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Why today's windshields are getting a lot more expensive to replace

Driver assistance technology built into windshields is both to blame and to thank.

Replacing a damaged windshield used to be so easy: Call a mobile service and they come to where your car's parked and replace it while you work or watch TV. But that's changing as car windshields become the home of many complex technologies related to automated driver assistance systems. 

"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."


A modern car's windshield may have a special display area for a head-up projector, forward vision cameras for lane keeping and adaptive cruise control, or sensors that power automatic wipers and self-dimming high beams. All of those need to be installed and calibrated so that the driver doesn't end up with a false sense of security when they get their car back. Scroll through this Honda presentation to get a feel for the numbers of systems and calibration processes involved. 

In some cases carmakers advise against reusing a windshield any time it's been removed, even if there's no damage to the windshield itself. Compounding the expense of that proposition is the fact that many carmakers, including Ford, Honda and FCA, 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.

ADAS calibration

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.