Using String and Bubbles to Install a Windshield

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What the Heck is a Soapy String?

soapy string
This string plus soap equals an easy windshield install. photo by Matt Wright, 2009

The "soapy string" trick -- a classic to be sure. Modern windshields are held in place using very strong adhesive, but not too long ago they were installed using no adhesive and only the rubber held the whole thing in place. It was a good system, and ultimately easier to replace a damaged windshield. That was the up side. The down side to these old windshields was the rubber itself. When it was new, the rubber around a windshield kept a pretty tight grip on things. But as rubber ages, especially the old rubber formulas from back then, it shrinks and cracks. When windshield rubber shrank and cracked, water started to creep in. Even if this water didn't drip onto your lap right away, it was oozing into parts of the car's chassis that it shouldn't have been, causing rust and, in some cases, electrical problems! Still, there are plenty of cars on the road today that have this type of windshield seal, and owners of these cars have no interest in updating to any type of glued in windshield.

If your old style windshield has cracked or is otherwise trashed, you;d love to put a new one in. Even if you can buy a used windshield at the junk yard for $45, the installation is going to cost you far more than that. That's exactly why you should do it yourself.  The hardest part of this type of windshield installation is getting the rubber windshield gasket to pop over the lip of the car body so it will hold the windshield firmly in place.

This is where the soapy string comes in. Soapy string isn't a snappy euphemism -- it's a string drenched in soapy solution. And it works.

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The Soapy String Replacing a Windshield

Pull the soapy string and the windshield rubber through.
Gently pull the soapy string. photo by Matt Wright, 2009

Here's how it works.

This tutorial starts with your old windshield and rubber already removed. Removing your wipers will make it a lot easier to access the whole windshield area without getting hung up on something. Place the rubber on a clean, dry windshield. If you haven't figured this out already, I highly recommend having a helper for this project. 

First you have to choose a string. I like a strong cotton string. If you can get your hands on the string from a set of horizontal blinds, use it. It even has a handy handle to pull on. If not, find something similar. Kite string is another strong choice. I stay away from nylon strings because they can be sharp enough to cut the windshield rubber slightly, not to mention brutal on your little fingers.

Add soap. Now you have to soap up everything. You want your string, your rubber and the car body to be nice and soapy. You can use a spray bottle, sponge, rag, whatever. Use regular dish soap in water. You can't use too much soap. If you're worried about creating an interior car wash, throw some plastic over the interior first.

Wrap the string. With your rubber installed on the windshield, take the soapy string and, starting with the top center, wrap it tightly into the channel that holds the car body. Wrap it all the way around until you're back at the top again. Leave 6 inches or so of string hanging out from both ends, these will be your pull handles.

Install the windshield. Press the windshield into place, using your hands to press the rubber as far into place as possible. You want the rubber to be right against the body, ready to pop into place. Now's where the string comes in. If you have a helper, have your helper put slight pressure on the outside top of the windshield. If not, no biggie. From the inside of the car, take one end of your string and pull it gently through until you see the rubber popping through to your side. Gently coax the rubber through, and as you pull the string the rubber will follow. Move all the way around the windshield and by the time you get to the top again, it's in!