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Andy Vodvarka was driving his 2002 Ford Econoline along U.S. 278 near Malphrus Road last week when he heard a clink on the top of the van.'
"It didn't dawn on me that anything was wrong because I didn't see anything," Vodvarka recalled. But three days later he pushed up the visor and saw a crack, so he figures it must have come from a rock on the roadway.'
Local auto glass installation companies say they've seen a noticeable increase in windshield replacement and repairs recently. And while several installers say they can't be sure if it's because of the construction on U.S. 278, the timing of the installation boom and the road work seem to match.'
Beaufort-based Auto Glass Masters has started sending windshield installers to Hilton Head Island "much more" in the last six months, according to vice president Sonya Needham. She said 90 percent of the cracks are a result of rocks hitting the glass in construction sites, often on U.S. 278 or Interstate 95.'
"We used to go like twice a week and now we're there four times a week," Needham said of the Hilton Head area. The installers replace or repair an average of four or five windshields a day.'
Other local companies are experiencing the same upswing in business. At White Water Auto Glass Service, based in Ridgeland, installers are putting in an average of 10 windshields a week, up from an average of five per week last winter, according to installer Mike Oberry.'
"I think most of it is due to all the construction in Beaufort County," Oberry said.'
A manager at Southern Glass and Plastics in Savannah estimated the number of windshields it fixes has doubled over the last two to three months. '
Manager Janet Heath said she doesn't ask customers specifically how the damage occurred, but she thought that about 95 percent of the cracks are caused by rocks in the road.'
Vodvarka's windshield was replaced Thursday by installer Kevin Sanders of Safelite Auto Glass. In talking to customers, Sanders said he thinks a lot of the damage he's seen lately can be attributed to the U.S. 278 construction.'
"When I started over here a year ago, it was very slow," said Sanders, who previously was fixing windshields in Charleston. "I was doing four or five jobs a day, but now I'm doing eight a day and I'm booked three days out."'
APAC-Southeast, the company handling the U.S. 278 road widening from Simmonsville Road to the bridges to Hilton Head, has received an average number of reports of vehicle damage, according to spokeswoman Deborah Galloway. She didn't have an exact figure Friday, but she said the company investigates all claims before deciding how to proceed.'
"If it's a legitimate claim, we'll take care of it," she said.'
In South Carolina, windshields often are replaced by insurance companies without any out-of-pocket costs for insured drivers. A crack or chip creates a weak area in a windshield, and if it's not properly repaired, changes in temperatures or road shock could cause it to spread.'
"Anytime there's road construction, we always see an increase in windshield repair," said David Pereira, owner of Glass Doctor/Harmon Auto Glass.'
Construction crews try to minimize the rocks on the road by sometimes sweeping sections of U.S. 278 after the morning rush hour, according to Billy Coleman, project manager for Triplett-King & Associates, the company assisting in the management of the project for the state Department of Transportation.'
Asphalt laid at night sometimes loosens on the edges when cars pass over it in the morning, Coleman said. He advises drivers to make sure they stay on the roadway, drive the posted speed limit and maintain a safe distance from vehicles they're following.'
<i>Correction: This story originally incorrectly reported the locations of two auto glass service companies. White Water Auto Glass Service is based in Ridgeland, and Southern Glass and Plastics is based in Savannah.</i>