by Jim Kerr

People have tried many ways to get the frost off their windshields in the winter. For decades, cars and trucks have come with defrosters that blow hot air on the inside of the glass to keep it clear. This tried and true method melts the frost off the glass but it has many disadvantages. First of all, it takes a long time – several minutes are required before the engine produces enough heat to melt the frost. Then there is the problem of how it clears. The bottom always clears first and in extreme cold, higher parts of the windshield may never clear completely. Finally, there is the problem of passenger comfort. With all the heat directed at the glass, the lower areas of the vehicle are cold, so passengers end up shivering.

There are other ways manufacturers have tried to combat windshield frost and ice. Electrically heated windshields are found on some luxury vehicles. A thin electrical grid is added to the plastic layer sandwiched between the two sheets of windshield glass. When the defroster button is pressed, the alternator produces voltage in the 80 to 90 volt range to heat the grid and melt the ice. This works, but these windshields are expensive, the electrical grid, although very fine, does cause some distortion when viewed in certain ways, and the battery cannot be charged when the windshield heated grid is turned on. The high voltage used in the windshield would damage the rest of the vehicle’s electrical system, so it is disconnected during operation.

Of course, there are chemicals that can be sprayed on the frost to dissolve it quickly, but they are costly and inconvenient. So is using a cover over the windshield to keep frost off. Most of us still do it the old fashioned way – scrape it off by hand. I don’t know anyone who likes doing that, and it can scratch windshields.

Now there is a new way to remove frost and ice. Heated windshield washer fluid. It sounds so simple so why didn’t someone think of it before? It has been tried, but the systems had a few flaws, such as heating the fluid too hot and cracking the glass. Now a new electronically controlled system is on the market and it is available as an add-on to any vehicle. The company is called HotShot, and they suggest we may even see their system as original equipment on some 2005 models.

Installation of the HotShot system is easy. Power and ground wires connect to the vehicle’s electrical system under the hood. The heater module is mounted on the vehicle’s body close to the washer spray nozzles, and the hoses for the windshield washer are connected to the heater. It only takes a few minutes. The hardest part is finding a grommet in the firewall where the small control button and wire can be led through.

Tap the control button and the system’s automatic mode quickly heats the washer fluid to 63 degrees C and sprays fluid in timed intervals to clear frost. By holding the button for a few seconds, the heater is placed in “standby” mode, where fluid is kept hot while you drive for instant clearing. If large amounts of washer fluid are sprayed, the heater is bypassed until the fluid is hot again and then it automatically switches to the hot fluid.

Advantages of using hot washer fluid are not limited to just clearing frost. Wiper blades work much better, last longer, and don’t freeze to the windshield. Smearing and streaking are all but eliminated, and in the summer, bugs wash off easier. The trucking industry is showing a lot of interest in this system.

The only disadvantage I can see of the system is cost. Retail price is about $500 for an aftermarket kit, plus any installation fees. In Canada, the system is sold by Total Auto Glass and Sunroofs with stores across Ontario. They will ship kits to other areas of the country. For more information on the HotShot system, check out the web site at www.microheat.com.

Keeping the car or truck in a garage would be a great way to combat winter’s frost and ice. However, many of us don’t have that option, so systems like the HotShot are a much better way to clean a windshield than getting out that scraper.

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