What You Need To Know About Auto Glass Claims

May 23 2012 10:20 AM

Richard J. Koreto

Glass holds a special place in the world of car insurance. According to Safelite AutoGlass, windshields and windows generate more insurance claims than any other parts of the car, and that probably won't change anytime soon. The amount of glass components in cars has increased by 15 percent in the past decade.

Thankfully, auto glass falls under the comprehensive portion of a car insurance policy. So if your windshield is damaged by flying debris on the road, your car insurance will cover repair or replacement of the windshield.

Keep in mind, however, that comprehensive coverage is optional. And in some cases, you'll have to pay a deductible before the insurance company picks up the tab for fixing or replacing that windshield. Some car insurers will waive the deductible, however. Why the waiver? Most glass cracks are classified as "no fault," meaning that there's no way a driver could have prevented the damage, such as a rock hitting the windshield.

Repair or replace?

Generally, auto glass replacement is subject to a deductible, but not glass repair, according to GEICO; other insurers follow similar rules. It costs much less to repair a windshield than replace it, so insurers encourage car owners to go with the low-cost option rather than insist on a new windshield for every little blemish.

If your car has glass damage, the big question is whether you should repair or replace it. According to CarsDirect.com, the average cost of a windshield replacement is $300. That's not bad, but repairs can be even less, from about $20 for a small chip to $70 for a long crack.

JN Phillips Glass Co., which specializes in auto glass, notes on its website that technicians can inject a resin-based bonding agent into the crack. (Any glass can be handled this way, although it's relatively rare for non-windshield glass to sustain this kind of damage.) This stops the windshield from cracking even more, the company says, and restores your ability to see clearly through your windshield.

Another advantage of repair over replacement is that the original seal connecting the windshield to the car frame remains intact, according to JN Phillips Glass.

Insurance attorney Frank Darras says that if an auto glass chip or crack is bigger than a dollar bill, you should replace the windshield or window.

The only car owners who may face difficulties in repairing or replacing auto glass are those with classic vehicles or unusual foreign vehicles, says Pete Pearson, senior vice president of client sales and support at Safelife AutoGlass.

Beware of glass scams

No matter what kind of car you have, be careful about where you get a windshield or window repaired. Scam artists will set up temporary glass repair operations at gas stations, car washes or parking lots where they'll offer free windshield repair, Pearson says.

"They'll ask for your insurance information and then go to work," says Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Indeed, the nonprofit Coalition Against Insurance Fraud gives examples on its website. Scam artists may tell you that a virtually invisible blemish requires repair. They'll contact your insurance company; since the deductible is waived, you just sign off on it. Or they may tell you a crack that could be repaired really needs a new windshield. If you hesitate, they offer to pay the deductible themselves and overbill your insurer. Either way, the insurer pays for an unnecessary repair, which affects everyone's car insurance rates.

Windshields may be small change by themselves, but the costs add up. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud notes that one auto glass company billed $6 million in phony fees over three years.

Avoiding auto glass fraud

How can you protect yourself? Instead of doing business with what may very well be a fly-by-night business, your best bet is to ask your car insurance company for a referral to a reputable auto glass company, Scafidi says.

Other tips include:

  • Working only with companies that have real addresses, not just P.O. boxes.
  • Looking at your bill to make sure a repair wasn't billed to the insurer as a replacement.
  • Being wary of repair services that come to you, "noticing" a crack you haven't seen and offering freebies or other incentives.