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October 13th, 2023 by Nathan Hobbs

Talking Windshield Protection

Understanding the Developments and Opportunities in Window Protection Film

Think about how you got your start in this industry. You may have been a car tinter who diversified to paint protection film (PPF) and eventually ceramic coatings. Maybe you even dabbled with color-change vinyl wraps.

With just a few product categories, you’re able to protect, style and enhance a vehicle’s glass and paint. Enter windshield protection film—the newest product that can be added to your portfolio of services easily.

Making an Impact

Most likely, your personal vehicle has experienced windshield damage from impact. You’re driving down the road at high speeds and some airborne pebble, kicked up from the car ahead, hits your windshield. Depending on the severity of the impact, your windshield may or may not crack right away. If not, a sudden temperature change could certainly force the issue. Either way, you’re left with a cracked windshield that must be addressed in the interest of safety and vehicular law compliance.

Fixing a cracked windshield is an expense and hassle. First, it may mean dealing with your insurance company and filing a claim. Second, it means paying a price of some kind—whether out of pocket or potentially an increased premium when your policy renews. Third, it means being without your car during the repair, even if the service provider comes to you.

Fourth, it may mean a trip to the dealership or a recalibration because your vehicle is equipped with an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS). Finally, you hope that the replacement windshield is OEM glass and that installation has been performed properly so that your new windshield doesn’t leak.

Given the frequency of windshield impact damage and the hassle and drawbacks of replacement, why not avoid the situation entirely if you can? That’s where windshield protection film (WPF) comes in.

WPF is a clear urethane or polyester film that is applied to the exterior of a windshield to help protect it from cracking due to impact. According to David Jensen, business development manager of Madico, the concept of WPF was first developed and patented in the early 2000s by ClearPlex Corporation. Jensen says, “ClearPlex was developed to provide a WPF product for the mass vehicle market (daily drivers, exotics, rental car fleets) with the intention to lessen the occurrence of windshield damage.”

Despite the product’s applicability to all passenger vehicles, initial demand was created by owners of exotic vehicles and supercars. Marissa Sheehan, senior territory manager of Exoshield, explains that the initial marketing and selling focus was to protect rarely-driven automobiles during transport and on the road.

“Daily driver windshields were still affordable; however, it wasn’t uncommon to see an imported vehicle like a Ferrari come with a $5,000-plus price tag for windshield replacement,” she says.

Wide Open Rallies produces driving events for the automotive enthusiast and exotic vehicle owner. Founding member and president Gregg Betonte has a special appreciation for windshield protection film.

“During an event, a Lamborghini suffered a broken windshield, and it’s $12,000 to repair that [glass]. What you’re purchasing with [windshield protection film] is peace of mind,” he says.

How it Works

So, how exactly does WPF work? When road rash hits an unprotected windshield, the object strikes the glass directly. With WPF installed, the object hits an insulating barrier (the film itself ) that helps to absorb the impact.

WPF has evolved over the past 20 years. “Original generations of WPF were manufactured of a four-mil, clear, PET-based film,” says Jensen. “Other variations such as two-ply constructions and those with solar control benefits have also been introduced.”

Alan Bray, president and CEO of Bray Group, adds that WPF manufacturers are constantly improving and expanding their product lineups to meet the evolving needs of drivers. (Editor’s note: the author’s company is a distributor of Bray Windshield Protection.)

“Ultimately, we’re providing a protective layer for windshields that requires scratch resistance and debris protection. Recognizing the importance of enhanced protection, Bray Group introduced a two-layer peel-away product, simplifying the replacement process while preserving the windshield’s structural integrity,” says Bray.

PET-based windshield protection films are similar to security window films and require heat shrinking to conform to the windshield’s curvature. This can be a difficult and time-consuming process limiting a consumer’s ability to find a service provider to perform the installation. “Companies have entered the market with the primary focus of launching a product that is easier to install,” says Jensen. To address this obstacle, some manufacturers have turned to urethane, the basic ingredient of paint protection film, as a solution.

Any PPF installer knows that PPF is stretched into place to conform to the curvature of a vehicle’s sheet metal. While PPF installation isn’t easy, it is possible thanks to the urethane’s conforming and stretchable nature. This conformability and stretchability mean that installing a urethane-based WPF is a much easier task than installing a polyester-based film.

“Urethane-based windshield films are 1,000% easier than polyester to install,” says Lawrence Williams, owner and founder of Tint Masters Window Tinting. “It literally can be done in 15 to 20 minutes.”

Like everything else in life, WPF is a trade-off. While urethane-based films may be easier to install than PET, mil for mil, they don’t offer the same impact protection.

“While both films offer protection, it is important to consider the specific characteristics of each material,” says Bray. “In terms of thickness, a 4-mil urethane film may not offer the same level of impact protection as a 4-mil PET film. Based on our testing in the field and in the laboratory, we have found that a 4-mil PET film performs similarly to a 6-8 mil urethane film in terms of impact protection.”

He continues, “The difference in performance can be attributed to the inherent properties of the materials. Urethane films are known for their flexibility and elasticity, allowing them to absorb impacts and distribute the force across the film’s surface. On the other hand, PET films are valued for their durability and high tensile strength. While thickness is one factor to consider, it is not the sole determinant of picking a windshield protection material. Other factors such as material composition, construction and specific product design can also affect the overall performance of a film.”

Apart from the development of easier-to-install films, demand for WPF has spiked in recent years due to the increase of on-board technology in daily drivers. “With the proliferation of ADAS systems over the last seven years into everyday cars, the WPF segment entered the mainstream, especially in areas where windshield damage was common,” says Sheehan. “Specialized glass, tight supply chains and ADAS calibration drove up the cost of windshield replacement, making a process that was once easy and affordable, painful and expensive.”

A Cost Analysis

The cost-benefit analysis between windshield protection film and windshield replacement is clear. Jensen says that according to a 2018 Mitchell Report, the average cost of replacing an OEM windshield with ADAS functionality is $1,300-$1,650. “The increased cost of windshield replacement is the factor that is most responsible for driving demand in windshield protection,” he adds. “At the rates cited in the Mitchell Report, WPF can be installed for ¼ to 1/3 the cost of an average windshield replacement. This means that WPF is now seen as a cost-saving product that offers a real value proposition to a driver of any vehicle type or brand.”

Sheehan agrees. “Some of the biggest reasons for the increase in demand for windshield protection include the rising cost of windshield replacement on newer vehicles.”

Skeptics of the cost-benefit analysis cite rules and regulations from states like South Carolina, which offer motorists windshield replacement without out-of-pocket costs. According to a South Carolina government website (https://www.doi.sc.gov), “if an insured [motorist] has comprehensive coverage on their auto policy, in accordance with South Carolina law (SC Code Code of Laws Section § 38-77-280(B)), the deductible for glass coverage is waived.”

While that sounds great on the surface, filing a windshield claim using the framework of these types of laws is not always without future risk.

“Arizona is now one of Exoshield’s highest adoption states, and it’s one of the six states that mandate glass coverage for personally insured vehicles,” says Sheehan. “When we spoke to our partners, many of whom are involved in glass repair and replacement, they told us that some of their customers are receiving cancellation notices from their insurers, who are citing that they are an ‘at-risk’ driver after making multiple windshield replacement claims in a year. When these consumers go to find a new insurer, the windshield protection claims are counting against them and causing high premiums.”

Increased demand among daily drivers along with ease of installation of next-generation products mean that WPF has become an attractive and profitable add-on service for the PPF and tint installer for multiple reasons. First, a film dealer has a built-in customer base – one looking to protect and preserve their vehicles.

“[Our dealers’] customers are already in a protection mindset and not offering a windshield protection solution is leaving a large portion of the vehicle at risk of damage,” says Sheehan. “And a dealer likely has everything needed to complete a WPF installation.”

Jensen shares a similar perspective. “The skillset of installing automotive window film will directly translate to WPF. This means integrating WPF in a tint/PPF business should be relatively efficient and straight forward.”

The Profit Story

Second, and perhaps most important, is the profit story. Using a selling price of $500 to the customer and factoring material cost of up to $200, that’s an average profit of $300 per windshield, excluding labor. With an average installation time of 20 minutes, that translates into $900 an hour. What other film category can earn a dealer an hourly profit similar to that of a high-powered attorney?

Selling WPF requires a thorough explanation to the customer of what it is and what it isn’t. That’s because, unlike tint or PPF, windshield film is installed on the outside of glass. That means the film is subjected to extreme weather conditions and windshield wiper haze caused by trapped dirt and debris. And unlike PPF which is also installed on the outside, WPF is installed on glass, which means the driver is constantly looking through the film instead of at it. Consequently, WPF is temporary and will need to be replaced over time to ensure visibility through the windshield.

“The best way [to describe WPF] to the end-user is saying it’s like an automotive grade screen protector for your windshield,” says Sheehan. “It’s a phone screen protector, WPF is a sacrificial layer. It takes on the sandblasting, scratching and pitting that our windshields would, in addition to reducing the frequency or severity of windshield damage from rocks and debris.”

Jensen stresses the importance of end-users following the manufacturer’s after care instructions.

“The installer must advise the end-user that not following manufacturer guidance on after care will directly impact film longevity. End-users must understand and acknowledge this aspect of WPF,” he says. “Also, they must understand and acknowledge how environmental factors such as exposure to UV, dirt and sand can also impact the film’s performance and longevity. Engaging in all these things will ensure the end-user is properly informed and educated on their WPF purchase.”

The Bottom Line

WPF is an emerging segment of our industry, surging in interest because of the increased demand for the product among daily drivers and because of how profitable each installation can be. And like any new product or service, there is a learning curve, both in terms of installation, selling and marketing. Next generation urethane films are making installation easy with an average installation time of 20 minutes. To make sure end-users’ expectations are met, it’s vital to explain what WPF is and isn’t. It’s temporary protection that’s meant to reduce the likelihood of damage
to windshields ever-increasing in replacement costs due to advancements in vehicle technology such as auto pilot, lane departure and other assistance systems.

Manny Hondroulis is the vice president of Energy Products Distribution in Baltimore.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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