Seeing Clearly: Auto Glass Restoration Tips

You love old cars. The distinct smell of the interior, the grip of the steering wheel, the look of the vintage dash. One factor that can really turn you off though is the condition of the glass. Maybe it’s scratched up, with weird deposits on the surface, or spots of it are faded and dull. Sure, with this winter’s forecast, about all you’ll be doing is sitting in the front seat pretending to drive. But it would still be nice to walk into the garage and see the lights reflecting off that windshield as if it were brand new. That’s when quality auto glass restoration gets added to your list of “New Skills to Acquire.”

Clean Away Crud

One of the most common (and annoying) characteristics of old auto glass is surface buildup. Calcium deposits, hard water spots, and other troublesome accumulation will appear on glass over time. Addressing these issues is fairly easy and a great place to start if you’re new to auto glass restoration. Surprisingly, the same ingredient your grandma likes to use around her house is also ideal for auto glass: White Vinegar.

Use your traditional industry-approved cleaner, like those offered by Meguiars, 3M, or Stoner Invisible Glass, to remove the usual dirt and grime. Then saturate the remaining hard water spots with white vinegar by laying a soaked towel or sponge over them. Give the acetic acid in the vinegar some time to work its magic and remember you may need to repeat the process a few times.

Really stubborn buildups may not be so easily addressed. If you’re having an issue with hard calcium deposits or other problematic buildups you can lean on steel wool. While tempered windshield glass is actually harder than steel wool, you should still begin with the finest grade you can find—0000—to avoid scratching up the surface. Find the sweet spot between gentle scrubbing and effective elbow grease, and remember to use fresh steel wool. Once it gets wet, it begins to rust.

Buff Out Scratches

Speaking of scratches, old vehicles may have accumulated enough on their old glass to drive you nuts. Whether it sat unloved in a shop or experienced some unfortunate accidents over time, you’re bound to find quite a few. Proper auto glass restoration approaches will scratch with power tools. Glass is tough, but heavy cutting compounds are available specifically for tackling this issue.

To tackle scratches, you will need a buffer and the proper pads dedicated to this purpose. Consider a glass scratch repair kit, like those offered by Eastwood Company. Depending on your needs, you could be looking at a $50-$75 investment (not including the power drill). With the right materials, some patience, and a steady hand, this is definitely something you can do at home. If you’re particularly nervous about maximizing damage, you can always do a test run on an old piece of scratched glass until you feel confident you’ve got the method down pat.

Admittedly, chips are more difficult, but can be dealt with if they aren’t too deep or located smack dab in the driver’s field of vision. However, in this case, professional help will always yield the best results.

Polish Up Fades

With power tools in mind, we should discuss how auto glass restoration tackles a faded and dull appearance. Over time, widespread areas of glass can begin to lose clarity. And frankly, addressing that by hand would be a major pain. Luckily, many auto care companies offer glass polishing kits in addition to scratch repair packs.

Begin by cleaning the glass—try out those tips we mentioned above—to remove the surface dirt and grime. Then use the soft felt pads and polish, attached to a rotary sander tool, to buff out any road film that has adhered to the glass. Go easy, moving in a back-and-forth and then up-and-down motion, stopping once the polish begins to dry. Buff out any remaining streaks and residue by hand with a lint-free cloth. And remember to preserve your hard work by applying a glass sealant like Rain-X or Pinnacle GlassCoat.

Keep in mind: Look closely at faded glass on an older vehicle. Safety glass uses a laminate-fill that lives between the panes of glass. Over time, this laminate can deteriorate and give the glass a faded look. Once this happens, a DIY fix is no longer an option and the sheet of glass will need to be replaced.

The Point of No Return

Unfortunately, sometimes auto glass restoration isn’t an option. Deteriorated laminate, serious cracks, deep scratches, and heavy chips all warrant replacement. Replacing auto glass is something you can approach on your own, but windshields can prove to be extremely tricky. And do you really want to take a chance on such an important part of your vehicle? You can always opt to replace the glass on your own, but generally this is a task you’re better off seeking professional help with. It may be an expense up front but a perfect seal is well worth the investment.

Auto glass restoration is a skill that comes with practice and without a professional hand to guide you, the results can sometimes be less-than-ideal. On a project car or a beater, you can usually afford to make a few mistakes. But for a high-dollar ride or true show car, we definitely recommend seeking help from the pros. It’s nothing to be ashamed of—and when you’re driving down the road with a clear line of sight, you’ll be happy you did it.

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