As colder temperatures become the norm over winter, many of us will experience waking up to a frosted windscreen, rear window and mirrors.
If you're in a hurry for work or school, it's frustrating to find your windscreen layered in ice. That's why it's important to be prepared so you can solve the problem quickly and safely - and then go about your business.
Here are some effective ways to clear your car of ice.
Your car may have built-in systems for deicing your car’s glass.
Be sure your windscreen wipers are off before you begin, as the rubber could get damaged if they scrape across the ice.
Firstly, turn on the engine and direct the warm air blower onto the windscreen. Next, turn on the windscreen heater and heated mirrors - if your vehicle has them.
Remove moisture from the air in the cabin by turning on the air-con system. This should reduce or eliminate mist - which can obstruct your view of the road.
Use a lint-free cloth to remove the melting ice. Avoid using your hands as the oil in your skin could smear the glass, further obscuring your view. If you must use your hands, remove any hard jewellry - especially diamond rings, as they can easily score your windscreen.
Don't be tempted to leave your car while the engine is running. Car thieves have been known to target motorists who do this. It's common enough to have been given a name - "frosting".
Your insurance policy almost certainly stipulates that you must not leave your vehicle unattended when the engine is running.
As you wipe your car clean, pay attention to the wind mirrors, rear window and lights, as they must all be clear before you drive off.
Using your car’s engine heat and heating systems alone might not be the quickest hot-to-deice-a-car solution, but it’s speeded up with a bit of elbow grease (see below)
If your car is covered in snow, you can use a brush to wipe it off before tackling any ice underneath.
The go-to how-to-deice-your-car solution, scrapers are hard enough to remove ice but won’t scratch your glass.
Ice scrapers may be used in combination with de-icer (see below).
You can choose from classic paint-scraper style products (never use an actual paint scraper!) and cone-shaped scrapers.
Using a hand ice scraper alone is a “green” alternative to using a deicer solution (see below).
Be sure the windscreen is free of grit and mud etc since this can scratch your glass.
You can also buy heated ice scrapers which make light work of ice.
Some products have rotating blades as well as a heating unit, while others are paint-scraper-style options with heated edges. These may also mean you don’t have to use a deicer solution.
Again, ensure the glass is clear of grit and mud to avoid abrasion.
As well as using your car's heating systems to clear the ice, you may also use a commercially-available deicer solution (car defroster).
If your car doesn't have the heating systems mentioned, running the engine for a few minutes should help clear the ice.
This, combined with using deicer and/or a lint-free cloth, should mean you're ready to drive away after a short wait. It should also help reduce mist build-up on the inside of the windows.
Some people have concerns about the environmental impact of deicers which often contain methanol. Deicers should be kept well out of the reach of children since methanol can be highly toxic if ingested. Ensure the solution does not come into contact with rubber window seals or any other part of your car.
If you don’t have a shop-bought car defroster solution available, you can make your own by mixing 2/3 rubbing alcohol with 1/3 water.
Because alcohol does not freeze until -128°C, it will never do so - barring an impending ice age.
Raiding the spirits cabinet might also work - but it will be a very costly solution.
Take care when using rubbing alcohol, since it is also toxic if ingested. Prolonged contact with the skin may also cause rashes and itching etc.
Whatever you do, do not pour boiling water on your windscreen. It’s arguably among the worst windscreen defroster solutions.
Hot water can actually freeze quicker than ambient-temperature water, and has the potential to damage your windscreen - especially if it already has chips or cracks. If water expands in these gaps, it could force the windscreen to develop larger fractures. In rare cases, it could instantly shatter the glass.
The quick-freezing nature of hot water is down to the fact that it evaporates quickly, meaning there is less of it to freeze - so it does so more quickly.
If you do try the water-pouring method, only use room-temperature or luke-warm water.
In reality, the jury is still out as to the effectiveness/safeness of using water to clear your windscreen - although many motorists find it a reliable car defroster technique.
This solution might help if your car does not have built-in heating systems.
If you have access to a domestic fan heater and an extension cord, sit it in your car for 10-15 minutes, directing it at the windscreen. This should also help remove moisture from the air so your windows don’t steam up.
Using a credit card to clear your windscreen runs the risk of scratching your glass. It might also damage the card.
It's best to avoid using other similarly-hard objects - such as CDs.
If condensation/moisture has built up inside your vehicle, in very low temperatures you may find ice on the inside of your windshield.
Methods of tackling the problem of ice on the inside of the windscreen include:
- Turning on engine and heating systems to melt the ice
- Scraping away ice with a scraper
- Placing a fan heater inside vehicle with the doors open
The following can help to prevent the build up of ice and condensation on the inside of your windscreen:
- Remove any damp items/replace damaged door seals
- Buy a car dehumidifier bag
- Buy an electric car dehumidifier
- Keep inside of windscreen clean since moisture can adhere to dirt particles
Invoking Shakespeare's "readiness is all" for an iced-up windscreen is perhaps overkill, but the sentiment does apply; a little effort in the evening could save you stress and time in the morning.
Cover your windscreen with a section of cardboard or old carpet. This should insulate the glass enough to prevent ice from forming.
Use the wipers to hold the cardboard in place, but avoid this approach if the cover is heavier (e.g. a piece of carpet) as this could damage the wipers.
Be sure to cover your wing mirrors too.
Since the sun rises in the east, parking your car in this direction will harness the sun's natural heat to help melt ice on your windscreen.
You may still need to clear windows that are in the sun's shadow - and this method won't work if it's still dark when you start your day!
You can help prevent ice build up by mixing vinegar (2/3) and water (1/3) and spraying it on your windows in the evening (before the temperature drops).
Vinegar contains acetic acid which lowers the freezing point of water so it's harder for ice to form.
This cheap car defroster mix, combined with covering your windows should mean you're ready to drive off in the morning without delay.
It’s an offence to drive a vehicle if your view of the road is obscured by anything - including ice and condensation. You could be handed a £100 fine and three points on your licence if the police catch you.
More importantly, being unable to see clearly out of your windows puts you and other road users at risk.
“Regulation 30 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 (SI 1986 No. 1078 as amended) requires that:
(3) All glass or other transparent material fitted to a motor vehicle shall be maintained in such condition that it does not obscure the vision of the driver while the vehicle is being driven on a road.” - gov.uk
The practice of driving with only a small area of glass free of ice is sometimes called "portholing" - and should be avoided at all cost.