If you have ever broken a car window and needed to cover the hole temporarily, you probably don’t take glass for granted the same way other people do. It’s easy to see why glass is taken for granted. By design, glass is meant to be forgotten. Most often, the purpose of glass is to provide a barrier of protection without obscuring a view.
How Auto Glass Provides Protection
When this barrier of protection is broken, especially in a car, it doesn’t take long to appreciate the level of protection glass provides. Instead of having a dry, quiet, temperature-controlled ride, your commute can become freezing cold or boiling hot. Your once-dry upholstery seats can become soaked with rain very quickly at 60 miles per hour. Wind can instantly mess up the hairstyle that you spent 30 minutes perfecting. Road noise can drown-out the person on speakerphone and make a conversation impossible.
Types of Auto Glass
Not all auto glass breaks the same way because every piece of auto glass is not the same type of glass. There are two different types of glass used in automotive applications—laminated glass and tempered glass. Laminated glass is two glass sheets with a layer of polycarbonate sandwiched between them. The polycarbonate helps hold the glass in place if it breaks. Tempered glass is a toughened glass with greater strength than regular glass. It can hold up to more substantial impacts than normal glass. The downside is that when tempered glass breaks, it instantly shatters into thousands of tiny pieces.
In America, all windshields must be made using laminated glass. The lamination helps hold the glass in place in the event of an accident. It also lessens the chances of an object penetrating through the windshield. Some manufacturers use laminated glass for side windows, back windows, and sunroofs too, but they aren’t required. Many manufacturers choose to use tempered glass for these parts because it’s lighter in weight and more cost-effective.
What to Do if Your Car’s Window Breaks
Car windows don’t break often, so when they do, it can be quite shocking for the car owner. Most owners will want to know what caused the window to break. Sometimes, this is obvious. If an object was witnessed smashing through the window, then the culprit is clear.
Other times, it takes some detective work to determine why a car window broke. If a driver’s door window is smashed and the radio is missing from the dash, then the reason is straightforward. On the other hand, if your sunroof is smashed, you might have to look around inside or around your car to determine what object fell from above.
In the worst-case scenario, there will be no clues at all. Some people refer to it as “spontaneous breakage” when there is no discernable cause of glass failure. In reality, there is always a cause. Glass may suffer damage not detectable without magnification which causes it to fail months later. Temperature changes and other factors, over time, can work away at the small damage and cause it to spread.
Replacing a Broken Car Window
The first step in covering a broken car’s window is to call and schedule a glass replacement. You want to get the glass replaced as soon as possible. This will help keep your car from being damaged further, and it will keep passengers and other drivers safe.
The instructions below are only meant to keep out the elements while you’re waiting for your car’s glass to be replaced. It’s not a good idea to drive your car with a temporary fix like this, and it might even be illegal depending on your local laws. You should certainly never drive your car if the windshield is compromised to the point where you have had to cover it.
How to Cover a Broken Car Window
How you cover your car’s broken window will depend on the type of glass that is broken. You should be able to determine whether it’s tempered glass or laminated glass depending on how it broke. If it shattered into lots of tiny, rounded pieces, it’s likely tempered glass. If it is broken, but still held in place, it’s likely laminated glass. If you’re still in doubt, check the “bug” of a window that is still intact. It should state whether the glass is laminated or tempered.
The steps outlined below are not guaranteed to completely keep out water and other elements. You should only attempt this if you are comfortable working with the tools and materials listed below and must do so at your own risk. Otherwise, leave it to a professional.
Materials needed to temporarily cover your broken car window:
- Heavy-Duty Gloves
The heavier, the better. Thick rubber gloves are ideal.
- Two Heavy-Duty Trash Bags
- A Vacuum
A shop-vac is ideal. A house vacuum can work, but use this at your own risk.
- A Micro-Fiber Towel or Lint-Free Towels
Make sure they are clean so that they don’t scratch your car’s paint.
- A Paint-Safe Degreaser, or Soap and Water
An automotive degreaser used for paint-prep is ideal. You can pick this up from an auto parts store. Soap and water will work as well.
- Permanent Marker
- Clear Plastic Sheeting
The thicker this is, the better. Ensure it’s as transparent as possible. A heavy-duty trash bag will work in a pinch if that’s the only option available.
- Automotive Painter’s Tape
Other heavy-duty tapes will work as well, but this is the safest option for your car’s paint
Covering a Broken Tempered Glass Car Window
- Clean up the broken glass using extreme caution. Glass can be sharp and easily cut your skin. Wear gloves and use other tools like a brush, if needed. You’ll need to remove any broken glass from the window’s frame also.
Throw the broken glass into a trash bag and double-bag it in case the glass cuts through the first bag. An even better option is first to put the glass into a cardboard box if one is available.
- After the majority of the glass is cleaned up, remove the remaining glass with a vacuum. Even if you can’t visibly see glass, you’ll want to vacuum anyway to remove small shards.
- Clean the area around the outside of the window’s frame with your towel and cleaning solution. This will help ensure that tape sticks to the vehicle. Clean a six-inch border all the way around.
- Cut a piece of plastic sheet that will overhang the opening by 2 inches on all sides. To do this, tape a piece of clear plastic sheet two inches above the window’s frame. Use the permanent marker to trace the window frame’s outline onto the plastic sheeting. Remove the sheet from the car and cut two inches to the outside of the outline.
- Once you have your plastic sheet cut-to-fit and it overhangs the window’s opening by two inches on every side, you’ll need to tape it into place. Start by taping the top edge. Then, stretch it taught and tape the bottom edge. Do the same with the left and right edge, ensuring the plastic is as taught as possible.
- After you’ve taped each side once, tape each side a second time. This time, overlap the new tape halfway overtop of the first layer of tape.
Covering a Broken Laminated Glass Car Window
If the glass is laminated, it’s likely it’s still intact within the frame. Depending on the extent of the damage, you can follow the same steps above, but leave the intact glass within the frame. If the damage is extensive, the entire window may need to be covered with plastic. If it is only a small point of impact, the general area may be the only part that you may want to cover with a small piece of a plastic sheet.
If your car’s glass needs to be replaced, visit Glass.com®. Type in your zip code, provide the year, make, and model of your car, and it will provide you with quotes from local glass replacement companies in your area. You can book with them easily online and have a mobile replacement done quickly and efficiently.