Product Spotlight: HotShot by Microheat
A few years ago, I was running northbound on I-77 through the mountains in West Virginia. It was mid-February, and as the elevation increased, so did the snowfall. It was that wet, heavy snow that covered a clean windshield in less than a minute and the wipers on the cargo van couldn't keep up.
The temperature was right around freezing, so the snow was not only piling up on both sides of the wiper's arc, but caking on the wipers as well; a condition I'm sure we've all experienced. The defroster was useless by this time and of course, the windshield washer nozzles had long since frozen shut.
When the windshield finally covered over, I was reduced to driving with my head outside the side window, which is not a driving technique I recommend.
Adding to the whiteout fun and games was the unplowed highway itself. There were no ruts to follow in this extremely heavy snow, so I estimated where the shoulders of the road were by the tree line bordering the highway. I desperately wanted to pull over and clear the windshield, but I was the lead vehicle in what seemed to be an endless line of headlights trailing behind.
With visibility down to zero, and our speed down to around 15-20 mph, the four-wheelers behind me insisted on hanging on to one another's bumpers (including mine), so any move on my part would probably take that line of traffic right with me into the ditch.
Fortunately, after about 15 minutes of this white-knuckle driving, the snow abated somewhat and the windshield began to clear. I pulled into the next rest area, and after a good ten minutes of hammering on the ice and show on the front of the van, I was ready to tackle the highway again.
This incident was not the first time this had happened, just the worst example. In the past I had tried different techniques to keep the windshield clear including low temperature washer fluid, adding alcohol to the fluid, Rain-X and similar products, wiper blades which purported to be resistant to snow-accumulation, etc. I never found anything that worked well.
I've always assumed the ideal method of clearing a windshield would be:
1. A defroster with a "temperature of the sun" heat setting combined with a blower of gale force intensity.
2. A self-heating windshield.
I have to admit, I had never considered the following alternative, but the folks at Microheat have. This recently introduced device is simplicity itself, but it took this innovative company to develop and take it through it's testing. The company says that the HotShot will be available around the first of next year.
As told on the Microheat web site, "The Microheat story began in 1994 when Solomon Franco, a law student in London stood outside in the freezing cold scraping his car windshield."
Frustrated with the lack of technology to accomplish what should be a simple task, Franco organized a group of engineers who developed the first prototypes in 1996. Microheat was incorporated in 1998 with their first product: a heated windshield cleaning device they dubbed HotShot.
Headquartered in Farmington Hill, MI, Microheat also has facilities in Israel and Russia.
The company has received three patents on HotShot's design and technology. These include heating element, bypass, and solenoid, with other patents pending.
What Is The HotShot?
Well, to start with, it's 3"w x 4"h x 1"d, or as Microheat states, "roughly the size of an unfolded cell phone." It's constructed of Nylon 6 plastic compound, with metal heating elements. An on/off switch mounted on the dash activates the HotShot unit.
It weighs around three pounds and, according to the company, can be mounted in the engine compartment of virtually any vehicle, with no major adjustments to the vehicle or the engine necessary. The unit is integrated into the vehicle's washer system using the existing fluid reservoir and plumbing.
The HotShot works independently from the defroster and radiator, so there is no vehicle warm-up required. The unit is powered by the vehicle's battery and does not drain the battery when the vehicle engine is running.
Microheat states that the HotShot unit is compatible with all types of nozzles, wet wiper arms and rear window systems. The installation is said to take only 30 minutes and is designed to be simple enough for the backyard mechanic, with only a few basic connections required. HotShot is backed by Microheat's two year limited warranty.
The manufacturer says that HotShot will be available for installation at retail service centers, and automobile parts stores by the end of 2002. Dealer service centers will carry it by the end of 2003.
At this time, no MSRP for the HotShot unit has been established because the device is still in the prototype and final testing stages.
How Does It Work?
The HotShot's heating concept balances the quantity of washing fluid, its temperature, the cleaning efficiency and the electric current consumption.
The company describes the HotShot's two modes of operation as:
Auto Mode - for ice and snow removal after parking and for severe driving conditions.
In Auto Mode, HotShot heats the washing fluid within 30-45 seconds to 85Â°C to achieve a burst of steam which unblocks potentially blocked nozzles and fluid tubes, and then sprays a short hot spray of 65Â°C every 6-12 seconds.
After 2.5 minutes the operation stops automatically, or the driver can stop it sooner by pushing the button again. With full installation, the HotShot operates the wipers accordingly.
Hot wash on demand for any other driving condition. In Standby Mode, HotShot heats the washing fluid to 42Â°C and keeps it warm until the first demand. Then, it offers warm spray every 6 seconds.
A question that comes to mind: What happens when that hot water hits a frozen windshield? Well, Microheat states that HotShot's heated spray is safe to the touch and will not damage or crack the windshield. They go on to say that the unit has been tested extensively under a variety of temperatures, including the extreme cold of northern Canada.
The folks at Microheat tell us that their system works pretty well on a snow-covered windshield of up to two inches in depth of wet, heavy snow, or at about the point where the wipers wouldn't move it anyway.
"HotShot is an ideal product for all drivers in all climates, but truck fleets especially should experience cost savings through expanded productivity and a safer work environment," says Tom Madole, director of aftermarket sales at Microheat.
"HotShot can provide dramatic time savings in cold climates by reducing the need for drivers to come to work early to heat up their vehicle and wait for the defrosters to de-ice. Vehicles that use HotShot should decrease the chance of drivers - especially of large trucks and school buses - slipping off an ice-covered hood or tire while trying to scrape hard-to-reach areas of a windshield."
In The Summertime
Sure, the winter applications for this device are obvious - no more scraping, frozen washer nozzles, etc. But because hot water cleans better than cold, Microheat tells us that the HotShot is ideal for summer use as well.
The company says that the hot spray on the windshield easily cleans off "bird droppings, tree sap, dead bugs and insect grime." They also state that the unit will clean "road oil, wax, salt spray and other chemicals."
The HotShot uses any type of windshield washer fluid, cleaners or bug wash solutions. The manufacturer claims additional benefits of longer wiper motor and wiper blade life and longer times between washer fluid refills.
"In warmer weather situations, driver vision can be severely hampered by the smear and glare caused by bugs, bird droppings and road grime," Tom Madole of Microheat adds. "We've had dozens of trucking companies tell us that bugs are a huge problem for their drivers, in some cases causing them to pull off the road every hour just to clean the windshield. HotShot simply cleans better than cold fluid."
Hot Wash versus Heated Glass
As I stated earlier, I had considered that a heated windshield would be one of the best methods of cleaning an ice and snow covered windshield, but after perusing the Microheat web site, I found a few paragraphs that got me to thinking:
Heated Glass Drawbacks:Cost Benefits limited to ice and fog removal Does not unblock frozen nozzles Does not free frozen wiper blades Issues of cleaning in warm climates
"Heated glass is said to generally clear windshields of snow, ice and fog. The time to achieve this appears to be significantly slower than HotShot's cycling times and does not address the streaking and glare problems found in warmer climates."
"Nor does it do anything for blade flexibility or blade life during cold weather driving. Finally, the cost of heated glass can run 10-15 times as much as the HotShot, which in itself should be a significant deterrent to OEM adoption of heated glass."
I think they might have a point.
Veteran expediter George McDonald recently had the HotShot system installed in his Western Star and says, "I'm very satisfied with the device. Of course, I haven't had a chance to use it in winter conditions yet, but for summer driving, it really keeps the windshield clean."
"I find it works best when I keep the washer fluid at full strength and when bugs begin committing suicide on my windshield, I hit the HotShot button right away; it cleans the bugs off immediately!"
Jason Haynes is an Account Representative for the Sprinter line at Hoekstra Specialty Vehicles, LLC of Grand Rapids, MI. His company has 2 Freightliner Sprinter cargo vans with the HotShot installation, and he reports: "This is a great idea and the company (Microheat) is onto something big! We've had these unit on the Sprinters about a month now, and it seems to be a very good product."
"For summer driving, the HotShot cleans the bugs right off the windshield."
There are some new offerings on the horizon for this innovative company. They are currently investigating an in-vehicle coffee maker that utilizes their instant water-heating technology.
They also tell us of a new HotShot being developed for the rear windows of SUV's and their on-going development of a new type of "closed" washer nozzle that will resist freezing.
Microheat is also in the development stage of a complete "hot wash" system for OEM's, including front and rear window and headlight washing.