Glass Replacement for a Vintage Bus Motorhome
That’s the sound that startled me out of a the near daze I was in, zoned out in the passenger seat trying to cope with the traffic chaos.
We were navigating the roads through the oil fields of Texas just south of the Odessa/Midland area, anxious to escape the endless miles of big trucks, torn up roads and littered highways caused by the booming oil business. Chris was doing a great job of keeping sane as big trucks whizzed by in all directions.
What was that sound? Did a tire blow out? Where we shot at?
I look over and Chris hasn’t yet been able to form intelligible words but was pointing to the smashed windshield. A rock had been thrown from an oncoming truck.
At first, it was a huge sigh of relief. This, we can handle.
The bus was still rolling, the smash was below the driver’s line of site, and glass is replaceable.
(Heck, after our engine break down nearly two years ago… we can handle anything!)
While we’ve had small windshield chips before and knew the basics of that (tape it up as soon as you can to avoid dirt & debris making it more difficult to repair)… this was the first time we had dealt with a full on smashing. There was a 2-3″ crater in the center, and cracks were spread out nearly 3′ in all directions.
While the windshield was apparently holding and not getting immediately worse… how critical was this?
- Did we need to do anything to prevent further damage?
- How long could we go before needing to replace the glass?
- Would we be able to make it 300 miles into Austin for our family reunion, or would we be stuck in no-where Texas awaiting replacement glass?
We were in a construction area that was seemingly unending – making pulling over to properly assess the situation daunting.
Immediately we got all sorts of replies.. ranging from sympathetic “Holy Cannolli! Must have sounded like a bomb going off.” to “TAPE IT UP!” to “Bubble gum ain’t gonna fix that!!”.
It certainly was re-assuring to know we weren’t alone, and a lot of folks were thinking of us.
We were also truly blessed with replies from people with expertise in this area that helped put us at ease – before we had even had a chance to pull over ourselves!
So I thought we’d share what we learned through this little bump in the road about windshield safety and the replacement process. This is basically the type of article I wish I had been able to easily find when this happened.
What to Do if Your Windshield Gets Smashed
Step 1: DON’T PANIC
Windshields are amazing things.
They have to meet US DOT standards to withstand an incident like this, and hold up in one piece until you can reasonably get them replaced. Windshields are required to be made of safety glass.. comprised of two pieces of glass with a laminated plastic layer in between that keeps everything held together.
At first we were concerned if our 1961 glass had to meet these same current standards, but it turns out both of our windshield pieces had a small etched DOT stamp, and the spiderwebbing our crack was showing was indicative of safety glass.
Henry Ford actually started using this style of glass for windshield as early as 1919 when ordinary glass windshields were causing needless deaths from glass fragments.
There is thus no imminent risk of the glass imploding or falling completely apart – unless involved in another impact incident.
People have driven hundreds, if not thousands, of miles with a worse smash than we had.
You do want to proceed with replacement as soon as is feasible, but this is not something you need to handle on the side of the road immediately.
Advice we were given included:
Tape it Up? With a minor chip or break, using clear packing tape can be a good idea. It helps keep dirt, wind and debris out of the chip, so that a repair can more easily be made and it doesn’t get worse. With a crack this large where repair is out of the realm of possibility, we were told by informed readers that all the tape would do was make us feel better. It wouldn’t actually do anything to help but perhaps keep shards of glass from spreading. Since we had clear packing tape on board, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt anything – we taped up the inside and outside as soon as we could find somewhere safe to pull over. We’ll take feeling better any day. We do think it helped a little when rain storms hit while parked to keep water leakage at a minimum.. however, it did make using windshield wipers a bit challenging (they would work over the tape, but we didn’t run them nearly as much as we might otherwise.)
- Nail Polish? Several recommended clear nail polish to help keep the cracks from spreading. Only one of the cracks actually spread significantly at all after the initial impact, as soon as we noticed it, we used some clear polish. It didn’t stop it from continuing however, and the crack upward still grew an inch or two a day.
- Reduce Speed? While the windshield is designed to stay intact with a smash like this, it can deform from the force of the oncoming wind. I’m not sure how concerning it would be if that happened, but it seemed worthwhile to try to prevent. We did reduce our speed when we could, but given we were on a 2-lane road most of the way and in construction zones – we felt it was more of a safety & frustration risk to our fellow travelers to not keep up with traffic.
Support for the windshield? Again, to prevent the windshield from deforming inwards, it was suggested we put something rigid in front of the windshield – like a book. We didn’t have anything that would fit snuggly between the dash and windshield except a small throw pillow. Did it prevent any deformity? Well, our windshield kept its shape, that’s about all we can say. We certainly weren’t going back to repeat our miles without a pillow to see if made a difference.
The most important thing we learned was.. DON’T PANIC!
If the crack/smash is below line of site – you are safe to carry on (and legal in most places). Get to your next stop, and start coordinating windshield replacement. You likely have several hundred miles of relatively safe travel left in the windshield.
If the crack is blocking the driver’s line of site, it is illegal in most places to proceed. Get to your next safe stop and assess the situation.
Coordinating Windshield Replacement
You might have windshield coverage on your RV insurance policy. Insurance policies can vary widely. For some, it’s an add-on rider, for others it’s included at zero deductible with any comprehensive coverage as mandated by state law.
Check with your agent or company to know and understand your coverage.
Glass replacement can range in cost depending upon the shape, size and availability of the windshield. The labor for replacement itself should be somewhat minimal in most cases. Total cost of replacement might be less than your deductible, if it applies, and not worth filing. For others, it may be well worth filing a claim.
We opted to file through our insurance company (National General), as I was pretty sure no deductible would apply with our Florida based policy. We called their claims line as soon as we got settled at our next campground, and within an hour they had us in touch with their glass contractor (Duncan Systems) to start coordinating the replacement.
Florida Resident Bonus – ‘Zero Deductible’ Windshield Law
If you’re a Florida resident and have a Florida policy with comprehensive coverage, here’s a bonus for you: State law mandates that there is no deductible applied to windshield repairs or replacements.
Some companies and insurance agents know this, and apply it immediately with no questions asked (when I lived in Florida prior to becoming a full timer, my agent actually pro-actively told me about it).. but not all do.
At first, our RV insurance company National General didn’t mention anything about deductibles or costs when we called in the claim. They just put us in touch with their glass division.
So I inquired with our agent, Gina Shaver at Epic RV Insurance (she specializes in full time RVers and we’ve been with her for years). At first, she wasn’t aware of state law and told me our $500 deductible would apply. She even called National General to confirm, and was told the same thing.
So I pointed her to:
Florida State Statute 627.7288 – “Comprehensive coverage; deductible not to apply to motor vehicle glass.—The deductible provisions of any policy of motor vehicle insurance, delivered or issued in this state by an authorized insurer, providing comprehensive coverage or combined additional coverage shall not be applicable to damage to the windshield of any motor vehicle covered under such policy.”
She took that back to National General, and wouldn’t you know – they waived the deductible.
To Gina’s credit, this was her first glass replacement to deal with in Florida (she’s South Dakota based, and we were one of her first Florida resident customers when we legally ‘moved’ there a couple years ago.) However, you’d think a major insurance company would have this automated in their claims system. We certainly couldn’t have been their first Florida windshield replacement.
Our friends the Botts of Outside Our Bubble also went through the same thing last summer with a different insurance company and made sure we knew to push for it (thanks guys!).
So score! The replacement wouldn’t cost us anything but time. That definitely helps a little for the increased cost ($368/year!) of RV insurance we experienced when we switched our domicile to Florida from South Dakota.
Finding Glass for a 1961 Vintage Bus Conversion
When you think vintage anything, you have to consider the ability to find replacement parts. Sometime they can be mighty scarce.
One of my first thoughts after I realized we had to replace the windshield was being told early on that windshield replacement for a 4106 was pretty EASY!
Turns out, many of GM’s buses in the 1960s and 1970s used the same exact windshield glass (the 4104 through the 4905). Because they were in such ready supply, when Prevost came out with their narrow body XL coach, they used the same glass for their side windows (just turned sidewards and tinted).
This means, our glass is still stocked today and relatively easy to come by.
Imagine that.. vintage bus.. and easy.. in the same sentence!
We’ve actually been quite fortunate with our 4106 – so far, no part has been completely obsolete. Sure, it may sometimes take time or money to get what we need, but it’s not been impossible. GM used a lot of parts that are still fairly (un)standard today.
Turns out, as anticipated, finding glass was no problem at all. National General used Duncan Systems as their glass contractor, and they had our glass in stock and ready to ship to arrive anywhere we wanted within 3-5 days.
If we had navigated this on our own without insurance covering the replacement, we would have contacted the legendary Luke of US Coach (if you have a bus, you should have Luke on speed dial.. 888-262-2434.. they stock lots of stuff for our vintage bus treasures.)
We were hearing of bus friends recently getting the glass for $150-200 plus shipping, whereas Duncan was quoting us over $600 if we were purchasing direct from them (we asked, since we were curious what replacing both panes of front glass would cost, ya know, since we’re repainting the bus soon anyway.)
Our Hold-Up: Finding a Shop
Aside from needing to educate our insurance company on Florida law, we did run into one other delay in the process. Our incident happened while inbound to Austin where we would be staying for a couple weeks. That seemed like the most immediate place to coordinate the glass replacement.
So Duncan went about calling shops in the Austin area. All of them but one turned down the job when they heard the words ‘bus conversion’ and ‘1961’. (Lesson learned: shops later who got pictures of our beautifully maintained vintage bus with the request had no problem considering the job.)
And the one who did accept the job, while they would potentially even come to our campground to do the replacement, way overbid it. The shop (since we didn’t actually do business with them, we’ll keep them anonymous) had us send them pictures to prepare their quote and then got on the phone to convince us that the gasket (the rubber stuff on the edges that holds the glass in place) would not survive the glass replacement and needed to also be replaced.
They told us that if Duncan didn’t ship a new one with the glass and it was needed, we’d then be stuck for several days until one could arrive.
Our insurance company replied that the gasket replacement would not be covered in the claim, as it’s considered wear and tear – and thus would be an out of pocket expense. (We’re not sure we totally agree, but thankfully it didn’t come to needing to research and potentially argue the point.) The spline that is stuffed into the gasket to hold the glass in place would of course be included, as it gets pretty much destroyed in the process… and ours was in pretty bad shape.
The Austin glass company gave Duncan a quote for the gasket replacement that was way above industry average.. which prompted Duncan to have us send them lots of close up pictures of the existing gasket.
They ran it by their experts and a couple other glass shops – the conclusion was our gasket appeared just fine.
At this point we and Duncan were a bit uneasy with the Austin local glass shop, and were afraid that they were being excessively cautious with their quote. So we asked Duncan if they had any other recommended shops that would be on our way north.
Turns out, they had a shop they really liked working with in Georgetown just north of Austin.
No biggie, our house has wheels and we know how to use them. We’re not usually constrained to having to use what is local at the moment, that’s a blessing with this mobile lifestyle.
The Glass Replacement
Duncan set us up with an appointment at Pro Glass in Georgetown to coincide with our travel schedule.
Pro Glass told us they expected the job to take four hours.
We arrived right at 8am, and after the scare with the first glass company – we were prepared for it turning into a multi-day ordeal.
The folks at Pro Glass got us right in, and measured everything before proceeding to make sure the right stuff was shipped. They checked over the gasket for us, and had absolutely no concerns with it.
We were actually in and out in under an hour… and the staff was completely professional.
All and all.. the whole thing was no big deal at all.
We’re super happy with the excellent service Gina of Epic RV Insurance (as usual) provided us keeping on top of the whole thing and we felt Duncan Glass went above and beyond assisting us and making sure we got into a reputable installer.
Should you encounter such an incident on your journey.. we hope its as easily resolved and you’re back on the road to adventures in a snap! Be safe out there.. and more importantly, have fun!