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WINDSHIELD TECHNOLOGY AUTO GLASS
USE AND REPAIR — A PRIMER
While you may not give much thought to something as simple as your windshield, underneath the auto glass industry's surface a lot of micro changes move it forward, from the materials that make glass to the instruments that repair it. Technological advances in auto glass have slowly created a change in your driving experience. Your windshield is doing more for drivers than it ever has, and developers show no signs of hitting the brakes. Let's get right into the array of windshield technology currently available in new vehicles.
Current Windshield Technology
Windshield technology is defined as anything electronic that benefits driver safety or convenience, which uses your windshield in some way. A couple of other names for this are LiDAR and ADAS (advanced driver assistance system). Regardless of the name, the kinds of technology we're talking about include rain sensors (these are the veterans of this development) … lane change assist (also known as "lane departure warning") … lane stay, lane guiding, or lane keep assist … active cruise control (this one's pretty cool) … and HUD (head-up display) — once thought of as futuristic but now getting to be more common. In addition, some other options include night vision and collision warning systems (of varying degrees of functionality) that take over control of the braking in dangerous situations.
Let's break these technologies down, one by one.
The Basics, Defined and Catalogued
- Rain Sensors
- This technology may be the most familiar to drivers. Infrared sensors detect drops of rain on your windshield, then engage the wipers. Not only are rain sensors convenient, but they also offer safety. We all know that driving in some weather conditions gets dicey — and you don't need the distraction of constantly adjusting your wipers when dealing with poor visibility, heavy or intermittent rain, plus a rain-streaked semi-truck's passing whoosh followed by gallons of rainwater and highway gunk suddenly all over your windshield.
- Lane Departure Warning
- This technology uses a camera sensor to monitor your car's position relative to the lane markings, and to warn you if you cross a lane marking unexpectedly (without signaling). The actual warning can take the form of audible, visual, or vibration. With audible, you'll hear a strong beep or ding. With visual, you'll see a warning light in your field of vision, perhaps on your brand new HUD. And with vibration, you'll feel an under-the-radar buzzing in the steering wheel — your passengers will never even know you've had a little trouble driving between the lines.
- Lane Guiding, Lane Stay, or LKA (Lane Keep(ing) Assist)
- Operating similarly to lane departure warning, lane guiding uses a camera sensor that follows the lane markings and your car's position relative to them. Instead of alerting you when you've crossed a line without signaling, lane guiding corrects your steering with a gentle nudge back to lane center. The driver can override the system at any time, so your car isn't driving itself 100 percent.
LCA (Lane Centering Assist)
- If LKA is a reactive system to a driver's lane drift, then LCA is a proactive sensor system that keeps the car in between the lane markings and does so on a continual basis. LCA can be overridden at any time, too, and both systems share another similarity: they need clear, accurate lane markings in order to function properly.
Object detection system or FCW (forward collision warning)
- FCW exists in a variety of formats with multiple focuses depending on manufacturer. In some vehicles, it detects other cars. In others it detects pedestrians. In still others it detects animals such as deer and dogs. FCW systems often do a couple of things to aid the driver: the first is to give a warning, a light or loud sound perhaps, and the second is to engage the vehicle's brakes — the goal being to reduce accidents such as deer collisions.
Active Cruise Control
- Regular cruise control reduces fatigue on long trips, but it works best in low traffic. Once a few automobiles crowd the highway, cruise becomes annoying to turn on and off all the time. Active cruise control takes the data from its camera sensor and adjusts to match the speed of the car ahead of you. Even if you get stuck behind a slower car, active cruise control comes to your rescue, adjusting speed to maintain a safe distance. Nifty, right?
HUD (head-up display)
- If you read about HUD before, you probably encountered two things: 1) HUD was an expensive gimmick in luxury models back in the 1980s, and 2) HUD's concept comes from real Air Force fighter jets, as you might have seen in Top Gun. Now we come to what this means for you: HUD is coming to a mid-range-priced auto near you, and it will change the way you drive in a pretty big way. HUD projects data, such as speed, RPMs, warnings, or navigation directions onto the windshield directly in your line of sight. HUD's real goal is to promote driver safety. For example, in the two seconds you spend checking your speedometer while speeding down the highway at 60 MPH, your car will travel about 180-200 feet. That's as much as two-thirds of a football field. HUD aims to eliminate that danger by giving you the information you want while you keep your eyes on the road ahead.
How Windshield Technology Works — Where Tech Meets Auto Glass
Windshield technology may sound like high-tech science fiction and at first it may evoke images of circuits and microchips embedded right into the glass itself. In actual fact, it's much less complex. A simple bracket attached to the interior side of your windshield contains all the cameras and sensors for what Jon Sheets, National Account Sales and Marketing Manufacturer for auto glass manufacturer Pilkington North America, calls your automobile's ADAS (advanced driver assistance system).
"At the middle top of the windshield, there'll be a foot pattern of black dots. Just about all your sensors and cameras will be inside of a bracket mounted in the middle of the black dot pattern, attached right there on the windshield," according to Sheets.
No hard-and-fast rule exists for where to put these brackets, so actual experience may vary: But maybe not for long.
"They're trying to standardize the way these systems are attached," Sheets continued. "So if you see a plastic bracket at the top of the windshield, you know there's an installed camera" or other piece of technology.
It is interesting that these ADAS systems aren't technically part of the auto glass itself. Therefore, the cost of manufacturing a windshield that caters to ADAS systems isn't necessarily more than the cost of creating one without. The major driver of cost, in fact, is volume of production. For a given year, make, and model of vehicle, if total cars with ADAS outnumber versions without, chances are the replacement glass for the versions without ADAS will actually be more expensive, simply due to the lower volume of production.
So what about the cost of repair — or replacement — for these windshields? Read on.
Auto Glass Damage and Windshield Technology — What To Do
With the caveat of damage to the ADAS bracket itself, the repair of auto glass with windshield technology takes little to no more time to complete than the repair of auto glass without. Something else unchanged are the general reasons that would send you for a repair shop in the first place.
"The first most common damage that triggers auto glass replacement is a crack bigger than a dollar bill," according to glazier Dwight Brown of D Professional Auto Glass in New Britain, CT. "The second is a chip in the glass within the driver's point-of-view." If the chip is in the driver's line of site, the entire windshield must be replaced to maintain the driver's quality of vision.
"A repair is for a chip anywhere else in the auto glass," Brown concluded. This is the least intrusive type of auto glass repair for vehicles with windshield technology.
Getting back to auto glass replacement, if you need to get a new piece of auto glass you might question how easy it is to switch the high-tech ADAS brackets from one windshield to the next? Turns out, super easy.
Brown's glaziers, his auto glass technicians, keep themselves in the habit of checking your ADAS bracket.
"Guys working here actually check all the sensors before the customer leaves," Brown said.
If a bracket needs switched, Brown's techs "just take the brackets off the damaged glass and put them back on the new glass.
"Our repair techs don't add any time to your repair when you have some sensors or other windshield technology," Brown added.
Only one kind of windshield technology calls for an extra step in repairs. The feature is HUD, and the solution is simple.
"You need to have a special coating on the glass that uses HUD display," said Brown. "Without it, the HUD's information will be distorted."
To get that special coating, the auto glass repair shop simply needs to order the correct glass from the factory with the coating already on it.
"A piece of glass with HUD capabilities is finished and ready to install at the plant level," Sheets said in an email to the writer. "The repair shop will not need to do anything to the windshield."
Consequently, this issue may bring up questions about getting the right parts, in this case HUD coating, and trusting the repair shop glaziers' capabilities. Rest assured, there's a way to do both.
Make Sure Everything's Certified
To get the right piece of auto glass from the most reputable repair shop, do this one thing: find someone certified. An auto glass repair shop isn't certified with a generic rubber stamp. You can and should know what you're getting.
"Auto glass techs need to be certified because of how complex the process is," Brown explained.
Several certifications for auto glass repair shops exist, and requirements vary across state lines. In Connecticut, where Brown's New Britain shop resides, everyone who repairs glass needs to be licensed, according to Brown. There are also federal and NGA (National Glass Association) certifications.
"To sum up," Brown said, "certified tech, certified parts."
Certification may influence your confidence in the repair. You may next question whether ADAS changes how your insurance policy handles claims, or if your company even knows the term "windshield technology" or something similar. If so, then you may find the following information helpful.
Insurance and Auto Glass Repair
You can relax on your way to the repair shop because your insurance deals with auto glass repairs in much the same way whether you own windshield technology or not. Unless it's an unusual situation, a rare car or something else not by the book, insurance claims are pretty straightforward, with companies using customized processes, according to Brown.
"As an example, one major insurance company we work with has what we call a 'mad list' for every car. They know what parts go on that car, and they know what they cost. Everything gets paid for as long as it's part of that car, originally," Brown said.
If your auto glass held a bracket full of sensors and cameras or a special coating for a HUD system when it exited the factory, then your new glass will get back all those items after repair.
While a snapshot of the industry and how it handles insurance proves useful in the here and now, a question comes to mind concerning how fast companies plan to keep pace with windshield technology's development. Will they be able to spare you additional headaches trying to get them to pay for the latest high-tech auto glass widget?
Brown assured they will.
"If it's a…new car and certified auto glass replacement, then insurance has no problem," Brown stated.
As this technology gets more mainstream, more advanced, Brown sees insurance companies continuing to adapt.
Any jostling incurred when moving an ADAS system bracket from one windshield to another introduces the risk of misalignment. And if the cameras aren't aligned exactly as they were on the original windshield, they may not function properly — not exactly a comforting thought for a system intended to improve your driving safety, especially for advanced systems that can nudge your steering wheel or apply your brakes. For this reason, manufacturers have various ADAS calibration methods to ensure everything is aligned and functioning properly after a repair or replacement.
"All windshields that contain the ADAS camera systems have the ability to be calibrated. Dealers have the calibration technology in their shops while the aftermarket is still researching a viable solution," Sheets said in an email to the writer.
"Dealers typically charge a substantial fee to calibrate, whether it is a dealer installed OE (original equipment) windshield or an aftermarket installation where the customer only needs the calibration services from the dealer," Sheets continued.
Since many shops choose not to invest in the calibration game for now, Sheets stated that they often provide the customer with a form to sign, indicating that their car has ADAS and recommending it not be used until taken to a dealer.
Emergence of a New Driver Safety Era
Bringing technology into your car's dashboard ranked as outrageous, futuristic dreaming just a couple decades ago. Today, a new car's dashboard is stuffed with technological options. Now technology has come to your auto glass, too. ADAS systems such as rain sensors, lane-departure warnings, and lane-stay guidance are here to stay, and they're only the tip of the iceberg.
Fast on their heels and coming to an automobile near you, adaptive cruise, super cruise, navigation directions via ghost car, and the turning of your entire interior auto glass surface area into a touchable screen all compel us to re-imagine the way we drive.
A sweeping change coming to the industry within the next five years involves new requirements for auto makers, according to Sheets. "I think ADAS is something every car will have and every user will expect, like a seat belt," he said.
ADAS is changing the way we drive and interact with our cars, growing more sophisticated every year. This sophistication doesn't have to complicate the repair process or how your insurance processes the claim.
Windshield technology, its convenience and safety, isn't a gimmick or a fad — it's becoming more and more essential, and it's here to stay.