by Bob Beranek
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Last week I was invited to tour the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) complex in Ruckersville, Va. All I can say is wow. What an impressive place.

What struck me first was the location of the facility. It is situated in the rolling hills of Virginia, away from urban sprawl. The closest neighbors are a herd of cows grazing in the farm fields. The roads to the facility were in the back country and had no centerline markings and were barely wide enough to handle two SUVs meeting one another. My travel mates were wondering if we took a wrong turn.

Once we entered the campus, the grounds were beautifully manicured and the facility was modern, massive and impressive. As we entered the vestibule, the “art” displayed was of wrecked vehicles. One, marking the 50th anniversary of the IIHS, was an almost unrecognizable 1959 Chevrolet, next to a more modern vehicle with substantially less damage, dramatically illustrating that today’s cars are decidedly safer than the older models.

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We were met by two highly experienced IIHS engineers who were the guides for the morning. The tour began with the history of IIHS. They voiced that it is their ultimate goal to help the driving public determine which vehicles are safest through testing and rating crash results. They explained their testing procedures and how they came about designing them. They showed us the coveted Top Safety Picks board on which a vehicle’s report card is displayed. What impressed me is the high number of good grades. We were told that since they have been keeping records, the safety of automobiles has greatly increased. It really is true that you can’t manage what you don’t track.

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The introduction of airbags, air curtains, crush zones, structural redesign and now the technology boom of Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) have made modern vehicles the safest they have ever been. However, we were reminded that safety can always be improved.

The benefits of pre-inspecting a vehicle before beginning an installation are self-evident. ANSI/AGSC/AGRSS™ Standard 003-2015 dictates that you cannot replace a windshield if the body is compromised by corrosion or deformity. In addition, by doing pre-inspections you can document any damage that was there before you touched the vehicle. This can ensure that your customer has a clear understanding about the automotive glass replacement process.

However, how many of you do a post-inspection? A post-inspection critiques the finished job. It includes an inventory of tools and parts, as well as a presentation of the vehicle to the owner and the instructions for the customer after the installation.

It is imperative to look the vehicle over before handing it back to the customer. Forget for a moment that you are the installer and put yourself in the position of the owner. Then look at that vehicle as if you owned it, because for a period of time after the installation, if anything goes wrong, it will come back on you. What should you do before presenting the vehicle to the customer?

  • Clean the vehicle inside and out. Clean and polish the part you replaced and maybe all the glass to show you appreciate the customer’s business. Vacuum the front seat area or at least empty the floor mats. Check and clean in the inconspicuous areas that you may have touched with your dirty- or urethane-covered hands and fingers. These areas can be behind the steering wheel, rearview mirror or exterior door latch.
  • Check for missing or broken parts. Did you lose that retainer? Did you break that clip? Replace them and make sure that everything fits tight and appears correct.
  • Do an inventory of your tools. Do you have all of your tools removed from the inside of the vehicle and from under the hood? Check.
  • Do the wipers/washers and all mechanical items removed or displaced during installation operate properly after the installation? Make sure the wipers don’t slap the cowl panel or the “A” pillar moulding. Make sure the rain sensor works and the mirror doesn’t wobble or vibrate.

Once everything is back to its original position and working properly, show off your workmanship and give the customer after-install instructions. Remember that the customer’s well-being is in your hands. Speak professionally, thoroughly and firmly. Do not equivocate. Explain in no uncertain terms that their health and safety depends on following your instructions. If they chose not to follow the instructions, then their lives and that of their family and friends could be at risk of serious injury or death.

In my opinion, tell them:

  • DO NOT drive the vehicle until the safe-drive-away time is reached. Tell the customer time of day and not the amount of time.
  • Tell the customer to keep the vehicle vented for air escape. It is best for the bonding and performance of the installation if the air in the vehicle has an escape route other than the freshly installed adhesive bead. The customer can stop the venting when the vehicle is safe to drive.
  • Tell the customer to remove any tape used in the installation as soon as the safe-drive-away time is reached. The tape can cause paint damaged if left on too long.
  • Explain to the customer that they should refrain from a professional carwash until the next day. It is not because the high pressure water could wash out the bead. That is a myth. However, the chemicals used in dissolving the tars and road grime from the vehicles painted surfaces could undermine the freshly applied adhesive bead. A carwash in the driveway with mild detergents is not a problem and can be allowed if need be.

I feel that the post-inspection is as important to the safety and well-being of my customers as the pre-inspection. Customers will come back to your company for future automotive glass services because their vehicle is presented in a way that tells them you care about their vehicle and about their safety.

In May of 2014, I posted an article addressing the dilemma of whether the use of laminated sidelites were a safety device or a performance device. Recently this same issue came up again. Evidently, some customers have asked an automotive glass shop to install a tempered door glass in place of the broken laminated part due to the lower cost. Should we be installing tempered in place of laminated? Is this a safety concern?

Some may argue that customer service should take precedence because there is no definitive statement of a safety-related purpose. To my knowledge, glass manufacturers’ websites sell the acoustical properties and security issues as the benefits of laminated glass and say nothing of the safety benefits.

Some believe that the purpose is obvious and that it acts as a backstop for the air curtain, much like the windshield does for the passenger side airbag, and it prevents ejection in the event of a rollover accident. So some believe it should be replaced with laminated if that is how is was originally equipped. After all, didn’t the manufacturer put it there for a reason?

Neither of these beliefs are wrong. The technology being added to the modern vehicle is exciting to watch but scary to contemplate. As a business owner myself, I constantly have to make decisions that must be calculated and thought out for the well-being of my customer and for the benefit of my business and employees. Is this a safety device or is it not? If I please this customer, do I put my business under a liability? How do I reduce liability? These questions, and more like them, can make for restless nights. I know because it happens to me.

I have been involved with many litigations over my career and my belief is simple. Safety may not be mentioned in an advertisement, website or dealership, but if a consumer believes that a feature is beneficial to their personal safety, it is a safety device no matter how it is labeled. It just hasn’t been tested in court as yet. Obviously, none of us what to be the test case.

These are difficult decisions. I nor anyone else can tell a business owner how to run their company. We can help them find accounting advice; we can recommend a successful business plan; and we can advise on marketing strategies. But the way an owner runs his/her business is entirely up to them and no one else. This is one of those issues that the owner must sit down and think out how much liability am I willing to take on and what are the consequences of my decision. Will the increase in revenue or customer service reputation override any possibility of fault?  Or, will those few installations come back to haunt you later?

In any case, think it through and follow your instincts.