OEM vs Aftermarket Windshield Replacement


Windshield failure can happen to anyone; however, it’s not always the loud, somewhat terrifying affair you might expect. Sure, a random piece of debris can be kicked up and ricochet off of your windshield causing a crack to form right then and there, but even if that nasty rock only takes a chip out of the glass, it can spread out into a crack over time. Even the constant heating and cooling of the glass in winter can cause those small, innocent-looking chips to turn into a massive crack across the entire glass that seems like it comes out of nowhere.

After the initial shock and head scratching over how you got that lovely crack in your windshield wears off, you still have to deal with the headache of going about replacing it.

As with any replacement part on your vehicle, there are truly a plethora of options from different manufacturers, which opens up a world of confusion (it can’t just be us that feels this way...). As people who think about windshields all day, every day, we know a little bit about this topic, so let us take you through the ins and outs of making the best choice for you when it comes to windshield replacement. After all, the windshield is a key safety feature and makes up as much as 60 percent of your vehicle’s cabin strength in an accident, so let’s get you the good stuff!

Now, before we get started, here’s fair warning that we’ll be using a few different industry terms throughout this post that you may not have heard, but would be helpful to know so that you can sound like a real expert when you talk to your glass repair guy (or gal). So before we get into it, here’s a run down of some of the terms you’ll see:

Industry Lingo:

OE Windshield - Original Equipment: This the original windshield that’s been specifically built for your vehicle from the factory.

OEM Windshield - Original Equipment Manufacturer: A replacement windshield that’s fabricated to all the same specifications as your OE windshield by an OE supplier.

OEE Windshield - Original Equipment Equivalent: A cheaper replacement windshield made by reverse engineering an OE or OEM windshield to get close to original specifications.

ARG Windshield - Aftermarket Replacement Glass: An alternate and commonly used name for an OEE windshield.

ADAS - Advanced Driver Assist System: Safety systems installed by the automaker that rely on cameras and sensors on your vehicle to help prevent accidents (i.e. emergency brake assist, lane departure warning).

What is an OEM Windshield?

Technically speaking, the only OE (Original Equipment) glass that your vehicle will ever have is the one it comes with from the factory. A replacement windshield from the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) is what makes that windshield an OEM replacement.

Though it is a replacement, an OEM windshield is often made at the same time as the OE glass destined for brand-new cars and then put aside specifically for replacement purposes. Since they're usually made at the same time, OEM windshields carry exactly the same stringent quality control standards the manufacturer of your vehicle has asked the glass manufacturer to meet. This means that when a replacement is needed, you’ll be getting a windshield that ensures a perfect fit and matching thickness, as well as all the embedded technology that your vehicle rolled off the assembly line with.

Windshield glass manufacturers will do more production runs of replacement glass to meet demand, and even though they aren’t produced in the same batch as the OE windshields, the windshields produced in subsequent runs are virtually the same, as the OEM is able to draw from the saved production data to exactly replicate the original product. Automakers change their contracts with glass suppliers as often as every year, so it’s highly likely that your OEM windshield will be made by a different OE supplier. This doesn’t diminish the quality of the replacement, as the new supplier will have access to the same production specifications as the OE manufacturer.

If an OEM does deliver a replacement product that is not the same as what was provided as OE, it could cost them their contracts with any automakers they currently supply or will supply, so quality control is taken extremely seriously.

Should I buy an OEM Windshield?

Besides the obvious upsides of a replacement with perfect fitment, if you have a more modern car, OEM windshield replacement may be your best (or only) option. More and more automakers are recommending that in the event of windshield replacement you should go for OEM, unless you’re okay with losing your vehicle’s warranty.

We know what you're thinking, but this actually isn’t just a ploy to get you to spend more money at your dealership visit; it’s meant to preserve the functionality of their Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS). If your car has features like assisted emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, or forward collision warning, you have at least one camera and a few sensors just behind your windshield that enable your vehicle to use these ADAS benefits. In the event of a windshield replacement, those cameras and sensors will need to be recalibrated and possibly replaced, which adds another service to be performed by the shop and more dollar signs added to your invoice.

Glass clarity is also imperative when replacing the windshield on a vehicle equipped with ADAS. Since OEM replacement windshields carry the exact same spec as your outgoing glass, there won’t be any changes in the glass itself that the ADAS will have to wrestle with, keeping you and other drivers safer on the roads.

Really, the only con of going with OEM replacement glass is the cost, especially when dealing with modern vehicle systems. If you’d like to know even more about ADAS and the windshield replacement costs associated, we've got you covered - check out this post of ours on the subject right here.

What is an Aftermarket Windshield?

Aftermarket windshields can go by a few names, but the most used in the industry are ARG (Aftermarket Replacement Glass) and OEE (Original Equipment Equivalent). The latter is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s not necessarily true. While glass fabrication safety standards are government regulated, making it impossible to buy a replacement windshield that is “unsafe,” it’s the way OEE windshields are manufactured that can make getting replacement glass that shares the same specifications as the panel you’re replacing a bit of a gamble.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, OEM glass is made to specifications set by the automaker so the quality is top notch, usually resulting in glass that exceeds federal safety standards. For confidential and copyright reasons, these specs aren’t shared beyond automakers and OE windshield suppliers, which leaves ARG manufacturers to start at square one. Instead of being able to pull from production data, aftermarket suppliers need to get their hands on OE or OEM glass and reverse engineer it by taking their own measurements. As you can imagine, this can result in important aspects of the glass being off, like thickness, clarity, and fitment. ARG suppliers only need to meet product standards, not exceed them, and as such, they can cut down on labour costs associated with quality control during fabrication.  

Depending on the cost cutting methods the manufacturer has employed to make their replacement windshield a more attractive price to the customer, you could also be missing out on certain luxuries that your original glass had, like anti-glare and hydrophobic properties, as well as cheaper or inferior electronics being used, which could play havoc with your vehicle’s features that involve the windshield. This is also why you've likely heard such mixed opinions about aftermarket glass!

Should I Buy an Aftermarket Windshield?

As harsh as we’ve been about how OEE windshields are made compared to OEM, they absolutely do have their place in the market. Windshield replacement can be incredibly expensive these days, and the largest draw of an aftermarket windshield is cost. Windshield replacements using OEM glass can be over the $1,500 mark, depending on your make and model. Opting for an aftermarket offering could save you hundreds of dollars, especially if you don’t have windshield replacement coverage through your insurance (which unfortunately a lot of us don't - yikes!).

Another great reason to go with OEE could be the age of your vehicle. For some older makes and models ARG may be your only replacement option if the OEM supply has run dry. Vehicle age should also be considered when compared to the number one reason for OEM replacement: ADAS. Owners of older vehicles that aren’t equipped with ADAS won’t have to worry about system functionality or losing their warranty when getting ARG installed, so if there's no noticeable difference in the glass quality, it could make sense to save some of that cash for something a little more exciting than a new windshield.

Another bonus is that since OE production doesn’t need to be followed to a T, ARG can come with gradient sun strips or other nice-to-haves that weren’t present on the factory glass.

We highlighted earlier that your windshield is a key safety feature of your vehicle, and as is the case with anything related to safety, it’s generally not a good idea to cheap out. Remember that ARG manufacturers can cut corners on their windshields to drive their prices down, and they do that by reducing quality control and removing creature comforts from their final product. If you go for the cheapest windshield you can find, is the money you saved really worth having a replacement that produces horrible reflections, wind noise, and is so thin that it’s likely to crack again anyway? Cheap, ill-fitting replacement glass could also end up costing you more during the installation process, as your installer may have to take more time to massage it into place for good fitment.

Spending the money the first time will ensure you get a windshield replacement that will still make your car a pleasure to drive, while giving you peace of mind that it will do its job in the event of an accident, so aim higher when considering an OEE windshield replacement.

How to Tell If Your Windshield is OEM or Aftermarket

On every windshield, there’s a stamp or monogram on the lower corner that contains information about the windshield you have currently installed on your vehicle.

If your stamp has the name or emblem of your vehicle’s manufacturer on the top line, this can mean that this is your OE windshield or it has been replaced by a dealer with branded OEM glass. Under that line is sometimes where the name of the glass manufacturer is located.

If the glass manufacturer is the top line and there is nothing denoting your automaker, this means your glass has been replaced with either OEM or OEE glass.

If the manufacturer is unlisted and you’d like to check which one made your windshield, you can actually reference the DOT number portion of the stamp to see exactly which manufacturer made your glass and where in the world it was produced. Typing “DOT-” followed by the two to four digits afterward into Google can give you those answers pretty quickly, as well as uncover what type of windshield supplier they are.

On top of that, there should also be an “AS” marking on the stamp that’s followed by one number. AS1 denotes that the glass on your vehicle has passed all safety requirements needed to be used on the road. Alternatively, if your stamp has an AS2 rating, that means that the glass has not passed all impact tests, while an AS3 rating means that it’s “privacy glass” and has been tinted darker. In the US, AS1 is the only glass rating allowed to be installed and used on the roads, while other parts of the world will allow AS2 and AS3 for use. If you see an AS2 rating where an AS1 should be on your replacement glass, we’d suggest you start asking some questions and looking for a new installer!

The Verdict & What To Do Next...

While you ultimately have to make the choice that's best for you, your car, and your bank account, here are a few recommendations:

If your vehicle is on the newer end and comes with a lot of the ADAS features that are present in most modern cars, we do highly recommend an OEM windshield if possible. This will be the best experience for you in terms of both visibility and sensor functionality.

On the other hand, if you're vehicle is a little older (pre-2010) and you're not one to be bothered by minor imperfections, aftermarket glass may be a great way to save some money. Keep in mind that if you do choose the aftermarket route, we highly suggest looking for reviews of the glass manufacturer and talking to a trusted glass repair shop to make sure that it's something they recommend!

Ok so you've made your choice - what now?!

When your pride and joy is finally back home with a new, professionally-installed windshield gleaming in the sun, you’ll probably take a look back at your windshield replacement journey and think, “I definitely don’t want to do that again.” As enthusiasts ourselves, we totally get that, so we’d like to drastically improve your chances of keeping that windshield looking like new.

ExoShield GT3 is a layered windshield protection film that combines a flexible, shock-absorbing layer with a proprietary nanoceramic hardcoat to deliver six times the impact resistance of a conventional windshield. If you’d like to avoid the nightmare of finding vendors, choosing the right glass, being without your vehicle, and a possibly substantial repair bill at the end of it all, we’re your best bet in never starting that process.

Want to know more about how windshield protection films work and what’s right for you? Check our our guide to choosing windshield protection right here. If you’re ready to take the next step in protecting your vehicle, you can easily find an ExoShield installer near you with our Installer Map.

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