Having to deal with a broken car window is always a pain, but if you own a car, chances are that sooner or later, you will find yourself in that annoying situation. Whether it was a person that broke it, bad weather, or the cause was an accident, the consequence is always the same: an arduous visit to the repair shop. Of course, you won’t always be able to get your car to the mechanic on short notice. So, here’s a comprehensive guide on how to cover a broken car window until it can be properly fixed.
Why You Will Want to Cover a Broken Car Window
Having an ugly opening that you can’t close on the side of your car is a nightmare for most drivers. However, that is not the only reason for you to want to cover it. Aside from not being easy on the eyes, a broken car window can lead to plenty of other issues.
For one, it can be a huge security hazard. A vehicle with compromised integrity will be both easier to break in and more inviting to thieves and carjackers. A temporary cover won’t solve the problem completely, but it will help, especially if it is attached well.
When your car window is broken, rain (or bad weather, in general) can do a number on your car’s interior. Sure, keeping it in the garage will help, but you won’t always be able to predict a storm’s arrival. If it catches you while you’re out shopping or doing errands, you’re going to have a bad time. This is why you should properly secure and affix even a temporary window replacement.
Most importantly, driving around with a broken window will leave you exposed to whatever is going on outside. The constant draft will be the least of your concerns. You’ll need to deal with heat, cold, and the like, not to mention that your air conditioning won’t be of much use. If you value your health (as you should), you will fix the broken window as soon as possible.
I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again: this is a temporary solution. You should have a professional replace your car window at the first opportunity.
Until you do, though, this guide on how to cover a broken car window should buy you some time and help you minimize the damage to both your car and personal well-being.
How to Cover a Broken Car Window — What You’ll Need
Other than your own two hands, you will need:
- A set of work clothes, or anything that you can easily wash later.
- Something to clean the window and its surroundings with, like a microfiber cloth and soapy water or rubbing alcohol.
- A set of work gloves thick enough so that you don’t end up cutting yourself.
- A container for the debris that you will remove from the car.
- A vacuum cleaner, to remove any leftover glass shards.
- Sticky tape. Any will do, but masking tape would work best because of how easy it is on your car’s paint.
- Scissors, to cut the tape with.
- Something to replace your broken glass with. There will be more on that later, but no matter what you choose, you will need pretty much everything previously mentioned.
Before You Start: Prep Time
Alright, so before covering anything, you’ll want to remove all traces of the window from its frame. You’ll almost always want to do this, as otherwise, what’s left of it will keep falling off as you drive.
Carried by the draft, these glass shards can injure you and anyone else in your car — badly. Unless your car window glass is mostly intact aside from one missing chunk (which I will also cover later), it will have to go.
So, to start with, put on your gloves and your work clothes. You’ll want to break away all the larger pieces of glass and throw them into a container. Keep doing this until only the smaller ones remain. For those, you’re going to need that vacuum cleaner.
Go deep with the vacuum cleaner and get all the glass that you can see. Don’t be afraid to vacuum around the seal; you should leave no window pieces in the car.
But there’s more; before the next step, you’ll need to wash the window frame thoroughly. It will need to be completely dry before you can proceed.
Next, you’ll want to apply a protective layer of masking tape to your window frame, about two inches on both the inside and outside. You’ll need to do this no matter what you decide to cover it with later, with the exception of crash wrap and Big Tape. Why, you ask? It’s because masking tape is quite easy on the paint and won’t chip pieces off when you remove it later.
With the debris cleared and the masking tape in place, it is almost time to do some actual covering. Before that can happen, though, you’ll need to decide on what to use.
How to Cover a Broken Car Window — Your Options and the Process
When covering a broken car window, it’s important to know what you can use as a temporary replacement. Luckily (or unluckily), car window damage is so common that people have tried pretty much everything over the years. I’ll first cover some of the better options, then mention what you probably won’t want to use.
A Transparent Plastic Bag
Pretty much any plastic bag that is large enough to fit over your car’s window frame can be a viable temporary replacement for your broken window. Transparent trash bags are a good choice, as they are often quite thick, and thus won’t tear quickly. Your common supermarket bags, even when they are big, are often low-density, which makes them a poorer choice. Airborne debris like sand and gravel will puncture them easily.
So, once you’ve got your bag, you should start attaching it from the inside of the car. Sit by the broken (now missing) window, hold the bag so that it covers the frame, and fix it with tape.
This will be easier if someone can help you, but you should be able to manage alone. Make sure to seal it tightly, or else air circulation may tear it off while you’re driving. That could lead to an accident if it flies toward a driver.
If you want, you can add another plastic bag, this time from the outside. Don’t be stingy with the tape, and keep in mind that you can also tape over the bag’s surface.
And even if you’re confident with the result, I’d still advise you to refrain from driving fast with a plastic bag window. Air pressure is a potent force and can do things you wouldn’t believe.
Because crash wrap, such as this one, usually comes in large rolls and is sticky and transparent, it’s one of the easiest temporary fixes on this list. You won’t even need to apply any masking tape beforehand, though you’ll still have to remove all the glass and clean the window frame. Once everything is clean and dry, you can move straight on to the covering.
And as it turns out, that step is quite simple and easy. All you’ll need to do is press the roll on one side of the window, then roll it over to the other. Cut it with your scissors, press it down firmly, and you’ve officially installed your temporary window replacement. It doesn’t really matter which side you fix it from, but if you do it from the outside, you’ll prevent dust from sticking to it as you drive.
As you’ve probably guessed, crash wrap will go easy on your car’s paint, hence no need for the masking tape. If you fix it properly, it won’t let water in, but outside forces can still tear or puncture it.
This fix can actually last you a good while, but that’s no excuse for you not to replace the window as soon as possible. All things considered, though, crash wrap is a much better (and more convenient) temporary solution than a plastic bag.
Transparent Duct Tape
When considering how to cover a broken car window, most tend to overlook the simplest solution: duct tape. It’s cheap, plentiful, and you can keep sticking it on ‘till you’ve covered the whole window frame.
Furthermore, you likely already have some, though you’re going to need a lot more. Just make sure that it’s transparent, as obstructing your field of vision is not the safest idea out there.
So, having applied the masking tape to protect your paint from the duct tape, you can start fixing the gap from the inside of your car. Measure the window’s height and cut the tape into appropriate-length strips, then keep sticking them on vertically so that they overlap.
You’ll need a fair bit of tape, and it will probably take you some time. Once you’re done, you should repeat the process, but stick the strips on horizontally, taping over the vertical strips.
You’re not done yet. Now, you’re going to repeat the process, but this time from the outside. Two layers of duct tape offer better protection than one.
This is actually a very cheap and effective way of covering your broken window, though the thick layers of duct tape may not be as see-through as you’d like them to be. Take care when driving with this fix, as it will somewhat limit your field of vision.
As a product specifically designed for covering broken windows, the Big Tape shines here. You can apply it as simply and quickly as you would put on the crash wrap. It’s just as easy on your paint, so you won’t need to put on a layer of masking tape.
The rolls are 18 inches tall, which makes them just about perfect for covering pretty much any window. Big Tape is very clear and easy to see through, which is a definite advantage over duct tape. It can also handle speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, provided that you’ve fixed it properly.
Anyone who has ever had their window broken has probably considered covering it with cardboard at some point. I wish that more people had dismissed the option right then and there. It is, simply put, one of the worst things that you can do. Only use it if you won’t be driving, and even then, you should keep your car in the garage or protect it with a car cover.
Why, you ask? Well, for starters, cardboard will barely stop any moisture, so if it happens to rain while your car is outside, its interior is going to get soaked. In case this has already happened, read my article and find out how to dry a wet car carpet.
Moving on, air currents are hard on cardboard, so if you drive with a cardboard window cover, there’s a chance that it’ll get torn off and cause an accident.
Lastly (and most obviously), cardboard isn’t transparent, so you can guess what that’ll do to your driving.
All in all, avoid this fix whenever possible, and only use it briefly and when it’s absolutely necessary.
How to Cover a Broken Car Window That’s Barely Holding Together
This rarely happens, but it is possible. Sometimes, your window will break without shattering, and you’ll wind up with a missing chunk on an otherwise whole piece of glass. That will save you a whole lot of work, but only if you take certain precautions. You should still have it fixed, but you shouldn’t drive with a hole in the window until then.
So, what you want to do is roll the window up and never lower it again until it’s replaced. Given that it has suffered damage, there’s a chance that lowering it again may make it fall apart. Once you have the window firmly in place, you should cover it by using any of the above-mentioned methods, save for cardboard, of course.
You could drive around with a patched-together window, but keep in mind that it will draw attention. A police officer may pull you over. Besides, the next time you park it, someone shady may decide to finish the job and see what’s inside.
The Big Question: What About the Windshield?
Although you may be tempted to try and apply some of these fixes to a shattered windshield, I’ll have to disappoint you right now. While driving with a jury-rigged side window is allowed in most states, that is almost never the case when it comes to the windshield.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Aside from the decrease in visibility, serious hazards can arise from driving with a cobbled-together windshield. The wind will be much harsher, and your cover will have to endure a much stronger airflow. If it fails and separates at any moment, it’ll likely slap either you or one of your passengers in the face.
Damage to your windshield is a higher-class alert than damage to your side windows. So no, aside from clearing out the glass, you shouldn’t fiddle with your broken windshield. Drive without it if you must, preferably in the direction of a good automobile repair shop. However, the safest option would be that you call a tow truck to come and pick you up.
As you’re well aware by now, all of these approaches have their ups and downs. Some are better than others, of course, but most will have you covered (pun intended), at least for a while.
And just in case I need to say it again, the fact that you know how to cover a broken car window doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get it fixed. A temporary solution is just that — temporary. You can bet that not fixing it properly in time can and most likely will lead to a disaster.