It’s an experience all too familiar to Canadian drivers in the winter time: You bundle up and lean into the chilling wind, trying to shield your face from the frozen sleet riding its gusts.
You reach your car ready to jump inside and blast the heat—but the windshield is coated in a thick layer of ice and the locks are frozen shut.
If only you had picked up that de-icer off the shelf and stowed it away for this critical moment.
Lock de-icer is simply a specific concentration of isopropyl alochol. It’s the same chemical compound found in rubbing alcohol, for example, but at a much stronger concentration. According to its MSDS sheet, MotoMaster’s Lock De-icer, for example, is at least 98 percent isopropyl alcohol, while rubbing alcohol is typically between 50 and 70 percent strength.
That potent alcoholic liquid works by lowering the freezing point of water. Water, of course, freezes at 0 C, while lock de-icer freezes only at the extremely low temperature of -86 C. By chemically bonding with the water ice, it causes it to melt back into a liquid state.
Windshield de-icer can save you from having to assume different yoga-like postures to scrape the ice off your car
Lock de-icer is designed to act as a fail-safe to open your doors when the small key hole cover flap meant to keep moisture out of locks and prevent them from freezing up doesn’t do the trick, says Kevin McNamara, a category business manager for automotive fluids at Canadian Tire.
“Higher quality lock de-icers contain lubricant and when used on a routine basis will lubricate the lock mechanism and hole cover flap keeping it in proper working order and the alcohol will displace the moisture,” he says.
While lock de-icer acts as antifreeze, it can also be used preventively to avoid fumbling for that little bottle when you’re locked out of your car in the middle of a snowstorm. It works a lot better than products containing methyl alcohol, which could potentially erode lock gaskets and seals; or than home-brew solutions like applying Purell, which can gum up your locks, or pouring your Tim Horton’s coffee over your door.
While getting frozen out of your car in the winter can happen every now and then, scraping ice off your windows is more of a daily occurrence, at least if you park outside. Thankfully there are similar de-icing compounds that you can apply to your car’s glass.
Some come in a spray bottle and are meant to be misted directly on your icy windshield and used in combination with your defroster. Others replace your car’s windshield washer fluid, and are sprayed on the windshield while you stay huddled inside the car. In either case, the idea is to save you from the routine of assuming different yoga-like postures to scrape the ice off your car. Simply spray, defrost, and turn on the wipers.
[Or texturize the ice, spray, defrost and wipe. Washer fluid-replacing de-icers are designed to help break up froze-on ice on your windshield, but they have a hard time penetrating the ice’s surface if it’s too smooth, according to tests run recently by Canadian Tire at UOIT’s Automotive Centre of Excellence in Oshawa, Ontario.]
Most winter-time windshield washer fluid contains some mixture of methanol and ethylene glycol. Like the isopropyl alcohol in lock de-icer, the methyl alcohol helps to lower the freezing temperature of the water. The ethylene glycol similarly disrupts water’s chemical bond, immediately lowering its freezing point from 0 C to as low as -45 C. (Some solutions will use a small amount of teflon to aid in busting up that frozen layer, too.)
Keeping a bottle of windshield de-icer in the trunk can help you get on the road more quickly in the morning. More importantly, you’re not outside in a blizzard trying to scrape the ice off with a plastic spatula.
Just as we swap out our all-season tires in favour of more heavy-duty winter tires with a deeper tread, it’s a good idea to switch your summer wiper blades for a set better suited to deal with ice and snow.
While there’s no industry standard for what exactly qualifies a blade as “winter-ready,” you will notice they are generally larger and heavier. To stand up to Canadian winter temperatures of up to -40 C, winter wipers will typically be made of a tougher variety of rubber. Often it will be a special compound spliced with a strengthening agent like silicone to make it more rigid and resilient.
Keeping pressure even across the entire blade is especially important in the winter to avoid bumping over ice and snow deposits. Many blades will use a lattice design to distribute force across the blade out from the point where you attach it. Others will distribute force via a bow-like curve design to the blade.
Many are also outfitted with extra rubber coverings around joints and connection points to keep ice and snow out of the blade itself. You can also get heated blades that will wire in to your car’s defrost system and melt away any ice that dares form on its exterior.