The Lowdown on Large Glass for Commercial Vehicles, Buses and RVs

By Nick St. Denis


There’s a lot of love for personal automobile and passenger car glass around here at Glass.com and elsewhere on the Web. But what about large-format windshields and glass for commercial vehicles such as buses and RVs?

Well, we’ve got that covered, too. Here are some key factors that make working with (and purchasing) large vehicle glass and RV windshields different than your average ones.

A Growing Trend

Most charter buses in Europe have, for some time, featured very large windshields for safety and rider experience reasons, and the trend has made its way to the U.S. in recent years.

While large panoramic windshields are sometimes seen in private buses, they aren’t as prevalent in public buses in America. This is in part due to the fact that public buses are purchased in fleets at lower negotiated prices, resulting in them using more conventional windshields.

North America has taken a little longer to adopt the large vehicle glass, but it is here and will continue to grow in popularity as benefits are realized. Still, the downside is cost, as this glass can be twice as expensive as a consumer vehicle. Shipping, packing and installation is also more of a challenge with larger windshields.

Another thing to keep in mind that many of these vehicles see more miles than most passenger cars, and the chance for damage is higher. However, many of these vehicles have windshields located higher than on passenger cars. Road debris still affects them, but sometimes they are the ones kicking up rocks for other drivers.

Special Windshield-Makers

While the large lites aren’t yet as popular on buses in the U.S., they are a hot option for RVs, particularly Class-A RVs, which are a primary application for these windshields. A company called Coach Glass introduced a one-piece windshield to the RV industry in 1999, and it has steadily caught on across the board.

RV owners appreciate the continuous panoramic views that come from a large one-piece windshield, and RV manufacturers switched from two-piece windshields to using one-piece RV windshields exclusively in the mid-2000s to accommodate.

This trend doesn’t leave out buses, either. North American companies such as Nova Bus, among others, make a transit bus with a large one-piece windshield. Other businesses like Alexander Dennis make a double-decker tour bus that has two, large, one-piece windshields, with one on top of the other.

You may be wondering, what exactly goes into making these huge windshields? To put it simply, two pieces of glass are heated and formed on a stainless steel mold, and then cooled down slowly. They are then laminated together with an interlayer, similar to your everyday passenger vehicle windshield.

Replacing Large Windshields

In some ways, these installations are similar to work on the windshields in cars. Certain rules such as using the right primer and informing the customer of safe-drive-away time still apply. But because of the size of the glass, it could take more manpower and time to install. Some type of lift system might be needed to help the technicians reach the windshield. Whether it is scaffolding, a flatbed truck or a dock, chances are a company will need something unique compared to a passenger car.

Ultimately, replacing these large windshields takes experience and is a bit different from working with smaller personal consumer vehicles. A regular automotive glass shop may be able to do RV windshield replacements, but some companies specialize in it.

What it Entails

Special training is required to work on these large windshields, for things seemingly as simple as just popping the old glass out. A large, one-piece windshield is more difficult to install and often takes three or more installers just to lift it. A greater risk of both safety and cost of damage also exists simply because it is so big. Transportation is very different, too. This glass comes in very large crates, and it is more difficult to store and handle.

While customers may want shops to come to them to do the replacement, some auto glass businesses prefer to do challenging work at their own shops where they are more capable. For instance, they may have a loading dock that they work out of because it is more level with the windshield.

Other shops may prefer the on-site setting, as they can work from their truck beds. This, in fact, is preferable for many companies that have large commercial vehicles, such as tractor trailers, delivering their goods or moving customers. Drivers can’t afford down time—so mobile shops are the way to go. Some trucking companies even have fleet repair agreements with a mobile glass replacement business.

An auto glass shop may use a scaffolding system or ladders to perform the work. Either way, it takes multiple people to lift the glass. And working on a large windshield can be more time-consuming than a split, two-piece windshield. A job can take two to four hours depending on the type of vehicle.

Because of these challenges, if a replacement company hasn’t had experience with RVs or other large commercial windshield installations, experts advise them to ease into this type of work. So if you’re on the customer end and are looking to have a windshield replaced, make sure it’s with a company that has solid experience with replacing large windshields.

Looking for more information on windshields and auto glass replacement? You’re in the right place. Check out the Glass.com Info Center for a bevy of answers to all your questions.

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