Water-repellent Glass and the Chinese Grand Prix

Scott Benjamin

While sitting at my home in Atlanta, Ga., a rain storm in China got me thinking about water-repellent glass. Here's how it all went down ...

This weekend, it was raining just hard enough to prevent most outdoor activities, so I switched on the television. Within seconds I was watching a broadcast of the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix. Now, if you happened to watch this race yesterday, then you may already know where I'm going with this -- it was raining in Shanghai, China, too. Actually, for the first several laps of the race it was pouring. Yeah, I knew the speeds were going to be reduced for the track conditions, but I kept watching. Seeing these world-class drivers (at speed) attempt to keep their million-dollar racing machines on the track surface and away from the grass, gravel, walls and other cars made me wonder aloud (several times), "How can these guys possibly see anything?" If you didn't watch the race, take a quick look at a few of the photos on the Formula 1 Web site and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. Aside from the lead car, the view is almost completely obscured by water spray. I could sympathize. Well ... sort of.

Having recently returned from a brief drive on a rather wet Georgia highway, it was fresh in my mind how difficult it is to keep a car's glass clear in these conditions. If it's raining hard enough, and if you're in heavy traffic, cars and trucks can sometimes simply materialize beside you, seemingly without ever making an appearance in your side view mirrors. Sounds dangerous ... and it is. Of course, a good set of wipers will take care of the front glass (and sometimes the rear glass, too), but usually the side glass and rear view mirrors are left water covered and difficult to see through.

Not the case when your car has water-repellent glass. I've applied water-repellent treatments to my own car windows in the past -- with varying levels of success -- but in recent years, auto manufacturers are including water-repellent glass as a feature straight from the factory. The water-repellent coating is applied to the glass during the manufacturing process. This coating lasts for several years and gives the glass an outer surface that resists water adhesion. In fact, it forces the water to bead up and roll off, taking additional beads of water along with it. Add a strong wind current from a moving car and you can see how effective this treatment can be at keeping glass free of vision-distorting water.

A number of manufacturers make use of water-repellent glass. Volvo, a long-time leader in automotive safety, is one. According to TestDriven, a UK-based car news and road test site, Volvo began offering water-repellent glass (WRG) in 2004 on several of its 2005 models, including the S60, V70, XC70, S80 and XC90. Of course, Volvo wasn't the first, and isn't the only, automaker to offer this safety feature. Lexus, BMW, Porsche, Audi and several others offer similar glass treatments, and later this year, even the 2010 Toyota Prius will offer water-repellent windows for the driver and front passenger door glass.

Formula 1 cars don't have windshields or door glass (or doors) to keep clean in the rain, but they do have protective face shields. Isn't it kind of funny how a rain storm in Shanghai, China can make your mind wander? Then again, maybe that's just me.

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