WILLMAR -- This doctor makes house calls, and doesn't mind putting on a few miles to do it.
Ron Bartsch is a mobile, windshield repair "doctor'' covering west central Minnesota.
He travels in a 2001 PT Cruiser with over 255,000 miles on its odometer and the moniker "NOBETR Windshield Wizard'' splayed across its outside.
His service area includes 15,000 square miles, and the Willmar area is part of his route virtually every week. His starting place is his home near Johnson, west of Morris.
After 25 years of covering the turf, Bartsch said he knows every country road like the back of his hand.
Often, it's after a little hand-wringing that's he called to help. Any motorist who has heard that awful SNAP when a stone hits the windshield and leaves a chip or tiny crack is often left wondering: Repair or replace it?
For Bartsch, the correct answer in 90 percent of cases is repair.
It's less costly. Repairing a small crack or chip costs about one-fifth to one-tenth the cost of replacing a windshield.
It's also the better option in terms of quality and safety, according to Bartsch.
No matter how well it's done, it's impossible to achieve the same quality of seal when a windshield is replaced. There's no matching the integrity of the original seal made in the factory when the metal was clean of impurities, he said.
Bartsch said studies have also shown that replaced windshields are more likely to pop out when a vehicle rolls or an air bag is deployed.
On newer model vehicles, the windshields are designed to serve as a back stop when air bags are deployed.
They are also designed to provide structural strength to the roof of the vehicle during a roll over, he explained.
The windshield repair system involves placing an acrylic epoxy in the unsightly crater or crack. He uses a specially-designed, and Minnesota manufactured device to hold the acrylic epoxy in the damaged area. It seals out oxygen while an ultraviolet light is used to bond the chemicals.
Bartsch said there is an art to doing this, and his experience can make all the difference in assuring that the tiniest of spider cracks in the damaged area are properly filled with the bonding agent.
There are do-it-yourself kits available for this as well, but Bartsch dismisses their effectiveness in the hands of the average person. "It's like doing self-surgery,'' he said.
Bartsch said he went into business for himself after losing the farm in 1986. A connection to South Africa led him to open his business both in west central Minnesota and the African country. Last year he spent 4½ months on the African continent tallying up the kinds of miles he does here in corn country.
Surprisingly, the business owner said the economic downturn has actually caused his business to slow. He was repairing anywhere from 25 to 30 windshields a week before the economy went south. Now he's doing 15 to 20. He's not sure why, but suspects more people are postponing repairs.
Unfortunately, chips and cracks that are left alone usually worsen as sunlight and temperature changes work on them.
Bratsch said every insurance company he has dealt with has waived its usual deduction if a vehicle owner chooses windshield repair over replacement. He also knows that many of his customers would rather pay the cost of a repair and avoid putting in a claim for replacement to their insurance provider.
He guarantees his repair for as long as the customer owns the vehicle.
There are occasions when a repair doesn't work, but Bartsch said that happens in less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the cases. Any chip smaller than a 50-cent piece or any crack less than six inches long can almost always be repaired, he said.
And unless the damaged spot is directly in a driver's line of sight, the loss of opacity caused by the repair is very minimal and hard to find. His goal is to make each repaired blemish as invisible as possible. "How close to perfect can I get,'' he said of his goal.
And yes, he practices what he preaches. Covering the miles he does, he's had to repair eight of his own windshields over the course of 25 years of business.
He can be contacted at 320-748-7779 or firstname.lastname@example.org