included maintenance, construction, demolition, sanitation, delivery boy, wheel-man, artist, and animal control.
If you're wondering about the last one, there's enough stories for an article in and of itself. But that's not what you're here for, so we'll just glance on the highlights. A groundhog lives on the premises, which I have yet to capture. A sort of Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner dynamic developed, where he continued to evade capture as I constructed more elaborate traps. Another time, I popped the hood of a '13 Civic to find a rat sitting calmly on top of the engine cover. He slid down between the engine and the fuse block while I gently shut the hood and conveyed my panic to the other two guys in the shop. We wheeled the Honda out of the garage bay, then the boss blasted the rat with our hose while I tried to scramble him all over the parking lot with a broomstick. The rat made a daring escape across the road, darting between the wheels of a passing semi before plunging into a bush. He was never seen again. On my last day of work this past summer, I tried to remove a 6-foot Black Snake from the ceiling of our storage room. Predictably, he was perturbed by this unsolicited extraction- and promptly lunged at my face only to miss by an uncomfortably minimal number of inches. Other tales include cats, dogs, gigantic spiders, and more bees than any human should be asked to deal with.
As for painter, here comes another lengthy story. But fret not, this one is vehicular in nature. Towards the beginning of my employment, my uncle was in the process of upgrading his fleet of work trucks. Okay, "fleet" is overselling it. He had two vans, an ancient Dodge and a marginally more modern GMC Savanna. After some time, he acquired a Ram ProMaster, and eventually a ProMaster City (both of which are fantastic, by the way). This meant the older vans were obsoleted. The Dodge, he decided, he wanted to repaint like the Possum Van from the obscure Canadian sketch/comedy show Red Green. It's one hell of a reference, I know. He gave me a few gallons of latex house paint, a roller, a brush, and two cans of spray paint. With this, I created my masterpiece. It only took a few afternoons of clambering around every inch of the old Dodge. Luckily, my 16 year-old self had the good sense to document the process. In the end, he sold the van for a few hundred bucks. Unfortunately, I never got around to adding the teeth to the front bumper. Included below is a step-by-step, with a still from the show included for comparison. How'd I do?
The Real Job
Most of my time at work was spend doing actual glass work, be it in the shop or on the road. I ran tools, did some disassembly and reassembly, and filled out paperwork. Mostly, though, I was an extra set of hands for the most vital part of the operation- setting a windshield on the bead of glue accurately.
I worked on quite a few interesting vehicles: classics, beaters, wrecks, even some heavy equipment. I saw everything from a flawless Chevelle restoration, to a dilapidated 90something Taurus that was wedged under a tractor trailer only to be entirely repaired to working condition. Other highlights included a Chevy C10 pickup slathered in Crisco after a failed attempt at a DIY windshield installation.
Possibly my favorite was actually an '89 Dodge Dakota with over 1 million miles. It was once a NY state escort vehicle, now retired to a life as a farm truck. What still baffles me to this day is the lack of body rot inherent in a truck of this vintage and extreme lifestyle. Personally, I think we need to donate it to science so somebody can use it to figure out how to build a truck that doesn't dissolve after a decade on the road if you live north of the Mason-Dixon line.
The Million Mile Dakota!
We ventured to garages and other various businesses near and far, sometimes covering a few hundred miles in a day. Not only that, but I learned a lot about eating lunch on the road. Wawa is a shining beacon of hope among the concrete jungle, I've learned. If you have the misfortune of living somewhere which is not blessed by the presence of a Wawa, I've come to enlighten you. It's essentially a combination gas station and sandwich shop. Like Subway, minus the human interaction and plus a much larger selection of food.
I saw the inside of dozens of garages, body shops, and dealerships. On rarer occasions I visited more bizarre business: an old strip mine, an asphalt company (basically a quarry), or a ski lodge in the dead of summer. I worked on tractors, cranes, garbage trucks, bulldozers, even a golf cart belonging to a NASCAR driver! Realistically, I've gained a considerable amount of useful insight into the automotive world and other very mechanical businesses.
Knowledge is Power
I learned quite a few things about auto glass along the way, as you might expect, so now I'll pass on some useful insights I've picked up.
If you're ever locked out of your car, and you absolutely, positively have to break in- remember this. Break the front passenger side door window. More often than not, when someone is forced to make this decision, they opt to break one of their quarter windows. These are the little windows behind the back doors. I guess the thought process is that a smaller piece of glass will be cheaper to replace, and make a smaller mess. Some vehicles (usually trucks) have two pieces of glass in the door, one that moves and another that remains stationary. Resist the temptation to bust that stationary piece on the door too. Front. Passenger. Door.
The reasoning for this is all logistics and economics. Firstly, the price of quarter glasses varies wildly by vehicle without any real reason. It's a roll of the dice. Sometimes it's the most expensive piece of glass on a car. Other times not. But it isn't worth the risk. Door windows, on the other hand, are very consistently priced. Breaking the front window is advantageous because the door is usually larger and easier to work on for the repair. But why the passenger side? So you don't have to sit in a pile of broken glass to drive the car until you can get it fixed. But you're smart, I don't think I had to tell you that.
The one exception that comes to mind is the Subaru WRX. If you're in this situation with a WRX, call your local glass shop and ask for their advice. Their doors are build with a steadfast determination to drive any technician to the brink of their patience in the event of glass replacement. Depending on how they price, you may get blindsided on the labor charge.
So, if you've busted a door window in your car but need to keep the rain out for a few days, there's an easy temporary solution until it can be replaced. Acquire a jumbo garbage bag (preferably heavy duty if you need to drive the vehicle, though I wouldn't recommend it). Open the door, and pull the garbage bag over the entire door (try to get the opening of the bag facing down and tucked behind the door towards the vehicle). Close the door. Viola! You've done it! Now you won't have duct tape residue stuck to your vehicle for the rest of eternity like I've seen dozens of times before.
If you have chip on your windshield, you should get it fixed as soon as possible. Especially if the weather is extreme on either end of the temperature scale. Fixing a chip will cost between 20-50% of the price of a windshield replacement for most common vehicles. You can put a piece of clear packing tape over the chip to help prevent it from spreading until you can have it fixed and make it easier to see.
Is The Glass In My Car Expensive?
Probably not if you drive something fairly regular. But there's some random models out there that prove much more complicated than others. If you own a Pontiac Aztek, you must be blind. Only adding to the bad news, replacement glass for one is obscenely expensive for seemingly no reason. Any German luxury car (Audi, BMW, Mercedes) is going to carry a steep premium for a glass replacement as well (at least in the US, I can't speak for elsewhere). Also, any Subaru with EyeSight will warrant an expensive windshield replacement. Actually, you can expect any vehicle with lane departure or crash avoidance technology to trend towards a more expensive windshield replacement. If you have a Toyota FJ Cruiser, you may find a difficult time wrangling someone into replacing your windshield. They're extremely complex to disassemble, and very different from any other vehicle on the road in that department.
Don't Be Afraid of Aftermarket Glass
You can pretty much count on getting aftermarket replacement glass in your vehicle if you don't cough up a few extra hundreds. But aftermarket glass is the same quality as OEM glass in most cases. In fact, many of the same few brands that make aftermarket glass make it for the vehicle manufacturers as well, it just carries the manufacturer's name from the factory. If you're buying OEM replacement glass, the extra 50-150% jump in price is just paying for the brand name. Nothing else, really. Brands like Pilkington or PGW make the same type of high-quality glass in your vehicle from the factory.
An exception to the rule is when dealing with a certain national auto glass shop chain that I'm confident you can guess without me naming them. Their brand of glass (marked SGC, I'm pretty sure) has, in my experience, proven to be of definitively lower quality than the other major manufacturers. I'm trying to keep my opinion objective, because I did work for a small shop whose largest direct competition is said nameless giant corporation. But, that disclosure aside, it's just a case of cheap materials.
How Can I Keep My Windows Clean?
Use a high-quality glass cleaner, and some paper towels. Simple as that. The best glass cleaner comes in pressurized cans, and sprays on in a thin foam. What I found to consistently work the best was Sprayway brand. But really anything comparable should work just fine, as long as it's ammonia-free. Ammonia will leave your windshield full of streaks. Paper towels work just fine for wiping it down, but a clean cloth can do the job as well. Once you're done, keep it looking flawless with a coat of Rain-X
If there's stubborn bits of bug, tree sap, etc stuck on your windshield, you can use a single-edge razor blade to remove it. Wet the offending area with glass cleaner first. Then, hold the razor at about a 30 degree angle to the glass and push down while pulling the razor over the debris. Basically, act as if you're attempting to slice the dirt right off the glass. And really, that's exactly what you're doing. This same method can be used to remove stickers from glass, too. Note that the sticker will be destroyed. Only pull the razor blade-first over what you're trying to remove, don't push it back over the same area or you risk scratching the glass. Try to use even pressure to prevent a chance of scratching the glass. Realistically, this sounds riskier than it is. In practice, I've never scratched a window this way after doing it hundreds of times. In fact, once I intentionally tried to scratch a scrap window with a razor and couldn't manage to make an appreciable mark.
Thanks for sticking with me all this way! Hope you enjoyed, and maybe even learned something. If you have a question, let me know in the comments. There's only a chance I'll have an answer, (I was only an assistant, after all) but I'll give it my best shot.