We often think a car's windshield is simply to keep the outside away from the inside of our cars. That's almost right, and hardly a "high-tech" job. The windshield hasn't changed in decades, after all. Indeed, for much of auto history, windshield repair was much like replacing glass in any other window pane. Today's technology is quickly changing that, though.
First is the integration of cameras or other sensors in the windshield, looking out at the road with you. "They're becoming really common on a wide range of vehicles," says Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists, the trade group for collision repair technicians. "What were once really simple operations now require complex diagnostic and calibration work."
That process isn't trivial during a windshield repair, lest the driver have a false sense of security when they get their car back. Scroll through this Honda presentation to get a feel for the number of systems and calibration processes involved. In some cases carmakers advise against reusing a windshield any time it's been removed. And this is spreading to other parts of the car: Ford recently advised that bumper covers on its cars that have advanced driver-assistance systems be replaced any time they need more than a paint job.
A modern car's windshield may also have a special display area for a head-up projector, and technology related to automatic wipers or self-dimming high beams. As cars have become more complex, repair shops frequently turn to good quality aftermarket parts to keep costs down, but Ford, Honda and FCA all advise against using aftermarket windshields. BMW goes so far as to request that special electromagnetic compatibility screws be used in repairs so as not to interfere with ADAS features.
Sufficient insurance should cover such procedures, but that doesn't mean your insurance company likes it. "A lot of these technologies have been driven by ... the insurance industry, looking to reduce accident frequency," says Schulenburg. "Unfortunately, it also can be a challenge because the insurance companies are behind the curve on understanding and underwriting these repair processes." Yesterday's $500 windshield replacement can run into thousands of dollars today.
Not that it isn't worth it. A recent Reuters analysis of the adoption of various forms of ADAS tech shows how much it can reduce accident rates and how widely it's spreading through car makes and models as a result. Just get ready for a more complex repair that may no longer be done in 45 minutes without leaving your driveway.