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Archive for Monday, January 19, 2004

Products claim to help clear snow, sleet from windshield

January 19, 2004

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"What can you tell me about Aquapel?"

I had been in the waiting room for a while, watching through the window as various hoses were replacing various car fluids in my daughter's Mustang.

It was the second car in the family fleet getting lubed on a Saturday morning.

And, as I waited for the job to be done, I had noticed the poster on the wall for Aquapel.

I read it was a technology breakthrough. It repelled water from your windshield, making it easier to see while driving in the rain.

I liked the part where it said it also could help keep snow, sleet and ice off the windshield.

I was already tired of the morning winter ritual of scraping the windows before hitting the road.

The near inch of sleet that glued itself to my windshield on a recent weekend had been a real pain in the glass. I had to scrape twice that day.

So I left the waiting room to talk to the technician about this new product.

NASA ties

"Aquapel. It really works," the technician told me.

He said Aquapel was sort of like another product, Rain-X, that had been around awhile longer.

However, what put Aquapel out in front was that it actually bonded to the glass -- and one application lasted several months.

He went back into an office and came out with a couple of small Aquapel tube applicators, each designed to spread one coating on a windshield.

"You've spent a lot of money with us today, so I'll just give you one for each of your cars," he said.

I watched as he used the applicator to spread the Aquapel film across the Mustang's windshield, then buff it out clear. He told me that the PPG Corp. came out with Aquapel a few years ago. And, he said, NASA was involved in the research that developed the product.

The second small tube that I held in my hand made me feel like I had a little more power over the winter elements.

If NASA could send a robot to Mars to see what's up there, could it help with the morning scraping?

'Hydrophobic' fluids

According to PPG, what makes Aquapel special is how it makes water droplets bead up and roll right off a treated windshield.

A company graphic showed that on an untreated surface, water would flatten out, sort of like a bubble popping after hitting a wall.

On a treated "hydrophobic" surface, the water droplet only flattens slightly at the bottom, retaining most of its spherical bubble shape, and rolls down the glass.

Other such hydrophobic coating products are Rain-X and RainBan.

Rain-X contains a transparent polymer that "fills the microscopic pores of glass with hydrophobic molecules that force rain, sleet and snow to bead up and roll off," the Rain-X company claims.

I found several Rain-X products in an automotive section of a local department store, including a wax that makes it easier to see where it has been applied. You wipe it on and buff it clear.

One of the newest products was the aerosol Rain-X De-Icer that combined the glass treatment with de-icer chemistry that is supposed to repel ice, sleet and snow.

Rain-X also has a windshield washer fluid that puts a coating on each time you clean your window.

They also have an anti-fog aerosol that claims to prevent interior fogging during high humidity.

Next, I checked on RainBan.

At the recent 2003 Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, one of the highlights was Guardian Industries' RainBan-treated glass.

The selling point for RainBan glass is that the coating is applied on the glass at the factory, giving it an even distribution than you can't get at quick lube places that sell similar products.

And the RainBan coating is supposed to last three to five years, depending on the wiper blade use.

I moved on to see what I could learn about Aquapel.

Aquapel's manufacturer, PPG, claims it lasts up to six times longer than other silicone-based glass coatings. It's supposed to hold up for several months.

PPG Industries recently announced it would use Aquapel for the front side windows as part of a safety package on the Lexus RX330, which is Toyota's first North American-produced model.

Testing it out

I listened for an answer, but all I could hear on the other side of the bedroom door was music and a hair dryer. I knocked and tried again.

"What?"

I shouted through the door.

"Have you scraped this week?"

"Yes. Uh-no. Dad, I don't want to talk about it right now."

Later, I caught Bonnie as she was on the stairs. She said she had scraped some, but the frost was easy to get off.

The next morning, I checked the windshields of her car and her sister's untreated car, which were parked side by side in the driveway.

Julie's car was coated with frost. On Bonnie's, there was frost on the roof, but only a beady film of dew on the windshield.

My wife came walking outside to go to work in the pre-dawn darkness.

"Look ... with Aquapel," I said, pointing to Bonnie's windshield. "And without," I said, scraping the frost off Julie's.

"I want some on my car," my wife said while scraping her windshield.

Despite the evidence, I'm still not sure how well Aquapel works.

So, in the interest of science, I've decided to do further testing with the remaining free sample of Aquapel -- on my own car.

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