Pulling Cowls: Let’s End the Debate

In July 2012, I wrote a blog post about the debate between pulling cowls vs. tucking the glass when replacing windshields. The question came up again recently.

As someone who has been training in the automotive glass industry for many years, I have learned firsthand that safety can never take a back seat behind margins and productivity. Instead of saying, “I put in the glass safely every time,” some techs say (and I hate this) “I never had a problem.”

My question to the people who say they never had a problem is, define “problem?” Is it that you rarely have a comeback or is it that you never maimed or killed anyone? Buddy, if you had a “problem,” by my definition, you would be forced out of the industry by a civil lawsuit or in jail because you killed someone and were charged with negligent homicide. The odds may be against that happening, but I have personally witnessed several court cases where the vehicle owner was injured (or killed). It does happen and the companies that did the installations (not to mention the vehicle owners) had to pay the price.

As I noted earlier, I don’t pull every cowl. There are some vehicles, like the Jeep Wrangler, and older Cavaliers and Sunfires that don’t require it. However, the safety of the installation cannot be compromised ever. What does this mean?

I pull or displace the cowl in every vehicle where it is necessary to make sure the glass is on the bead and not in the bead. The lower glass bead that is behind the cowl panel is the most important for the support of airbag deployment and the support of the firewall in a front end collision. If you compromise or guess on the bonding of the lower bead by not pulling the panel, maybe you will save a few minutes and possibly get in one more job that day. Some will say, as long as there is no complaint from the customer, it must be okay, right?

However, how do you know that you created a solid bond if you did not pull the cowl to see? Making sure your bond is secure is the only way that you can be protected in the event of an accident. Maybe you will get away with cutting corners 99 percent of the time, but your odds decrease the longer you put in glass. That last one percent can get you in real trouble or kill your customer, literally.

Minimizing comebacks and keeping productivity high are important aspects to a successful automotive glass shop, but making sure your installations are 100 percent safe is the only answer to keeping it viable for the long term. Improper installation will hurt you sooner or later, either through customer dissatisfaction due to noise or air leak complaints, through lawsuits connected to injury or through legal action due to the death of your customer because you needed to save a few minutes.

Pulling cowls is not an all or nothing proposition, and as I’ve said, it is not necessary in all vehicles. However, it should not be a debate. Safe installation is the only answer. If pulling the cowl is necessary to that end, get on with it.