Automotive Glass Replacement Shops

SIC 7536

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in the installation, repair, or sales and installation of automotive glass. The sale of the glass is considered incidental to the replacement.

Industry Snapshot

Automotive glass replacement shops catered to such common problems as windshields that were cracked or punctured--either by stones and other debris thrown up by the road--or by the sharp difference in temperature between the interior and exterior surfaces during the winter. They also repaired damage to other glass areas found on automobiles, as well as stopped leaks--traditionally one of the most challenging problem areas to correct. None of these repairs was of a type that drivers were likely to attempt for themselves.

Organization and Structure

Three types of businesses were available to fix and install automotive glass: those undertaking various kinds of glass repairs; those specializing in automotive glass; and those working on all parts of a vehicle body, including glass. Many repair businesses specializing in automotive glass were franchises connected to large chains.

Background and Development

The earliest automobiles were open bodied and traveled at such low speeds that windshields were hardly necessary. Only when automobiles became significantly faster and featured closed construction did the windshield and windows become significant features of automotive design, and hence of automotive repair.

Windshields were first introduced as an option on Ford's Model T in 1909, but became standard on all automobiles within a couple of decades. Windshields were originally flat, mounted at a right angle to the body of the vehicle, and upon shattering, would fly apart in numerous sharp fragments. As Caleb Hornbostel noted in Construction Materials, "Laminated glass was evolved as a result of developments within the automobile industry and to a lesser extent the plastic industry. The tremendous demand for shatter-proof glass for the closed automobile (in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, over 90 percent of the total production of automobiles were closed cars) stimulated the glass industry into producing laminated glass."

Another important innovation occurred in 1932 when the French developed tempered glass. Although it eventually became the standard for side and rear windows, "tests demonstrated that tempered glass wouldn't work in windshields. While its resistance was great, it broke into patterns on impact that were so dense that vision was impaired," according to James L. Polak in Automotive Engineering. In addition, the very toughness of tempered glass represented a hazard when windshields were struck by the head of a driver or passenger in the event of an accident or sudden stop. Unlike laminated glass, it was too hard to give way, and thus could thus potentially cause severe injuries.

Though laminated glass would yield under such circumstances and could also be cracked more easily than tempered glass, its construction guaranteed that even the severest shattering would not lead to dangerous fragmentation--the plastic interlayer that was bonded between two sheets of glass to create the laminate adhered so strongly that no particle of glass could break free. The first laminated glass had celluloid interlayers, which proved apt to discolor in certain climates. Toward the end of the 1930s, the introduction of a polyvinyl butyryl (PVB) interlayer overcame this problem. The durability of PVB was further enhanced in the mid 1960s with a quadrupling of its impact resistance.

One-piece curved windshields--an expensive Chrysler option in 1934 --became a Nash standard feature in 1949 and, like wraparound rear windows, spread quickly thereafter. General Motors applied the wraparound design to windshields in 1954. The increased use of curved glass complicated installation and repair, requiring greater levels of care and precision, but also made possible improvements in styling and, ultimately, aerodynamic efficiency. With the advent of the oil crisis of the 1970s, streamlining became an economic, as well as aesthetic, priority. This was partially accomplished not only by curving windshields, but also by safely thinning (and thereby reducing the weight of) all automotive glass, and by flush glazing the joints between glass and body parts that had once required obtrusive metal trims.

Some manufacturers introduced green-tinted windshields in the 1940s, which soon became somewhat controversial. According to Polak, "Critics claimed that the shading would diminish night vision. Tests showed, however, that the night vision reduction would be negligible while the cut in glare from the day's sun and the night's headlights would be a significant improvement." Overcoming that controversy paved the way for such further refinements as the introduction of sun strips in the 1950s and, near the end of the next decade, of polarized windshields that were nonreflective and glare eliminating. In the 1980s, automotive designers took an important step toward overcoming the hazards of snow and frost with the introduction of electrically heated windshields.

Safety standards governing automotive glass durability and impact resistance were introduced by the American Standards Association (ASA) in the 1930s. Initially subject to voluntary compliance, these standards shortly became part of state and federal regulation, and thereafter were made more rigorous when the ASA became the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Another area of regulation of critical concern to automotive glass replacement shops was the possibility of instituting standards in relation to levels of windshield hazing. As explained in Automotive Engineering, "This phenomenon results from small craters created by salt, sand, and pebbles as they strike the glass, in addition to streaking caused by windshield wipers, ice scraping, and cleaning with abrasive substances. Haze caused by these factors not only tends to obscure drivers' vision of the road, but also contributes significantly to driver fatigue and impairs concentration." The institution of such standards seemed likely to generate a significant amount of business for automotive glass repair services, given that an estimated one percent of vehicles on the road had windshields with excess haze.

Recent trends in automobile design have created an even greater need for replacement glass accessories: glass makes up more than 30 percent of a car's exterior surface area, an increase of approximately 30 percent from the early 1990s.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's Statistics of U.S. Businesses, 7,256 establishments operated in the automotive glass replacement shops industry for part or all of 2005. Industry-wide employment totaled approximately 36,048 employees receiving a payroll of nearly $1.1 billion. Per Dun & Bradstreet, retail sales in the industry during 2007 totaled nearly $2.2 billion led by California ($198.9 million), Pennsylvania ($180.8 million), and Michigan ($147.2 million).

Current Conditions

The automotive glass repair industry was significantly affected during the final years of the decade as the U.S. economy sunk into a recession. Consumers, looking to spend less, delayed auto repairs, which led to a drop in revenues for the automotive glass business. According to industry statistics, revenues for the category fell to $1.34 billion for 2009.

In 2010 four states--Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and South Carolina, were "zero deductible states." That is, in these states, insurance companies were required by law to allow the insured to purchase a windshield replacement with no deductible as long as the insured has comprehensive insurance on the vehicle. Florida and Massachusetts cover only windshields, but Kentucky and South Carolina cover all glass replacement on the vehicle.A significant trend in the industry during the late 2000s and early 2010s was on-site repairs. Consumers contact the repair company who do the glass replacement or repairs at the consumer's home or business or any location of the consumer's choosing.

Industry Leaders

Safelite AutoGlass, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, was the nation's leading provider of vehicle glass repair and replacement services in the early 2010s. Founded in 1947, the company covered 95 percent of the population in 650 all 50 states and served more than 3.8 million customers annual. The firm, which employed 10,000, is a subsidiary of Beltron, a UK company with glass repair operations in 34 countries. Safelite does business in the United States under the names of Safelite AutoGlass, Arnie's Auto Glass Center, Auto Glass Center, Auto Glass Specialists, Cindy Rowe Auto Glass, Diamond Triumph Glass, Elite Auto Glass, JC's Glass, Midwest Auto Glass Center, and Nationwide Auto Glass.


Automotive glass installers and repair personnel received training either from classes in glazing or by learning on the job. They had to exercise care and precision in the removal of broken and sharp-edged glass, in cutting and fitting sheets of glass with the requisite degree of accuracy, and in fitting such strips and seals as were necessary to achieve a weatherproof finish.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, automotive glass installers and repairers in all related industries totaled 15,920 in 2009, down significantly from 23,610 workers reported in 2006--a reflection, at least in part, of the impact of the recession on the industry. The hourly mean wage in May 2009 was $16.18.

Research and Technology

Innovations focused on impact and shatter resistance, crack and chip repair, and overcoming problems associated with bad weather: devices not only for rapid melting of ice or snow on glass but also for defogging more efficiently and for controlling windshield-wiper operation through moisture sensitivity.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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