Jack Frost’s visit this week in many areas of the U.S. provides a good reminder of the unique challenges auto glass installers face when temperatures drop below freezing.
On November 1, the first snow of the season frosted the Rocky Mountains, the northern Plains, the Great Lakes and northern New England, resulting in the most extensive early-November snow cover in at least two decades.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported snow on the ground in 17.9% of the continental U.S. Temperatures from Georgia to Maine dipped below freezing during the week.
As winter looms near, cold weather alters how auto glass installers approach windshield installation.
Cold weather often requires longer time for windshield installations, as the cold affects the time it takes for the urethane bonding the windshield to the frame of the vehicle to cure, meaning longer safe drive-away times.
Also moisture becomes an issue, especially in areas with ice and snow accumulation. Once inside the shop, melting snow and ice and the resulting water run-off complicate the replacement process. Condensation becomes a problem as the chilly vehicle warms in the auto glass shop’s heated space.
“When you have vehicles coming to the shop, even though you’re working inside, you still have to have the vehicle acclimate to the temperature you’re going to be working in,” says Jeff Olive,Auto Glass Safety Council director of quality and safety.
Olive knows a thing or two about cold-weather installations, having logged 40 years installing windshields, starting out in Wisconsin, a state with no shortage of sub-zero temperatures and mountains of snow and ice in the winter.
“I first started in auto glass when I lived in Wisconsin,” Olive says. “I installed glass when the wind chill was 40 below zero.”
“In the shop, you’re dealing with a vehicle that may have ice or snow build up on the roof and you really can’t remove or scrape the snow or ice because you don’t want damage the paint,” Olive says.
According to Peter Brown of Tiny & Sons Auto Glass in Pembroke, Maine, a big challenge is convincing customers that remote installations can’t be done when it’s bitter cold outside.
“In our experience, if you get to the point where the guy’s wearing five layers and two pairs of gloves, there’s a lot of intricate stuff that you can’t do outside,” Brown says. “We recommend that the car be dropped off here.”
Brown says even though the materials used in the replacement process, such as the urethane and other materials, are weather-worthy, installers worry about breaking the plastic components removed from the vehicle at the start of the installation.
“From the end of November, soon as it get below 30, the cars pretty much have to come to the shop,” Brown says.
According to Olive, at the Auto Glass Safety Council, remote installs become much more difficult in extremely cold weather. Most urethane manufacturers recommend temperatures of above 40 degrees for installation, although some products work in temperatures from 0 to 20 degrees.
Higher-end, quicker cure urethanes function properly at zero degrees with a one-hour drive-away time, Olive says, but each product is different and each product’s matrix should be checked.
“If you’re going out mobile, you’ll want to wash and decontaminate the glass in the shop prior to loading the van, being careful to handle it with nitrile gloves to avoid getting any contaminates on the bonding area when you pull the window out of the van,” Olive says.
In Brown’s snowy Massachusetts, even in-shop installations face challenges, especially during winter storms when snow covers roads or downed power lines leave the shop without electricity. But work continues at Tiny & Sons as long as the lights remain on and roads plowed.
“Before I put the generator in, we lost power one year for five days, so I was running the shop out of my truck,” Brown says. “I had a hotspot in the truck. My office manager was doing billing in the back of my truck and we forwarded all our phone calls to our cell phones.”
In the shop, employees ran tools connected to portable generators.
He says the opposite extreme presents challenges in summer where 110 degree temps extend for six weeks or more in states like California, Texas and others.
“I was just out in California doing training with Don’s Mobile Auto Glass,” Brown says. “You get to a parking lot and you’re doing a black or dark-colored car, you can actually burn your arms.”
In winter, a vehicle’s subzero surface also poses risk to the installer, similar to what happened to the kid in the movie “A Christmas Story” who was “triple-dog dared” to lick a frozen light pole and ends up with his tongue stuck to the metal.
For customers, Brown recommends hiring an installer who has training in cold-weather outdoor installations.
“The thing people need to understand when they’re doing any kind of work outside, you want to use a person with some sort of certification, like AGSC certification, who understands the process when it’s cold,” he says. “If you can’t do something outside on your house or in your yard then obviously you shouldn’t be working on your car outside.”