Auto Window Replacement

Auto window replacement can be done by a novice using some basic hand tools and a little patience and common sense.  I highly recommend consulting a factory service manual, Haynes or Chiltons manual, or ALLDATAdiy if you haven’t done it before.  The right information that is specific to your particular vehicle can save you a lot of time and hassle, and possibly even some broken parts if you get a little careless and try to remove something the wrong way by force.

There are different procedures to use if you are replacing a fixed glass with a frame or a fixed glass without a frame.
For a fixed glass with a frame, it is just a matter of figuring out what parts you need to remove in order to get to the fasteners and allow the whole unit to be removed, and then putting it all back together with the new or used auto glass.  This is where nothing beats factory service information, because it may not be obvious how the glass is attached or where the fasteners are at first glance.

For most auto window replacements you will only need some basic hand tools, such as screwdrivers, pliers, and possibly a 1/4″ ratchet and socket set, nutdrivers, or combination wrenches.  If the fixed glass is in a door, the door panel will need to be removed.  Although not absolutely necessary, there are a few inexpensive tools that will make it easier to remove the door panel without damaging it or the attaching clips.  A set of nylon pry tools like these is one of the best tool investments I ever made – they come in handy for so many different things!

Once you have the broken car window removed, use a vacuum to remove any broken glass from inside the door panel or interior of the car.  If the replacement glass did not come with a seal, take a close look at the old seal.  The seal may be fine, but it is safer to just go ahead and replace it if the car is more than just a few years old.  After that, as the manuals all say, installation is the reverse of removal!  Replace car window and put everything back together.

If you need to replace car glass that is not set in a frame, then you will basically have to “cut” it out of the car.  This type of auto window replacement is a little more involved and requires a few inexpensive tools that are not usually found in a common tool collection.  You will need a piece of piano wire to use as a saw, and a couple of inexpensive suction cup handles to be able to lift out the old glass and place the new glass into position without touching the edges of the glass.

First, you will need to remove any molding that goes around the window.  The molding can be attached in several different ways.  It may be glued on, attached with some sort of clips, or may just be pushed onto a lip on the car body.  This is another place where the factory service information comes in handy!

If the glass is flush-mounted with the exterior surface of the body, there may not be any molding to remove.  You also may need to remove a trim panel or two inside the car.  To cut out the old glass, first apply tape on the car body all the way around the broken car window to protect the paint.  Next, use an awl to make a hole through the adhesive between the window and the body.  Then push a piece of piano wire through the hole, and use a sawing motion to cut the adhesive all the way around the window.

If you can’t reach both ends of the piano wire at the same time, get a helper to work on the outside while you work inside the car.  Once you have sawn through the adhesive all the way around the window, you will use the suction cup handles to lift the broken car window away from the car body.


Then comes the most tedious part of an auto window replacement: removing all the old adhesive from the car body!  Some service manuals instruct you to leave a thin layer of the old adhesive in place and just smooth it out, but if it is an older vehicle that may not be wise.  Once you have removed the old adhesive (or smoothed it out), clean the surfaces thoroughly with rubbing alcohol or the cleaner specified by the new adhesive instructions.

Next, you will need to prep both the glass surface and the surface that the new adhesive contacts.  There are different procedures depending on the type of new adhesive you are using.  There may be a specific primer that needs to be applied to the old adhesive, and a different primer that goes on the glass.  Follow the instructions that come with the new adhesive and/or your factory service manual, including observing any curing time that is specified.  Be very careful not to touch any of the bonding surfaces with your hands, or you could compromise the integrity of the new seal!

Once you have prepped both surfaces, apply a consistent bead of adhesive around the edge of the glass as instructed by the service manual and/or the instructions for the adhesive.  They may instruct you to make the bead slightly larger in any corner areas.

Once the new adhesive has been applied, use the suction cup handles again to place the new glass into position.  Lightly press the glass evenly into the adhesive until it is fully seated all the way around.  Let the adhesive dry undisturbed for several hours according to the adhesive instructions, and then be careful not to slam the doors and avoid driving on any excessively rough roads for several days until the adhesive has had time to cure and fully bond with both surfaces.
Automotive window replacement can certainly be done by a novice that hasn’t done any car window replacements before, but some jobs are certainly easier than others!  Replacing car windows isn’t for everybody, and that is why there are businesses that specialize in auto window repair.  If the above procedures sound overwhelming, it may be best to leave your auto window replacement to a professional.

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