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How to defrost your car like a Scandinavian

Carlton Boyce / 13 January 2017 ( 11 November 2019 )

I know what you’re thinking: Defrosting your car is easy, surely? A quick squirt of your de-icing libation of choice and you’re good to go. Or are you?

A car covered in ice

Well yes, that’s fine when there’s nothing more than a light dusting of ice but when it’s really cold – and I’m talking sub-zero temperatures, a thick layer of concrete-like ice on the glass and a few inches of snow covering the rest of your car – you need something more.

You need to know how to defrost your car like a Scandinavian!

Preparing your car for winter

What you need

The only two things you really need are a decent de-icer and a window scraper. I prefer a pump-action bottle of de-icer because then I’m not paying for any propellant but I’m notoriously tight-fisted and you may prefer the ease of use you get with an aerosol.

Either way, please don’t buy individual cans of it from your local petrol station. I buy a tray of 12 from my local farm store for just over a tenner - and that’s for the good stuff, too. (It’s not worth buying the really cheap stuff even if you’re as mean as me because it’ll be water based, which means it will freeze again quite quickly after you’ve applied it. Dangerously quickly, in some cases.)

Your scraper needn’t be fancy, mainly because you’ll lose it in the summer and need to buy a new one come the first frost of the winter anyway. So reckon on spending just £2-3 and if you see a nice, long-handled snow brush on offer at the same time you might like to pop one of those in the trolley while you’re at it.

A small can of lock de-icer is nice to have about the place but certainly isn’t essential. The profligate among you could also treat yourself to a can of night-before de-icer too, the use of which we’ll discuss momentarily.

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The night before

The key to a quick morning getaway is preparation. This means:

• If you can, consider parking your car so it is facing east. Solar energy, even from a weak winter sun, is surprisingly powerful and will help defrost your windscreen without having to resort to chemicals and the application of excessive elbow grease.

• You should also raise your windscreen wipers off the screen to prevent them freezing to it; nothing ruins the rubber faster than inadvertently switching them on when they’re stuck to the ‘screen, and few things make the heart sink like hearing them scrape across a thick layer of ice…

• Speaking of frozen rubber, a thin smear of silicone lubricant or Vaseline on the door seals will help stop them freezing up. Done properly, you should only have to do it once or twice a season.

• If the forecast is for sub-zero overnight temperatures, then you should sit with your door open for a while after you’ve turned off the engine. This lets the interior of the car cool down before you close the car up for the night, which will help prevent ice and condensation forming on the inside of the glass.

• You can also spray the outside of your windows with a night-before de-icer. The idea is to leave a thin film over the glass that protects and prevents it icing up in the first place. I’ve tried it and it really does work.

• Some people swear by an aluminium foil windscreen cover. I’m not convinced, but if you got one you might as well use it.

• Similarly, some people put a small square of duct tape over the door locks to stop them freezing up.

Oh, and don’t forget to take the de-icer, window scraper and snow brush in the house with you when you lock up for the night. They’ll be no use in the morning if they’re securely cocooned inside your igloo of a car, will they?

Driving out of a skid

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Defrosting your car

1. Step one is to brush off any loose snow and ice. You should clear all the snow from your car to make sure that it doesn’t blow off as you start driving, potentially blinding a following vehicle. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to brush it all off without having to resort to using any expensive chemicals.

2. Don’t forget to brush all the snow away from the door openings. If you forget then the snow will fall inside the car when you open the door. If you’ve treated yourself to a proper snow-clearing brush then now’s the time to christen it, but a soft-bristled dustpan brush will do the job just as well.

3. If the ice is just too thick, or it’s too cold to stand there scraping, then now is the time to apply a good squirt of de-icer over all the windows and lights. Once you’ve done that, go inside and have a cup of tea to give the de-icer time to soak in and do its thing.

4. Now scrape and repeat squirting as often as necessary until all your windows are free of snow and ice. Please don’t just clear a letter box-sized space on the windscreen and peer through it like a WWII tank commander. It’s dangerous and illegal and just makes you look silly. By the way, an ice-scraper should only be used on glass, never the metal bodywork of the vehicle.

5. Don’t forget to clear the door mirrors so you can see what’s behind you.

6. If you don’t have any de-icer to hand, then tepid water will do the trick in an emergency. You’ll just need a lot of it and will need to dry your windscreen to stop the water freezing again as you drive away. Don’t use hot or boiling water as it’ll probably crack the glass.

7. You could also use neat screenwash if you’ve got some to hand. Just try not to splash too much on the bodywork; it shouldn’t stain, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

8. If your door locks are frozen give them a quick squirt of de-icer. If you don’t have any then a squirt of alcohol-based hand cleansing gel on the key will do a pretty decent job, as will vodka or any other spirit. Please don’t be tempted to pour water inside the lock to thaw it out or you’ll be left with a completely frozen mechanism next time…

9. You might find that your doors are frozen shut if you’ve forgotten to rub your door seals with a suitable lubricant. If so, your best bet is to spray de-icer around the door seal and pull gently. Keep spraying and pulling and the door should eventually open as the de-icer penetrates. Don’t be tempted to rush things and force the door open; doing so will probably destroy the rubber seal and might even break the door handle.

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Driving in the fog

Once you’re in, please give the car time to heat up inside too. It might take ten minutes or more until your heater is pumping out hot air but it’s worth waiting because you risk the inside of the car steaming up as you drive along if you don’t. 

Nor am I the only one who hates being cold. Batteries hate it too, and you might find that yours doesn’t have enough oomph in it to start your car if it’s very cold. You could carry a set of jump leads with you or you could do what I do and carry something like the WorkshopPlus SmartBox. 

Next article: How to drive in the snow >>>

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.