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Isopropyl alcohol good de-icer, methanol more potent

Q: I have a small squeeze bottle of lock de-icer that contains isopropyl alcohol.

Published February 16, 2008
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Q: I have a small squeeze bottle of lock de-icer that contains isopropyl alcohol.

My husband has a jug of methyl hydrate (paint thinner) that he says can be used for the same purpose.

Is he right? I wouldn't want to use something that harms the car.

A: Bruce Orr, a professional engineer with the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute – Ontario Division, replies:

Alcohols alter the freezing point of water, thereby causing ice to melt to free up frozen locks or rubber door seals.

Methyl hydrate contains methyl alcohol, also known as methanol, which is often added to gasoline in minute quantities as gas-line antifreeze. Isopropyl alcohol is also known as isopropanol or "rubbing alcohol."

Both of these products can be used as de-icers. Methanol is the more potent of the two, meaning less is required for the job and it's quicker.

Eric Lai adds:

Use a dry graphite lubricant to help deter seized locks in the first place. Re-apply if de-icer has been used as these wash away lubricant within the lock mechanism.

SAFETY WARNING: Keep automotive fluids out of the reach of small children and pets. Lock de-icers, fuel-line antifreeze, washer fluid and coolant, for example, are all poisonous if consumed.

Ingesting even a small amount may cause blindness, injury or death.

Q: What are your thoughts on mixing motor oils? Some say it's not desired while others say there's no problem.

A: Bruce Orr, a professional engineer with the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, replies:

Mixing grades isn't recommended as oil viscosity is temperature sensitive. Use only the automaker-specified grade for the season to ensure proper lubrication during start-up, particularly in sub-zero temperatures.

Mixing oil types negates the long-life advantages offered by synthetic oil. If synthetic and conventional oil is combined, the lifespan of the mixture is shortened to that of regular oil and more frequent changes are required.

Combining different brands of the same grade and type of oil isn't ideal as each brand has its own specific additive package. While most additive packages are compatible with each other, in rare instances, blending might cause antagonistic effects under extreme driving conditions.

Eric Lai adds:

In other words, it's best to stick to one type, brand and grade of oil for the initial fill at an oil change, as per your owner's manual recommendations.

For topping up between changes, the identical oil would be best. But if that's not known or unavailable, don't stress out. Just add the grade specified in the owner's manual and it should be fine for most cars in ordinary use, Orr advises.

However, if you're driving a high-end or high-performance vehicle, or operating under extreme conditions (e.g. race track, Arctic expedition) then you're advised not to stray from the brand/type/grade of oil used at the last oil change.

Q: I can't locate my car's ownership papers. What can I do?

A: Ontario Transportation Ministry spokesperson Bob Nichols replies:

To replace the ownership permit for a vehicle registered in Ontario, the current registrant – as recorded on the ministry's computer records – may visit a licence office with proof of identification and pay a fee of $10.

Q: Canadian Tire sells a Dirt Hound wall-mount wet/dry vac that I'd like to get for my car and garage. I've never heard of this brand. Is it one of those questionable overseas off-brands that I should be wary of?

A: The new Dirt Hound brand is exclusive to Canadian Tire. Products are manufactured in North America (Mexico) by the Emerson Tool Co.

The model you mention has up to 7 metres of hose, for use like a gas station car vac, or you can unclip the unit from the wall bracket and take it with you.

Emerson reported worldwide sales of $20 billion last year, so it's hardly a fly-by-night operator.

Q: Is rustproofing by Rust Check better than Krown?

I've had my 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited done by Krown annually, and the only complaint I have is the dripping and the initial mess. The Jeep still looks brand new.

A: I've used both Rust Check and Krown in the past and could find no discernable difference in the performance of either light-oil rustproofing product.

Both companies state that their light-oil formulation is water-displacing, creeps into hidden crevices, leaves a residual protective film and is self-healing to recover bare areas if scratched.

To minimize any mess after application, Rust Check (and Perma-Shine) offer a thicker no-drip formula for the underbody.

One Rust Check franchisee in Mississauga says virtually all his customers request this no-extra-cost option. Light oil on body panels combined with the no-drip undercoating has now become the standard application at his shop.

Krown's head office states the company does not provide a no-drip formula, citing the benefits of light oil as cited above.

(Note that the Toronto Star neither

recommends nor endorses any

automotive product or service.)

LIGHTS ON FOR SAFETY: By law, motor vehicle lights must be activated at night from one-half hour before sunset to one-half hour after sunrise, and at any time that persons or vehicles on the highway are not clearly discernible at a distance of 150 metres.

On a recent foggy day with near-zero visibility, only one out of every 10 motorists observed exercised common sense and complied with this regulation. The remainder seemed oblivious to the fact they were breaking the law and endangering themselves, their passengers, and every other road user by simply not activating their lights to make themselves more visible on the roadway.

Most daytime running light systems alone do not satisfy this lighting requirement as you must be seen from both front and rear. Two fully-illuminated low-beam headlights and at least one working red tail light are mandated by law for motor vehicles. For motorcycles, one headlight and one tail light are required.

Email non-mechanical questions to

Eric Lai at wheels@thestar.ca. Include year, make, model and kilometres of autos cited, plus your name, address and telephone number.