September/October  2003

Repair Under Attack?

Repair Industry Reacts to Study Commissioned by IGA

by Penny Beverage

One evening in late July, the Independent Glass Association (IGA) sent out one of its usual "Beacon Bulletin Updates" via e-mail. The bulletin, bylined by IGA chief executive officer Tim Smale (and also available in expanded form on page 14), explained that the association had commissioned a study of windshield repair, which was conducted by Solutia Inc., a PVB manufacturer based in St. Louis. 

According to the IGA, the study shows that when moisture hits the PVB interlayer in a windshield, it softens the PVB and thus calls for a replacement (as a repair would leave the PVB soft and the windshield unsafe, according to the study). Smale admits that the study’s results are flawed in that only seven windshields were tested and under unrealistic conditions and that it is not statistically valid.

Legislative Action
In addition to sharing the results of the study with all of the association's members, Smale also sent a copy of the study to the Connecticut Auto and Flat Glass Licensing Board (CAFGLB), which reports to the Department of Consumer Protection in Connecticut and held a July 25 meeting (the day after the IGA released the study). The CAFGLB is considering how to develop a limited license for windshield repair technicians, to complement the license it has developed for auto glass installers (based on the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard) (see July/August 2003 AGRR, page 14, for related story). The Board merely reviewed the study at the July 26 meeting, but made no decision as to how it would proceed; further discussion will take place the Board's next meeting on September 26.

At that meeting, the National Windshield Repair Association (NWRA), which has taken this as a threat to its industry's entire existence, plans to refute the study with its own research. In the meantime, the two associations are going head to head on online industry message boards and via their own websites.

Just before press time, NWRA president Bill Batley issued his statement regarding the study, which is available on page 16.

In addition, the NWRA sent out a press release voicing its concerns for its segment of the auto glass industry. NWRA administrator Peg Stroka also posted the association's response on the IGA bulletin board.

"The [IGA] is attempting to use government regulatory agencies to reduce or eliminate windshield repair from the market:place,” asserts the NWRA. “The IGA, without any prior notice and without any consultation with the windshield repair industry,” developed and released a misleading, inaccurate, poorly designed study that denigrates windshield repair to government regulators in Connecticut.”

Smale, however, said he did contact several repair companies and the NWRA itself.

“I was told that any studies that have been performed regarding windshield repair safety from the various manufacturers and suppliers of windshield repair equipment are proprietary and could not be shared with me,” he said.

The Study's Merit
The IGA claims to be unbiased in its research, but readily admits its test was conducted by a PVB manufacturer that could have had a conflict of interest in its participation.

Walt Gorman, president of A-1 Windshield Doctor in Seekonk, Mass., and a member of the NWRA board of directors, though, said the question in point is a moot one.

“The chips [we fix], rarely, if ever, get down to the PVB, and one of the cardinal rules you teach people is you do not drill into [the PVB],” Gorman said.

However, IGA board president Kurt Muller, who also owns Auto Glass Express in Plainville, Conn., disagreed.

“It is my understanding that most damage does go down to the PVB,” Muller said.

Gorman said he thinks the study is an attempt to rid the industry of windshield repair so there will be more installation jobs to go around.

“Windshield repair isn’t going to go away, because the insurance companies like them, and they need the numbers,” he said.

One very large company that has advocated repairs is Columbus, Ohio-based Safelite Glass Corp. However, company spokesperson Dee Uttermohlen said at this time, the company is allowing the NWRA to speak for it.

“At this point in time, we have no statement other than to allow the NWRA to speak for the industry, which they have done very eloquently so far,” she said. “Repair certainly is a very important part of the industry.”

Auto Glass Specialists president Bob Birkhauser said he was contacted before the study was conducted, but with little time to respond. His company is based in Madison, Wis., and conducts both repairs and replacements, and owns a windshield repair company, AEGIS Tools LLC. In addition, the company is a member of both the IGA and NWRA.

He served on the original repair committee for the National Glass Association and was involved in a number of tests about this question.

“[The IGA is] tackling an old study that has been examined in detail before,” he said. “I would have been happy to share what we have found in the past.”

What is Safe?
The end question in the entire matter, though, is simple—is repair safe?

“To me, it's so ridiculous … There’s never been anyone hurt or sued because of windshield repair,” Gorman said.

Birkhauser agreed.

“I believe in both [repair and replacement], and I think they both have a place,” he said. “If anyone can show me conclusive evidence that windshield repair is unsafe, I'll be the first to either make it safer or get rid of it, but there have been lots of studies.”

However, Smale said he still believes the study—and possibily further testing— is merited.

“In this industry, repair safety issues are as relevant as replacement safety, and anything that relates to repair safety, from resin strength to PVB properties, should be investigated,” he said. 

Muller echoed Smale’s thoughts.

“It seems to me that [the NWRA] is coming from entirely the wrong perspective—if it is determined that moisture reaching the PVB presents a serious risk, does [the repair industry] want to continue?” he said. “My assumption is that [it] wouldn’t, and I hope I'm right about that.”

Whether the PVB is an issue or not, Birkhauser worries that the manner in which the study was conducted might harm the IGA’s reputation for the long term.

“My biggest concern with the way this was handles is the credibility of Tim and the IGA,” he said. “They had better be prepared for the fall-out if this study wasn't conducted well.”

 


Penny Beverage is the editor of AGRR.

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