Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

A rock hit my windshield on my way back to Quartzsite from Los Angeles, chipping it. Later, the chip evolved into a crack. Unlike other places I’ve lived, my comprehensive insurance out of Arizona does not waive the deductible on glass, and the cost to replace the windshield is less than that. Plus, I hadn’t been able to figure out the logistics of containing Lister while the van has no windshield in it.

I drove all the way across the country like this, and the crack didn’t get any bigger. Still, my aunt and uncle’s place in Florida is the perfect place to leave Lister while I get the windshield replaced, so I made an appointment with Safelite to do exactly that. I drove it to them instead of having them come to me. Since this was coming out of my pocket, I saved $50 this way.

A little while later, the tech brought me out to the van and pointed out the surface rust around the windshield. (As if I hadn’t noticed it myself…) Then he told me that if he removes the windshield and there’s rust underneath, he wouldn’t install the new one. Instead, he’d leave a big gaping hole where a windshield is supposed to be. I asked what I was supposed to do if there was no windshield in the van. He said to get it towed to a body shop, have the rust fixed, get it towed back, and then they’d install it. On top of all that, we’ve been having scattered thunderstorms pass through all day, because it’s Florida and this is perfectly normal. So even if I arranged to get the van towed to a body shop immediately after they refused to install a windshield, it would probably pour rain into the exposed dashboard and destroy everything inside.

Needless to say, I’m still driving with the old cracked windshield.

I’ve been pondering what to do. I’ve come up with three options:

  1. Call around the Lakeland area to find somewhere that will actually replace my windshield.
  2. Continue on the Big Loop back to the northeast. Get a new windshield there, where they have to deal with rusty vehicles because everything’s rusty there.
  3. Finish the Big Loop all the way back to Arizona for next winter. Then replace the van with something that isn’t rusty so I’ll stop having problems like this.

I’m thinking all that’s going to happen with option #1 is places will say “yeah, sure, no problem,” then deny me when I get there and they see it for themselves, wasting my time yet again. Almost two years ago, I had my family’s local trusted mechanic refuse to work on my van because it’s a rusty northern vehicle. (I’m seriously hoping that doesn’t happen at another shop when I try to get my misfire fixed next week.) Maybe if I try it again up north — and don’t use Safelite, since the tech claimed this was a company policy — I might have some better luck. I did make it across the country without the crack getting worse, and it’s a shorter distance than that to make it up to New England. The crack isn’t in my line of sight, and it’s not like I have to worry about passing a car inspection anytime soon — or ever, if I remain a resident of certain states.

Replacing the van would be a big deal. I wouldn’t be replacing it because it has a cracked windshield. I’d be replacing it because who knows how many more repairs I might be denied in the future because of the rust. I’ve talked about doing a massive refit on this van next year, but even fixing the rust I can reach won’t include anything behind the windshield. It won’t include suspension parts that seize up and break, causing a one-day repair to take three at an otherwise competent shop. From the beginning, I’ve said this would be a three to five-year van because of the body rust, and I’m just starting year three of ownership. So replacing it next winter would be pretty much right on schedule with that original plan.

But replacing it will be expensive, and I’m not making the good money I used to. It will also take time to customize whatever the new home on wheels is to fit my needs. It was bad enough being stuck in Quartzsite for two months with two motorcycles. I’d be stuck with two vans (or a van and a skoolie, box truck, RV, etc.) during that transition. The long-term visitor area takes care of any legality issues as long as I buy the pass, but still. Quartzsite isn’t exactly a good place to do this, either, because there aren’t any big stores to get building supplies there, and the small ones would be quite expensive.

It remains true that, aside from the current misfire issue which is common on the Ford modular engines and easy to fix, this van is in great mechanical shape. While the rust hasn’t progressed as much as I expected — likely because of how much time I’ve spent in the dry desert — this ordeal is a rude reminder that other problems that should be minor are becoming big ones because of the rust. Replacing a cracked windshield shouldn’t be an issue, but it can turn into a big problem really fast if they take the old one out and refuse to install a new one. Even if the rust isn’t a big deal to me, other people deciding that it is a big deal is denying me the service that I need. I’m not sure how long I can keep doing that.

Fortunately, I have time to figure out what to do. Replacing the van is inevitable someday, and I’ll have to figure out these logistical issues at some point. I’m still getting the misfire fixed (unless they refuse to work on an engine because the body is rusty, which makes no sense but wouldn’t surprise me at this point). I need an engine that runs well to continue my journey and escape Florida before summer arrives and the weather becomes unbearable. But I will be pondering my options for the future, of my life on the road in general and Smokey Da Van in particular. I also understand that I’m having knee-jerk reactions right now, and will make no decisions about replacing the van without thinking long and hard about it.

One comment

  1. Obvious question, but can you not remediate the rust issues, where they are? Or is it a matter of “remove windshield”, “work on rust”, “get rained on”, before you can get the new one installed?


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