Is my car's smashed window a break-in or a hit and run?
June 28, 2006 5:23 AM   Subscribe

Can a car window be "popped out" by hitting the door mirror housing? Or was my window just smashed by an inefficient thief?

Here's the story. I came out of the drugstore tonight to find broken safety glass all around my car. (Uh-oh.) The driver's side window was smashed.

The security guards told me that the cameras don't cover the whole lot and I had parked just barely outside of the camera range. (Figures.)

The good news is that not a single thing inside the car was touched. Which is good, because although I don't generally do this (but I had gotten a bit sloppy about it lately), I had left an iPod and a camera on the front seat... covered by a heavy wool cloak. Everything was still exactly as it should be. The radio is still there including faceplate. No damage or marking to/around the ignition.

There was, however, an odd white mark on the outside of the door mirror housing.

A cop showed up and we watched the security cameras to see if anything useful showed up and nothing did. The theory suggested to me by the cop and the security guards is that either:

1. Someone smashed it in but someone came along and saw them and scared them. (And the white paint mark might have been left by whatever they used to smash it, or it's been there a while and I didn't notice.)

2. A large vehicle pushed on the mirror, leaving a white mark, and managed to pop the window right out! Evidence supporting this: more glass outside the car than in. But there was a bunch in too. Evidence against: no car of the appropriate type was seen in the part of the parking lot that was filmed by the security cameras.

So my question is: is this option #2 possible? You can see pictures of the damage here, and you can see that there isn't any damage to the car except for the window and the (hard to see in these photos, but pretty obvious in person) white paint mark on the mirror housing. And there is glass on the back of the car, and I don't know if punching in a window would cause glass to fly that way, but then again, I have never broken a car window myself. The mirror housing itself doesn't seem broken, just scraped.

I tend to think that someone tried to break in and I was just damned lucky they were scared away, but I am curious whether the other suggested scenario is possible or likely.
posted by litlnemo to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I once closed a car door (from the inside, and not slamming it) and the window shattered. So while it may not be likely I wouldn't think it impossible.
posted by beowulf573 at 5:26 AM on June 28, 2006

i think your mirror and housing would be more damaged if what you are suggesting happened. it's possible that someone was trying to pry the door open from the edge of the window to maybe be able to reach in and unlock the door but didn't count on the glass breaking?

were there any marks around the edges of the door/window? that wouldn't explain the white marks though.
posted by eatcake at 5:55 AM on June 28, 2006

Response by poster: I don't see any marks around the edges, but it's an interesting idea, since Neons of that vintage don't actually have a frame around the top of the window, so I imagine someone could try to wedge something in between the glass and the rubber there at the top of the window opening and perhaps that could cause this.

I think what the cop was suggesting was that pressure against the mirror housing could have flexed the whole thing enough to shatter the window or pop it outward. I am skeptical... I do think that would have damaged the mirror more.

beowulf573, wow! That's kind of scary.
posted by litlnemo at 6:06 AM on June 28, 2006

I highly doubt that just from pressure on the mirror housing alone the window would break. Those mirrors are designed to just break off if something hits them, since it's a relatively common occurance. The only scenario where it might be possible is if the pressure were applied directly perpendicular to the window, i.e. pressing directly in on the mirror housing. Even then, I think it would crack and deform before any significant pressure would be imparted on the actual window.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:27 AM on June 28, 2006

I've had my fair share of car breakins and I can tell you that the cost of replacing your window will probably be less than your deductible, so this means it doesn't matter how it happened-- you will have to pay out of pocket to fix your window.

You could try to get the drugstore to pay for it but they probably have a sign somewhere that says "not responsible for damage to your car in our parking lot" or similar.
posted by elisabeth r at 7:41 AM on June 28, 2006

Best answer: It's definitely possible.

Ms.Tacos did this to my car (clipped my mirror with hers, my window shattered).
posted by I Love Tacos at 7:53 AM on June 28, 2006

Best answer: Your window could have been compromised by a previous incident and just waiting to give out. I've had a passenger window shatter for no apparent reason at all, while driving. Not hit by any object at all. One second it's solid, the next, it's a pile of glass pebbles.
posted by knave at 8:14 AM on June 28, 2006

Best answer: the other day my friend was trying to get some stuff into his van, he had the back door "almost" shut, and gave a gental push, apparently the stuff in the back was pushing on the perfect pressure point in the middle of the window and the whole thing shattered.

If you take a ball point pen and hold it at the right point in a window and press hard you will shatter the whole window, they even see little things to do this "incase" you fall into a lake or something.

I know some bike messangers that had found the "sweet spot" (apprently in the lower or upper corners where the glass starts to bend) to hit car wind shields with there u-lock to spiderweb the whole thing. (to protest the cars trying to kill them)

So yes its very possible that the whole window could shatter if hit in just the right spot.
posted by stilgar at 8:34 AM on June 28, 2006

There is a third possibility: A car or truck could have hit your mirror and the window at the same time.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:54 AM on June 28, 2006

FWIW, you're better off getting the window replaced by an auto glass place than by a dealer.
posted by radioamy at 9:50 AM on June 28, 2006

While it is possible, I vote for two related events not one. Someone sideswiped you then got out to see the damage and whacked your window in frustration, broke it, had the "oh shit" moment and took off.
posted by plinth at 10:46 AM on June 28, 2006

Somewhere on the internets, in the context of the if-you-drive-into-the-lake scenario, I read that it is easiest to break a passenger window in the corner near the mirror because the edges are so close together there that they help amplify the stress placed on the pressure point, whereas it takes more pressure in the middle.
posted by MrZero at 12:08 PM on June 28, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone; the consensus seems to be that it is indeed possible, which is something I never would have imagined.

thilmony: "Ask MetaFilter is as useful as you make it. Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer. Wisecracks don't help people find answers."
posted by litlnemo at 3:39 PM on June 28, 2006

In auto extrication, they used to use a center punch, which is spring-loaded. You push in against the spring until it finally bangs back out, which puts a tremendous number of pounds per square inch on a very small point, very quickly. They said it was a waste of time to use something with a large surface area, like a brick, because the force was spread over too large an area to do any good.
We did it against the lower corner because the body metal would catch your hand/fingers, and prevent body parts from diving into the freshly broken glass. (We used sticky shelf paper first to catch a lot of the glass fragments.)
Disclaimer: This is very old data, and I have no idea if the physics of glass vary by the shape or location on the glass pane, they didn't discuss that.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 9:43 PM on June 28, 2006

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