Windshield insuranceInsurers are often willing to cover glass repairs, and for good reason.

The windshield is one of your car’s primary safety features, right up there with seat belts and air bags. If you notice a ding – or worse, a long crack -it’s worth taking a few minutes to call your insurer.

Your car insurance company will likely be happy to pick up the tab for repairs just to prevent the break from getting worse, which it will. As David Erwin, director of repair services at Safelite AutoGlass, wryly notes, “It’s broken glass.”

That said, be wary of anyone pitching a cheap repair. Anytime work is directly reimbursed by insurance companies, it’s an opportunity for fraud. Today, the news is peppered with accounts of fly-by-night operators doing shoddy work and submitting fake–and high-ticket–bills to insurers.

When the industry pulled 19 cars off the road for its national windshield-replacement competition this year, four of those cars–a whopping 20 percent–had windshields that had been improperly installed previously, says Debra Levy, president of the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standards Council.

“It’s always been kind of a wonderment and a concern that many people will take a lot of time to decide where to get their brakes replaced, but nobody will give a second thought as to where to get their glass replaced,” says Levy. “And in reality they’re both important safety features of the car.”

A windshield is more than a looking glass

The first car windshields were called windscreens, designed to keep wind and bugs off passengers, Levy says. Today they are much more. Considered a primary safety feature in any automobile, today’s windshields are designed to:

  • Protect occupants in a rollover: A windshield is akin to a load-bearing wall in a house. If it doesn’t remain firmly in place, the roof will collapse under its own weight, injuring or killing those inside.
  • Keep passengers inside the vehicle: In a crash, it’s almost always best not to be ejected. An intact and properly installed windshield not only keeps people in, it also keeps road and crash debris out. According to Safelite, damaged glass is 60 percent to 70 percent weaker than intact glass.
  • Cushion the passenger air bag: Air bags deploy with extreme force. The passenger’s front air bag strikes the windshield first. If the windshield comes unmoored, or the glass is weak, the passenger is left unprotected. “In many cases the entire passenger air bag system will not work without a windshield that is properly installed,” says Levy.
  • Ensure visibility: Cheap or chipped glass can distort optics, shatter under the stress of normal driving vibration or temperature variation, and impair wiper blades.

    Send your insurance company the bill

    You shouldn’t be penalized for calling your insurance company and having the windshield either repaired or replaced. If the damage is due to rocks or other unpreventable hazards of the road, it is considered no-fault damage under your comprehensive coverage and shouldn’t affect your car insurance rates, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

    The same should apply if the cause is vandalism, unless auto insurance claims are frequent or severe.

    The insurance company will decide whether the damage warrants full replacement. Typically, this will be the case if the crack or ding is large or directly in front of the driver. If it can be repaired, many insurers will pay for the repair with no deductible as long as the owner has comprehensive coverage.

    If the windshield needs to be replaced, insurers will also cover the cost, usually upward of $300. But in most states you’ll have to pay the deductible on your comprehensive coverage.

    Recognizing the safety value of windshields, three states — Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina — require that insurers waive the deductible for replacement. Kentucky and South Carolina even extend the law to all the windows in the auto. Massachusetts law also waives the deductible unless customers have opted for a $100 glass deductible to save money on their comprehensive coverage. (If you didn’t opt in, you pay zero deductible.) Some states, such as Arizona and Minnesota, require that insurance companies offer zero-deductible glass endorsements to customers who have comprehensive coverage.

    If you don’t live in one of these zero-deductible states, check whether your insurer offers a separate deductible for glass repair or replacement.

    Protect yourself from insurance fraud

    Levy estimates that some 12 million pieces of auto glass are replaced every year in this country alone. It’s big business. And the fact that insurance pays makes it a goldmine.

    Enterprising entrepreneurs can be seen outside gas stations and car washes pitching goodies in exchange for being allowed to get to work on your windshield. Some even go door-to-door. But some are shady: One woman on commission for referrals was caught breaking the would-be customer’s windshield first.

    But just because a gas station attendant points out a dangerous crack in your windshield and recommends a repair shop doesn’t mean a scam is in the air. After all, it’s a safety issue, and most established shops are honest.

    Just be on guard, say experts.

    • Be wary of those who approach you, particularly if they’re offering rebates.
    • Call your insurer before undertaking repairs. Ask the insurance company to recommend a glass repair company.
    • Use only technicians or companies with a verifiable physical address. If they’ve only got a van and a post office box, you may not be able to find them later.
    • Ensure that all work is guaranteed with a written warranty.
    • “First and foremost–to prevent fraud, to prevent any kind of risk to yourself–check with your insurance company,” says Frank Scafidi, of the National Insurance Crime Bureau. “At least then you’ve got some recourse if something does go wrong . . . let them argue on your behalf.”