By Cindy Atoji Keene
Most auto glass replacements are routine, but then there are those standout cars that require the glass to be custom made and flown in from Europe, like the windshield for a classic Italian two-seater, a 1965 Lancia Flaminia Super Sport Zagato. Mobile auto glass installer Shaun Arsenault, proprietor of the small independent Woburn-based shop, Titan Auto Glass, headed to Rowley to work on this rare vehicle known for its “double bubble roof.” The car had been restored and painted, and Arsenault was helping fit the glass for this unique model. “Working on unusual vehicles that are loved by their owners is a special treat,” said Arsenault, 36, who often goes to restoration shops and racing centers as well as dealerships and body shops to replace windshields. No matter what the vehicle, it’s important to understand that auto glass is not just a shield against the elements but is also an important safety feature, said Arsenault. “It helps the car’s front cabin maintain its rigidity and protecting you in an accident.”
Q: You said that often auto glass companies will “stuff” the windshield. What does that mean?
A: “Stuffing” describes unsafe practices – leaving old moulding and components on the car – saving money by cutting corners and getting the glass in quicker. The windshield is forced, or stuffed, between the cowl, (the plastic trim under the windshield wipers), and the urethane. This can cause air leaks and rot, because the structural integrity between the windshield and vehicle is compromised.
Q: There’s actually simple science behind glass repair that some people may not realize, correct?
A: Yes, glass is actually stronger when it’s cold, because the glass molecules are contracted. When it’s hot, the molecules are farther apart and the glass can fracture easier. This means that a stone that hits the windshield in the winter may not cause a ding, while that same stone in the summer can cause the glass to break. The windshield is like a sandwich, with a piece of vinyl between the two pieces of glass. This laminate holds the windshield together, which is why it doesn’t shatter like a window in a door.
Q: You’ve been in this industry for 15 years now, how has it changed?
A: In the 1950s, a lot of vehicles used rubber set or what was called “rope in;” basically the technician would put a rubber gasket around the windshield with a rope inside it and pull the rope tight. In the ’90s, auto manufacturers started using butyl windshield sealant, which is a really sticky, almost taffy-like material that was a precursor to urethane. Today, this urethane is both flexible and strong, and can withstand strong impact. It uses moisture from the air to quickly cure to a rubber-like consistency.
Q: What sort of windshield damage have you seen?
A: The most common occurrence is from rock chips kicking up because of highway construction. Routes 95 and 93 have not been kind to commuters, myself included. I replaced the windshield on my work van, and a week later it broke again. Some commuters have one windshield every five years, and still others, five in one year. I’ve also seen everything from windshields being struck by a baseball to a branch puncturing through the glass and into the dashboard. But one story that tops them all is the guy who poured boiling water on his windshield in the dead of winter because he was in a hurry to leave for work. Needless to say, the windshield cracked.
Q: What are the different car manufacturers that stand out, as far as glass design?
A: When Saturn first introduced some of their windshields, they had an almost 90-degree curve to them; at one time, this windshield was more expensive than a Mercedes windshield. Another unique windshield is in the Chrysler PT Cruiser; the windshield has the molding and a setting block or tab built into it, so it fits right into the body of the vehicle and is very easy to replace.
Q: What kind of vehicle do you drive when off duty?
A: I drive an old Land Rover that’s solid and great in the snow. And I have a Suzuki GSX-R750 sport bike. It has a windscreen, but its hardcoated polycarbonate, so typically I don’t have to worry about it getting pitted.