When should you repair or replace a cracked windshield?

March 3, 2020

Learn how to decide when to repair or replace a cracked windshield


A woman with a cracked windshield that needs to be repaired or replaced

If you've been driving for any length of time, you probably know that sinking feeling that follows the crack of a rock bouncing off of your windshield. When you finally inspect the cracked windshield, one question inevitably comes to mind: Can I get this repaired or do I need to replace the whole thing? The answer may not be as straightforward as you would think! Today, we'll clear up those questions and more as we discuss when you should repair or replace a cracked windshield - read on!

Difference between a chipped and cracked windshield


Damage to your vehicle's windshield can come a variety of sources, but not all damage is the same. The damage caused by something like a small rock or something like an animal collision can have a very different impact (no pun intended) on your windshield and how you go about handling it. But before we talk about the types of damage, it's important to know how a windshield is put together.

Auto glass, or windshield glass, is sometimes referred to as "safety" glass. This is because it isn't actually a single piece, but rather two pieces with a laminated plastic layer in between. Should an object strike your windshield, this design causes it to break into much smaller pieces and prevents it from shattering into much larger, dangerous ones.

Windshield chips


A chip is a small blemish caused when an impact breaks away a portion of the glass layer. This can typically be repaired if it is small enough. However, if the chip is deep enough that it penetrates the inner layer of plastic, you may be looking at a replacement. While small chips on their own may not be a huge concern, they can often be the seed from which cracks grow.

Windshield cracks


Unlike a chip, a crack is distinct in that it is a line where a single piece of glass has begun to fully separate. While these can start off small, they can (and usually do) grow over time.

Whether the windshield is exposed to the hot rays of the sun or driving through frigid air, changes in temperature can cause it to expand and contract. If you have a crack in your windshield, this process can cause it to gradually spread.

Small particles of dirt can also find their way into the beginnings of a crack, which can eventually make it worse. If your windshield is cracked, putting a small piece of tape over it can be a temporary solution to prevent it from spreading.

Finally, the everyday stress your vehicle takes can make a crack worse. As you drive over speed bumps, potholes, and irregular roads, the impact travels through your entire vehicle. This repetitive stress can also cause the damage spread.

Apart from these two major groups, it's not uncommon to see a combination of the two and everything in between.

When to repair a chipped or cracked windshield


As you can imagine, repairing a cracked windshield is often cheaper than a complete replacement. An auto glass specialist's ability to repair damage depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of chip or crack, the size, the depth, the location, and the number of chips or cracks.

As a general rule of thumb, cracks that can fit beneath a dollar bill can usually be repaired. If a chip is small enough (usually under 2 inches) and shallow enough (usually under 3/8 of an inch), repairing it may be an option. On the more extreme end, it may be possible to repair chips up to 3 inches in diameter (depending on the type and shape of the chip) and cracks up to 14 inches.

The depth of the damage is also taken into consideration when determining if a windshield can be repaired. Remember, car windshields have an outer and inner layer of glass with a plastic layer in between. If the crack or chip is shallow enough and only penetrates a single layer of glass, it can probably be repaired. 

In certain situations, the placement of the damage may affect your ability to repair a crack or chip. Breakage that occurs in the middle of the windshield (away from the driver's side) can usually be repaired. 

With all of that in mind, the auto glass repair shop you visit may have certain limitations based on their technical capabilities. When a cracked windshield can be repaired, the process usually includes injecting a clear resin into the area in question. The resin is then cured and polished, which leaves a smooth, transparent finish and prevents the crack from spreading further. 

If damage can be repaired, it's best to do it as soon as possible. Even a small crack can eventually spread and force you to replace it.

When to replace a chipped or cracked windshield


There are certainly some instances where it becomes very obvious that your windshield needs to be replaced. For example, if a truck hauling bowling balls accidentally lets one loose and it punches a hole through your windshield, you'll need a new one.

But it isn't always as clear cut as the above example. Sometimes, much smaller cracks and even chips can require a new windshield to be installed. Generally speaking, you will need to replace your cracked windshield if:

The glass is tempered. As we have discussed, most windshields are a type of layered glass with a plastic layer in the middle called "laminated glass." Rather than shattering or breaking into fragments, laminated glass tends to hold together when damaged. However, side and rear windows are often tempered glass, which is made through a different process that causes glass to break into small, granular pieces when broken. Because it breaks in this fashion, replacement is the only real option.

The crack is too large. Although there are situations where longer cracks can be repaired, those that are longer than a dollar bill usually require replacement. Similarly, if a chip is larger than a quarter, the windshield needs to be replaced.

If the crack is too deep. Any chip or crack that penetrates both the outer and inner layer of a laminated windshield requires replacement. Even if the crack only penetrates the outer layer, this can often expose the plastic layer within, causing it to become discolored if left in the elements for too long. For this reason, you may actually want to replace the windshield even if repairing it is an option.

If there are too many cracks or chips. Generally, if you have 3 or more cracks anywhere on your windshield, you'll probably need to replace it. After they take a certain amount of damage, they begin to lose their ability to withstand further impacts.

If the crack is in a bad spot. Damage to the driver's side of the windshield usually requires a full replacement because repairs often leave at least some residual markings behind. Cracks that span from one edge to another can weaken its structural integrity, which usually means a replacement is needed.

Is it safe to drive with a cracked windshield?


No - regardless of the type, damage to a windshield is serious and should be addressed as soon as possible. Windshields may seem like a mundane safety feature, but they are an incredibly important one. A damaged windshield loses its ability to withstand the impact from a flying object and can become a serious visual obstruction. In fact, you can even fail your car inspection if the facility deems the obstruction bad enough.

While a small chip or crack may not seem like a big deal initially, they rarely stay that way. The more a crack or chip spreads, the weaker your windshield becomes, increasing the likelihood that it will fail completely and become a true driving hazard. 

Furthermore, your windshield plays a key role in providing safety in the event of a rollover because the force applied to the frame of the vehicle is partially transferred through the windshield. To illustrate, think of an aluminum soda can. If you press down on the top of it, the force is equally applied from top to bottom. However, if there is a dent in the side of the can, it buckles and crumples flat beneath the pressure. Similarly, a crack or chip in the windshield can become a weak point and compromise the vehicles structural integrity. 

Lastly, a cracked windshield can present serious problems when it comes to visibility. Not only do the cracks and chips themselves make it difficult to see if they are on the driver's side, they can cause light (both sunlight and headlights) to reflect in problematic ways. 

For all of these reasons, a chipped or cracked windshield should be repaired or replaced as soon as possible. As with most things in the world of automotive repair, the longer you wait, the more expensive it is likely to be.

Is it illegal to drive with cracked windshield in Texas?


Texas has no laws that require you to repair or replace a cracked windshield. However, there are laws that require a driver to maintain a windshield free of obstructions. This refers to things like stickers and tags, but also cracks and chips. 

Additionally, the law states that your windshield wipers must sit flush on the windshield. Although it is not always the case, cracks and chips can cause your wipers to sit unevenly or even snag. In either case, this can result in a driver's inability to adequately clear rain off of the windshield. 

A chipped or cracked windshield won't cause you to fail your inspection in Texas - unless it is deemed an obstruction. In such a case, your windshield would likely need to be repaired or replaced before it can pass the inspection.

Should I use a DIY kit to repair my cracked or chipped windshield?


If you're confident in your ability to repair a windshield yourself, there are kits you can purchase to do so. Many of them even include the same types of materials used by the professionals. However, not all kits are created equal, and the greatest advantage of using a professional for replacement is the expertise they bring to the table.

To the untrained eye, a cracked windshield that requires replacement may seem like a simple repair job. Driving with a windshield that was repaired when it really needed to be replaced is extremely unsafe and could lead to dangerous consequences.

If the DIY kit fails or the repair is unsuccessful, there's no going back - it has to be done right the first time. That's why it's always best to trust the job in the hands of a professional auto glass technician, like those at Safelite, who are experts at what they do. They have seen every crack and chip you can possibly imagine, and they know when a patch will suffice, and when it's time to get a new windshield.

Will insurance pay to repair or replace a cracked windshield?


While the cost of replacing your windshield depends on the make and model of your vehicle, it usually isn't a cheap process. As with most automotive repairs, insurance can ease the financial burden.

Most insurance companies provide windshield repair and replacement services for those with comprehensive insurance coverage (sometimes called Other Than Collision). However, some insurance companies may have a separate optional policy specifically for auto glass coverage.

In Texas, there are no laws regulating whether or not an insurance company has to provide no deductible windshield replacement. That doesn't mean that some insurance companies don't, however. In some cases, it is possible to reduce your deductible to $0 at the cost of a higher premium. If you are looking for no deductible windshield replacement in Texas, it is best to speak with your insurance agent for specific details.

Whether it's a single chip or an entire network of cracks, replacing and repairing your windshield is an essential step to ensuring you're safe on the road.  

An auto glass technician replacing a cracked windshield

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by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.