If you’ve ever had your windshield hit by a rock, you know the sinking feeling of watching a crack appear—and grow.
Cracks happen and sometimes they’re unavoidable. But did you know that your windshield is at higher risk for cracks in the winter? It’s true. Knowing the causes of cracks will help you protect your windshield this season. If you do get a crack, we’ve included a guide on how to handle it, which can hopefully save you an expensive repair.
All About Your Windshield
Your windshield is a protective barrier between you and the road ahead. It also provides a clear line of sight. When your windshield cracks, it compromises your safety and can limit your visibility.
Windshields are made of laminated glass, which includes two layers of glass with a piece of plastic in the middle. The layers are fused together, making them stronger than ordinary glass. Even though windshield glass is strong, however, cracks still happen.
Tiny cracks can occur from everyday driving. Cracks happen when your windshield is hit by a rock or debris. The metal frame of your windshield expands and contracts in extreme temperatures. This causes stress on your glass which can crack it over time. Finally, our own human error can cause glass to crack, such as when we pour hot water over an icy windshield. A crack between the two layers of glass can trap moisture between the layers. This can weaken the structural integrity of your windshield and cause cracks down the road.
Types of Cracks
In most cases, cracks or chips smaller than the size of a quarter are able be fixed. But you cannot let even a tiny crack alone. Don’t ignore these small cracks or chips; they can start out small and eventually get larger, past the point of repair, and cause you to need a total windshield replacement.
Not all cracks are the same, and it’s good to know what kind you have. The type of crack determines how you deal with it.
- Basic crack – The simplest crack is a line that is not near the edge of the windshield. If the line is less than 1 inch long and doesn’t have other lines extending from it, it can be repaired.
- Floater – A crack that occurs away from the windshield edge is known as a floater. These can spread quickly.
- Edge crack – If the crack is near the edge of your windshield, chances are that the entire windshield needs to be replaced.
- Chip – If a small piece of glass is missing, you have a chip. A chip less than 1 inch in diameter, without any cracks coming from it, can be filled or repaired.
- Star – If your crack looks like a small chip with tiny cracks extending from it, you have a star crack. This type of crack could possibly be fixed but the repair may be visible.
- Bulls-eye – If your crack resembles a circular bulls-eye target, you have more extensive damage than it appears. This type of crack usually requires a full windshield replacement.
How to Avoid Cracks
Remove ice responsibly. In most places in the U.S., you’ll be dealing with icy windshields this winter. You need to clear the ice in order to drive. Glass can be brittle in cold temperatures, so you will want to avoid any sudden temperature changes.
- Do not throw hot water on your windshield. Hot water will refreeze, and surprisingly, it does so faster than cold water. Don’t use room temperature water either. This will still be a temperature extreme from the icy conditions and can crack your windshield.
- Skip the vinegar and water mixture. Vinegar doesn’t work well when there is already ice there. It also is an acid that can eat into glass causing pits.
- Don’t use a propane torch, hair dryer, or cigarette lighter. These are extreme changes in temperature and can crack the glass.
- Do not use a knife or blade that will chip or scratch your glass.
- Don’t hit the ice. It doesn’t take a lot of impact to cause damage to the glass.
- Do not use keys, snow shovels, or spatulas. They can all leave scratches and grooves.
- Do warm your car up slowly. Use your car’s heater and defrost settings. Wait until your car is warm to turn your car’s defrosters on high.
- Do use a plastic ice scraper. Ice scrapers are among the must-carry items in your car in winter.
- Do use a liquid deicer if you would like.
Avoid flying debris. While rocks and debris can hit your windshield almost anywhere, you can take steps to keep your car away from this potential hazard.
- Don’t drive over gravel roads, but if you must, keep a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of you.
- Don’t follow construction vehicles too closely.
- Don’t drive in hailstorms if you can help it. The best strategy is to find covered parking while it’s hailing. If you must drive in a hailstorm, slow down to lessen the impact.
Park in protected places. Mother nature can be tough on our windshields. Keeping your vehicle in a place with a constant temperature and away from wind, winter storms, snowstorms, and extreme weather can help to protect the windshield.
- Avoid exposing your windshield to extreme temperatures. If it’s going to be very cold, park your car inside if you can.
- You also can cover your car, which will help to protect your windshield wipers from freezing and cracking. You don’t want damaged wipers to scratch your windshield.
- If you can, park your car inside a garage during the winter months.
Periodically inspect your windshield. You may not even be aware of tiny cracks in your windshield. The sooner you catch them, the sooner you can address them.
- It’s hard to notice cracks while you’re driving. Make it part of your winter routine to periodically inspect your windshield when you get in or out of your car.
- Keep the windshield glass clean. This will help you to notice small cracks and chips.
- A winter car wash can help, but don’t run your car through one if there are any windshield cracks.
- Replace your wiper blades before winter hits.
- Don’t drive around with a crack. The sooner you take care of it, the less expensive the repair will likely be.
What to Do if You Get a Crack
Drive carefully. Drive over bumps slowly. Don’t whip around corners or cause any vibrations that could make damage worse.
Guard against dirt and moisture. While you are waiting for the repair, keep the crack clean and dry. Dirt and moisture can make repairs more complicated. (Pro Tip: Even window washer fluid can stain the crack so use a drop or two of dishwashing soap on a damp cloth.)
You only have one chance to get it right. DIY options include inexpensive windshield repair kits.
Most kits aren’t high quality and won’t last long-term. Some folks have tried to seal the crack with household items like superglue or nail polish remover. Don’t even consider that. It will prevent you from getting a professional repair.
Contact an auto glass repair specialist. California Casualty works with Safelite on claims for cracked windshields. Many glass repair providers offer same-day service and can come to you. A technician can fix repairable cracks in a matter of minutes. Most comprehensive auto insurance policies cover the cost of fixing small chips and cracks in your windshield. Even without insurance, a windshield repair is much less than a replacement.
This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.