With the latest winter storm expected to dump snow across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, many could themselves soon greeted by an iced-over windshield.
A bit of snow on your vehicle isn't a big problem, but a solid sheet of ice on your windshield can be a major hassle preventing you from getting where you need to go on time.
Keeping your windshield clean is critical for safe driving, whatever the season, said Ellen Edmonds, public relations manager for AAA. "If a driver’s view of the road is obstructed in any way, this can increase the likelihood of a crash," she said.
Wintry conditions make visibility even more important because you may not be able to slow down and stop as quickly. About one-fourth (24%) of all weather-related vehicle crashes happen on snowy, slushy or icy pavement, and 15% occur during snowfall or sleet, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Each year, more than 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 are injured in crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement, the agency says.
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Beware: Tossing vinegar or hot water on your car can damage it
Patient scrapers will eventually win out over a wintry mix to get their windshield clean for a safer drive. However, shortcuts to clearing your windshield can cause even bigger problems. For instance, a common household quick fix suggests using a mix of vinegar and water (usually three parts to one).
But putting the solution onto an already-frozen windshield won't help, the Farmers' Almanac says, and its use could even hurt your vehicle because vinegar can corrode chrome and paint. That's a similar finding from fact-checking site Snopes.com, which says the vinegar ice removal tip annually arises online each winter.
Some opt to pre-treat their windshield with the solution, applying it with a spray bottle the evening before and then wiping it off. It doesn't hurt to do that, but AAA advises against leaving the solution on the windshield. That's because its freezing point is not much below that of water and there's a potential that vinegar may cause "micro pitting" of the windshield glass. These are tiny craters in the windshield, usually caused by wear and tear of sand and other debris landing on it at high speed. They can result in visibility issues and a weakened windshield, which could eventually crack.
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Do not pour hot water onto your windshield to melt the ice "since this can cause the glass to crack or shatter due to the sudden change in temperature," Edmonds said.
Best de-icing technique? It requires a scraper, the defrost button – and patience
The best way to de-ice your windshield requires heat and time. Start the vehicle's engine and set the heater to defrost and adjust the airflow to recirculate, AAA suggests. Make sure the temperature control is set to full heat. As the air warms and starts to thaw the ice use your scraper, a squeegee or soft brush to start cleaning.
There's no best method to use a scraper, but preferably use a plastic one as it will not scratch your windshield. Use light to moderate pressure when scraping – heavy pressure and hitting or tapping the glass could worsen any weakness in your windshield.
Also take care not to scrape beyond the windshield, because the scraper could scratch your car's paint if you use it to scrape other parts of your car. When removing ice from your car windows, try not to scrape up to the edge of the window, as you could damage the molding or trim. If you're using a brush, make sure to keep it above the vehicle's body to not scratch the paint, too.
If you are just dealing with frost or minor ice, scraping it clean should be no problem and you don't need to start your car first. Even with thick ice, your vehicle's defrost should have done most of the work in 10 minutes or so, said Josh Sadlier, an editor at car research site Edmunds.
But Edmonds said it can depend on factors such as temperature, ice thickness and when was the vehicle last driven. "Once the ice starts to melt, drivers can begin clearing it off, which would move the process along," she said.
This tried and true solution has less risk, said Jeff Bartlett, managing editor for autos at Consumer Reports. "We haven't evaluated pouring liquids on the windshield. Being creative there brings risk, as some products may damage the wipers or paint," he said.
He notes on ConsumerReports.com that if you are trying to defog your car windows do not use the defrost, but use the vehicle's fan and air conditioner to direct a good blast of warm dry air to the windshield and windows.
Using your car's defroster and a scraper to deice your windshield has been "a reliable tandem for many years," Sadlier said.
Remember to turn on your heated rear windshield so you will be able to see out the back. Heated front windshields are found on a few vehicles – if you own one, you probably aren't reading this.
If you are expecting just a bit of ice or snow, lift the wiper blades off of the glass or consider putting an object such as a small piece of wood between the wiper blades and the windshield. That prevents them from freezing to the glass and makes it easier to remove ice and snow.
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If you cannot park your car in a garage or don't have sheltered parking, you can cover your windshield so you don't need to scrape it clean.
You can purchase a windshield cover, which protects your windshield and wipers and is held in place by magnets or straps, such as those recommended by Popular Mechanics. They start at less than $10 and can cost $30 or so.
Alternatively, a large towel, sheet or tarp can serve as a DIY windshield cover, AAA says. Use the wiper blades, weights or magnets to hold it in place. Soaking your cover in a solution of one tablespoon salt to one quart water can make it easier to remove, AAA says. You can store the cover in a plastic bag or container when not using it.
Worth noting: If a lot of snow is expected, your windshield cover may not be easy to remove.
You can also pretreat your windshield with an ice and frost “shield” spray, AAA says. But they can be pricey (some cost $10 or more) and some ice prevention products contain ethylene glycol, which is poisonous to pets if swallowed.
To help thwart icing while you are mobile, replace your windshield wiper fluid with winter deicing wiper fluid. And if your wipers aren't doing their job currently, replace them with heavy-duty winter wipers if you expect snow and ice this season.
If you can't park in the garage, Sadlier said, these methods "should make dealing with frost and ice less frustrating."
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Best to de-ice your windshield? You need patience, but not vinegar