How To

Clear the ice off your car and drive safe, probably for free and low effort

Not exactly consumer gadget related, but thought I’d share one of my hacks/projects. In Nashville last night we had freezing rain. I knew we were going to have freezing rain. If you haven’t had this stuff, your car is encased in an ice cube and you have to use blow dryers to unfreeze the doors to even get in your car sometimes. After that it’s a fight to even start scraping the ice off the windshield.

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Solid ice up top

We knew we were going to have freezing rain a few days ago, so I started investigating car heaters. These are kind of neat, if you can get your door open, but at a measly 150 watts, running off the car battery, and $30-200 and living in a state where this is an issue two days a year, it’s not something I was particularly interested in.

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What I did last night was put a 1500 watt space heater in my car and one in my wife’s car (on the floor, away from anything meltable,) ran the cords out the door (they close just fine without crimping,) and tucked it under the car.

Ice rain hit, encased the vehicles in I’m guessing 1/5th inch of ice, I went out this morning, ran an extension cord to car 1 which was covered in enough ice to be seriously annoying, and let the space heater run. Within about 10 minutes the doors were unfrozen, and a little while later the sheet of ice detached from the windshield. Total electric cost at this point was about 4 cents (we pay 10 cents a kW here.)

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Car on the right is plugged in, left is not

In Nashville, at least, it’s illegal to run your car unattended, and on days like this bands of bored criminals cruise around and take cars that are running in people’s driveways. So you’re not risking that or the $200 fine you get for having your car stolen because you left the keys in it and it’s sending up a giant smoke signal to criminals.

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The melting begins

You are risking setting a fire in your car though, so make sure the space heater cannot fall over, is not pointed at anything melt able, and you actually hang out to make sure that the thing isn’t burning a hole in your car somehow.

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I happened to have a couple of space heaters and an extension cord, so the only worry last night was that roving bands of criminals would come, see my electric cord hanging out the door, and power it with a generator they’d brought making my car too warm.

My paranoia about setting the cars on fire kept me out in the cold for about an hour today to make sure nothing overheated. But as far as I could tell the warmest anything in the car got was about 81 degrees F.

Obviously, use at own risk, you’re putting a heating element in your vehicle and not watching it. Your car could go up in flames.

If you’re buying a space heater (use our link, make Paul drink,) please be aware there are only two differences. All fan-based space heaters are 750/1500 watt and produce around 5120 BTUs. All of them. ALL OF THEM. While some have some fancy features, ALL OF THEM ARE THE SAME. No really. Seriously check out the link. Other than some build quality, fan type, etc there’s no difference in performance.

The only difference in space heaters that matters is the oil radiator ones are probably a little safer.

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts

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5 thoughts on “Clear the ice off your car and drive safe, probably for free and low effort

  • Avatar of MisterWhiskey

    For the two days a year this is a problem… car covers.

    • If you want to buy something you have to keep up with and has no other use the rest of the time, sure… but if you’re buying something anyway: garage

      • Avatar of MisterWhiskey

        You could go with a decent tarp and some bungees for a car cover. I mean, come on man. Tennessee solution for a TN problem.

  • Avatar of Forrest Chang

    WHen I lived in MD, I found that Rain-X makes ice removal much easier. The same effect it has in making rain bead on your windshield makes ice less sticky. Last tested that 21 years ago before I moved to the West Coast, but no reason to not believe that’s not still the case

    • I use Rain-X constantly since the 90’s. Apply it every couple of months. I’ve never noticed a difference. When it’s solid ice it’s solid ice. Then again, TN freezing rain storms the main issue is it’s one large sheet connecting from the tires to the roof, and then it’s a quarter inch thick.. What it’s on isn’t so much the issue as how thick it is.

      Day 3 of this space heater has me getting to a cleared car that’s warm so I’m still digging it. Day 3 also had enough water melt and re-freeze to screw my extension cord and make it a brick of ice though so I have more planning to do.


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