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May 2, 2020

7 min. read

Knowing what your car windows are made of could save your life.

Glass. It can be clear, frosted, tinted, laminated or tempered. Identifying the type of glass in your vehicle can help keep you safe.

Windshields and rear windows in today's vehicles are laminated: two sheets of glass sandwiching a polymer film. In the event of a crash, the film prevents shards of glass from flying into the passenger compartment.

Side windows have typically been made from tempered glass, which is a single pane that's treated with heat for added strength. When broken, tempered glass shatters into crumbly chunks rather than dangerous shards.

But manufacturers now increasingly use laminated glass in side windows because in the event of a crash, it's less likely to leave an opening through which a passenger might be ejected. Laminated glass also allows less noise and ultraviolet light to pass through. One downside, however, is that laminated side windows are more difficult to break if you need to escape a submerged vehicle or rescue a child left inside on a hot day.

"From time to time, we hear about tragic incidents of people being unable to escape from a vehicle, usually submerged in water or during a fire," says Teresa Di Felice, assistant vice-president of government and community relations for CAA Manitoba. "We feel it's important people are aware of the types of glass around them so they can better escape in the event of an emergency." To that end, CAA is working to educate Manitobans about automotive glass and some potentially life-saving safety equipment.

To find out what type of glass you have, look at the labels on windows. If there are no labels, contact the manufacturer or dealer for this information. Tempered glass breaks relatively easily, especially with the correct tool, while laminated glass may not break at all.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) recently tested a variety of glass-breaking tools. They come in two styles: a hammer-like device, which is swung by the driver or passenger, and a spring-loaded type that's typically pushed against glass until a pin fires.

Though none of the devices could break laminated glass, the study found the spring-loaded types outperformed the hammers on tempered glass. Two of the three hammers failed, but all three spring-loaded devices passed. Each tool also came with a blade for slicing through a seatbelt: The best of them cut through in less than two seconds; the worst took up to 23 seconds.

Whichever tool you choose, make sure you buy it from a reputable manufacturer. And take some time to understand the glass in your vehicle. A little education can help make things crystal clear during an emergency.

Oops – locked out of your vehicle? No need to break the glass – CAA Manitoba offers vehicle lockout service as a Membership benefit!

When the windows in your vehicle are fully closed on a hot summer day, temperatures inside can reach dangerous levels very quickly.

Learn about the risks of unattended pets in vehicles.

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