Ever confront a tragedy in the making? What is the correct thing to do when witnessing a crime? What can one do to stop it from re-occurring?
I had that internal discussion last Friday when I came upon a windshield installation that was being conducted at a dealership. How it was being performed was a textbook case of hacking in the first degree. The sad part was the ultimate victim would be completely unaware of what had occurred and the perpetrator got away to commit his crimes again and again.
Here are the facts regarding this incident. I drove into a local Acura dealership to help a friend set a RDX for the service department. When entering the property, I saw what I thought was the tailgate section of his parked silver Tacoma pickup. As I approached, it became clear that the truck lacked my friend’s signage and side boxes. The bed contained a single lite in a makeshift rack and a large roll of generic molding. A call then came into my phone telling me that my buddy was in the back part of service and told me of his exact location.
Robert had not gotten too far. He had the cowl pulled and was removing the post moldings when I found him. In a well-choreographed division of labor, I started to inspect and prep the new glass until he was ready to remove the old one. Ten minutes or so later, as we were lifting the distorted lite out when the truck I saw earlier, pulled about 30 feet away next to a TL (FW 2452), a man got out and lifted the wipers up. That was the first clue that what I was going to witness would not make me proud of my tradecraft.
I stayed and helped my friend for about 20-30 minutes more until I went on to my own jobs. Within that time, I observed the following acts that confirmed that a “hack-o-meter” would be sounding proximity alarms, if one existed. The cowl was not removed; a long knife was used to both cut and remove urethane; no pinchweld primer was applied; and the inside of glass was washed as it stood in truck rack. No gloves were ever used. As I drove off, the person was working the glass under the cowl while using a single suction cup. As I sat in my truck while punching in directions to my install, if the law allowed, I wish I could have physically challenged him and stopped him, or at least, perform a citizen’s arrest and confiscate the minimal means he had to function as a hack installer. I simply refuse to label him as a technician.
The only back story is that this person is known to the newly appointed service manager. Whether the car was in reconditioning for resale or as a customer pay, this alleged install foisted on this vehicle and its soon-to-be or actual owner was unconscionable.
While unforgivable, this deplorable type of install that I observed is hardly uncommon. When I come in contact with a previously replaced windshields, I could easily state that at least 75 percent of these have incurred some sort of structural damage or decline due to an earlier glass replacement. Light surface rust, in my drought-stricken California is usually prevalent. The application of ‘liquid clips” to secure moldings is oftentimes an obstacle one has to overcome. Filleted moldings or inadequate generic ones are hardly uncommon. Incomplete or inadequate urethane bonding is fairly obvious. Why is doing one’s livelihood correctly and professionally become so difficult or even problematic?
The automotive glass industry is on a very slippery slope. We are in danger of being overwhelmed by the barbarians that have been allowed to operate by a lack of regulation and a “buyer beware” mentality that is pervasive in our society. Our industry lacks oversight nor does it seem to demand or accept any.
I do not have to go any further then the door of my glass distributors to find the hacks that operate openly and freely. While I have issues with businesses that market themselves solely on price, more times than not, one finds that a customer truly gets what he pays for when it comes to automotive glass. If cheap is what they want, than that is certainly what they get—cheap glass, adhesives and workmanship, all of the lower or even lowest quality. Never have I ever seen an abundance of tools, high-quality urethanes or OE glass and moldings on the mini trucks or vans that ply the freeways or parking lots in my area.
How many accounts or jobs have been lost by legitimate glass shops to concerns that have undercut their pricing? Legitimate means those who pay wages, insurance and proper taxes. How many of those low bidders exist legally? Or carry liability insurance? If an organization has more than one sole installer, what about workman’s compensation and payroll taxes? I am seeing more and more sub-vendors that have a relationship with cyber glass shops or websites. In these cases, they are paid a nominal flat labor fee to install a windshield from a lead generated by an out-of-town glass shop or ad click service. Some are given both glass and adhesives from their proxy shops. Since the labor fees are usually subsistent, quality workmanship is usually the first casualty.
This drains the resources and profitability of shops who value quality. By allowing hacks to contaminate our industry, we are putting both the public at risk and our own livelihoods. The sad fact is that there is an unwillingness to seek regulatory constraints or to somehow cull the worst offenders in the AGRR industry. Why would a glass manufacturer or wholesaler try to cut the number of sales they could make by calling for the removal of incompetent or illegal customers? Would a third-party administrator (TPA) demand stringent certification and high-limit liability insurance over negotiating deeper discounts from the same vendors? Furthermore, we, in AGRR, play into the hands of our largest competitor who promotes its technician’s training and employee character via the media over smaller companies—the unknown local glass purveyors—that may prey upon potential clients. That alone can create a bad dream or two.
This writer is truly tired of having nightmares that “Freddy the hack” is becoming the ugly face of today’s automotive glass industry. I see it more and more each day and most worrisome is the complete lack of concern by many within our industry. How we can police ourselves or be policed is the $64,000 question that has to be addressed and answered some day, hopefully sooner rather than later. If we continue to bury our collective heads in the sand, it will be our own necks that get hacked, as well as more unfortunate windshields.