March/April 2000

Lights, Camera,
Uh-Oh ...

After awakening the public to the dangers of unsafe auto glass installations, will 20/20’s exposť cause any change
within the industry?

by Leslie Shaver

They were 12 minutes the glass industry probably will remember for a lifetime. On the night of February 25, ABC’s news show 20/20 tackled the contentious issue of auto glass replacement with a scathing exposť that seemed to draw both praise and scorn from industry insiders.

The segment, which was narrated by Arnold Diaz and produced by Glenn Ruppel, began with a bang by profiling cases where faulty installations led to windshield ejections that ended the life of a 25-year-old woman and paralyzed a mother in California. The stories of these tragic cases highlighted the importance of the windshield in both the structural integrity of the car and occupant retention.

Smile! You’re on 20/20

After making the audience acutely aware of the dangers of poor windshield installation, Diaz then went out to take samples of installation quality with AGRR columnist Steve Coyle of the Performance Achievement Group of Madison, Wis., and Mitch Becker of ABRA Auto Glass in Minneapolis. What Diaz and these experts found was probably not surprising to many shop owners in the industry.

American Mobile Glass of Newfoundland, N.J., was the first company profiled in the segment. After watching American Mobile’s two installers set the windshield, Diaz questioned them about failing to use a “secondary” primer and gloves when they set the windshield. The installers defended their misuse of primer by saying they were working two-to-a-truck instead of the regular one per truck. Consequently, their routine was thrown off, and each one thought the other had applied the primer.

As for the gloves, one installer demonstrated the method that he uses to carry the windshield, which he said kept him from contaminating it with the dirt on his hand. After Diaz pointed out that his fingers were still touching the windshield, his partner used another defense saying that he had “never had a problem with the oils on the glass.”

Company owner Patrick McKernan was quick to defend his company and his installers. “These are two of the top installers I have,” he said. “I will put 20 windshields that I install against 20 windshields from anyone else.”

He then went on the attack against 20/20. “We canceled this job a week before because of inclement weather, and they refused to mention that,” he said. “We also use top of the line primers and urethanes, and they refused to mention that.”

Still, McKernan found a bright side to the whole incident, saying this kind of exposure will make his company better in the long run. “This will make us stronger,” he said. “It will make our guys more aware of doing it the proper way. I will also have stricter guidelines to make sure it is done the proper way.” One of his first moves was to designate a supervisor whenever there is a two-man crew so there are no more primer mishaps.

Following the piece, McKernan, whose company was the only one identified during the segment, said a couple of anxious customers called him wanting reassurances about the work that had been done on their cars. “We had to assure them that we use the proper urethanes,” he said. “We sent the installer and the supervisor with the installer’s certification. The installer and the supervisor pressed on the windshield and showed the customer that the urethane will stick.”

Networks have also come to McKernan with questions following the piece. “I wrote them a letter saying my guys are certified, I buy the proper urethane and I buy OEM windshields,” he said

As for being the only company identified in the piece, McKernan thinks there may have been forces at work other than just coincidence. The other two companies 20/20 “caught” were Safelite of Columbus, Ohio, and Diamond-Triumph of Kingston, Pa., which happen to be two of the largest companies in the industry. Though he will not broach a specific theory as to why his company, the smallest of the three, was the only one identified by the 20/20 cameras, he will say, “Someone had something to do with it.”

Ruppel refutes this saying that the only reason American Mobile was identified was because their installers talked a lot and gave Diaz relevant information. This led to more airtime and a greater chance of the name of the company’s van ending up on television.

After showing footage from the American Mobile installation, 20/20 then moved to a Safelite installation that it taped in Spokane, Wash. This time Diaz and his crew caught the installer carrying the windshield with his bare hands, wiping the glass with only a rag and without using any cleaning fluid. Diaz then said that Safelite (which it referred to as “the company”) did not agree that the mistakes caused a safety risk, but fired the installer.

Unlike the other companies, Safelite began to prepare for the fallout from the report ahead of time by terminating the installer, sending out letters reaffirming its commitment to safety to its insurance customers, upgrading its training program and hiring Glen Moses as its new director of training. “We responded as soon as we found this might air,” said Dee Uttermohlen, marketing manager for Safelite. “We have expanded our compliance efforts, raised our training efforts and brought in a new director of training.”

Still, Uttermohlen does think the story was unwarranted. “It’s a shame the story was done in the first place,” she said. “This is one of the safest industries going. There have been very few injuries because of auto glass. Alarming the American public about an industry as safe as the auto glass industry was irresponsible on the part of the people in the industry who pushed the story.”

Uttermohlen’s assertion that the story was planted by a small number of individuals is one that has been making the rounds in the auto glass rumor mill. However, Ruppel said that is not the case. Instead, he said the story idea came from a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show called Marketplace. “We thought it was an interesting topic that we had not heard about before,” he said.

After the development department at 20/20 turned the story over to Ruppel, he began to educate himself about the auto glass industry. “We talked to a number of people to find out how far and wide the sentiment was for safer installations,” he said. “People were upset things were not going better. The key players were willing to trust us. This made a difference because we needed the trust of knowledgeable people to do the story.”

Ruppel eventually found Coyle through the Performance Achievement Group (PAG) training school and Becker through the recommendation of others inside the industry. “We had several other experts off the record who were reluctant to go on camera,” he said.

Coyle was the expert on the television screen when 20/20 taped the third installation in Minneapolis. While there were no problems with the actual installation, Diaz says the Diamond Triumph installer who conducted this installation did not give Coyle proper warning that “it is not safe to drive the car until the glue dries.”

When Diaz questions him about the proper drive-away time, the installer warns that the car should sit for “a couple of hours.” This portion of the segment ends with Diaz telling the audience that the proper drive-away time for this installation is not a couple of hours, but actually ten hours, and that the company claims that the installer gave the wrong time because 20/20’s cameras made him nervous.

Norm Harris, president of Diamond Triumph, says the question revolving around the installation was simply one of interpretation. According to Harris, the installer thought that Coyle asked when he would be finished with the installation not when the car was ready to be driven away. Consequently, the installer gave an incorrect drive-away time.

This dispute may never actually be settled since there was no footage of the actual conversation between the installer and Coyle, according to Harris.

Diaz then takes the viewer on a tour of the various states of windshield retention, starting at an old junkyard with Becker and ending at factory where OEM windshields are installed.

The segment winds down with Diaz in the studio with Barbara Walters (who calls the situation “tragic”). When Walters questions Diaz about how consumers can protect themselves, he offers two bits of insight. The first is that consumers should ask if a technician is certified, though he admits that problems can occur with certified installers (and some of the installers in the story were certified). Secondly, he warns that insurance companies may not be the best place for answers because they may steer customers to the cheapest shop.

 Wake-Up Call or
Business as Usual?

Most glass shops began to feel the effects of the 20/20 report less than 24 hours after it aired. One glass shop owner, who preferred not to
be named in this story, said he had a couple of inquisitive customers. “One guy came in, asked us if we were certified, checked the primer and watched us set the windshield,” he said. “He then had to leave for an hour and did not want us to set the windshield until he came back. After we finished with it, we told him that the longer he waited, the better. He was so elated that we were telling him the right things.”

Uttermohlen said Safelite’s technicians and customer service representatives have received a number of calls from interested consumers wondering what urethanes the company used in installation and if their installers were certified.

Richard Settles owner of Settles Glass, a retail and wholesale auto glass operation in Quincy, Mass., also noticed an immediate reaction from other auto glass installers. “Rubber glove sales went up the next day,” he said. “There was also a small rise in the sale of two-part urethanes. More glass companies decided to use better products for cold weather installations.”

Glass information services also noticed increased consumer inquiries in the wake of the report. The consumer information center at www.glass.com™ (maintained by Key Communications, publisher of AGRR) answered more than 3,000 questions in the two days following the television show. Additionally, Jim McFarlane, executive director of the Independent Glass Professionals Association of Spanaway, Wash., said there were more than 1,000 hits on his site and ten requests for videos about safe auto glass installations in the days following the report.

This kind of questioning was not the norm throughout the industry, however. A number of installers reported that they received sporadic inquiries, if any, from consumers about things like primers and drive-away times. “I don’t believe I had any special inquiries about it,” said Charlie Armfield of Western Windshield of Arizona in Flagstaff, Ariz.

“We have not had a person call about it, not even an insurance agent,” said Angelo Bruscato of Cardinal Auto Glass in Rockford, Ill.

Even those companies that did have a lot of inquires during the days following the show have seen them drop off now that 20/20 has gone on to other subjects. “This has blown over now,” said a shop owner who refused to be identified.

However, even if the consumer feedback has subsided, two questions still remain—did the piece actually have an effect on the industry’s safety standards, and how can safety-conscious installers use it to their advantage?

To ask whether the piece had a positive effect on the industry, one need look no further than the aforementioned unidentified shop owner. After watching the show, he not only bought more gloves for his installers to wear, but he also put an added emphasis on drive-away times. “We won’t put the windshield in if people just want to put it in the car and drive away,” he said.

“This has glass companies thinking,” said Settles. “This pointed out the deficiencies in the industry and was a wake-up call. It will probably have a salutatory effect on the quality of work that comes out of the industry.”

“It opens eyes to the fact that there are a lot of installations that people are not aware of,” Coyle said. “There are a lot of different techniques with different products.”

Even those companies that were featured thought the piece was well-intentioned. “I think the story was relevant,” said Harris. “It highlighted a concern, and we have to be responsive to that.”

However, Neal Golding of Keystone Auto Glass of Toledo, Ohio, is less optimistic in what he thinks the piece will do for the industry. “It is like any other 20/20 story,” he said. “It identifies one or two incidents and makes the world think they happen every day. The safety concerns in the industry are not new to anyone. We have been going to safety seminars for ten years.”

Bruscato agreed. “I don’t think it will make a difference,” he said. “The guys in the panel trucks cutting prices won’t change because of it. I don’t think talking for 15 minutes will expose what needs to be exposed.”

However, the difference this time may be that consumers know about the safety concerns in the industry. While many consumers have undoubtedly forgotten about 20/20’s 12-minute exposť, some shop owners in both repair and replacement are attempting to keep the segment fresh in the minds of both consumers and insurance companies.

One of these people is Dave Casey, president of Superglass Windshield Repair in Orlando, Fla., who is trying to sell repair as a safe option to replacement. “This is the first step in consumer education, that there is a difference in auto glass installation,” he said.

Casey would like to take the next step in educating the customer by telling them not to break the original seal on the windshield. One step in this process is the development of a logo that will feature a baby seal wearing a shirt that says “factory.” Under the icon will be the phrase, “Save your factory seal.”

Casey hopes the combination of the icon and the phrase will draw questions from prospective customers. When this happens, he will explain the importance of saving the factory seal in light of the 20/20 story.

Members of the replacement industry have also used the story to separate themselves as quality installers. Following the report, Settles put together a letter for the insurance industry explaining what his company does and how it does it. “We decided it was a good time to blow our own horn,” he said. “This does not mean we never make a mistake, but we do make an effort to certify our installers and use the proper product.”

McFarlane agrees with Casey, saying the segment provides the first step in awareness, but glass professionals need to take it a step further. “Within 72 hours, people will forget about it,” he said. “It is up to shops to get a copy of the 20/20 tape and run it in ads. They also need to brief their customer service reps about it.

“It is a tremendous opportunity, but it is up to the shop to take advantage of it. If they don’t, six months from now everyone will have forgotten about it, and we will be back where we started.”

Leslie Shaver serves as a contributing editor of AGRR magazine.

 

AGRR

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