They Wrecked Wiper Fluid TooJoel Poindexter
Jul. 13, 2012
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Driving into work the other morning, I reached over and gave my windshield a quick spritz. Nothing. Oh, sure, the wiper fluid came out just fine, the blades slid across my windshield as they should, but it was to no effect. So I sprayed again and again; eventually, my window was clean, but it took far too long and much more fluid than should have been necessary.
Just as I was thinking I'd been duped by the manufacturer, I thought of Jeffrey Tucker: "If some product annoys you in surprising ways, there's a good chance that it is not the invisible hand at work, but rather the regulatory grip that is squeezing the life out of civilization itself."
And sure enough, over the past two decades, bureaucrats in various state environmental protection agencies, with help from the feds, have placed ever-tighter restrictions on the concentration of cleaning solvents in wiper fluid.
Since the mid-1990s, the amount of cleaning agents in wiper fluid (as a percentage of weight) has fallen in California from roughly 35% to 10%. Texas, too, has a statewide limit of 23.5%. The cities of Atlanta, Ga., and Phoenix, Ariz., also have restrictions, with the former being only 8% by weight. Most other states have limits around 35%. There have also been limits placed on the volume of antifreeze that can be included in pre-mixed fluid. Typically, there are some exceptions made for mountain areas — or regions that are often colder during winter months, as in California — but increasingly, your over-the-counter wiper fluid is often little more than colored water.
While these restrictions are limited to a few states, the effect of the legislation has been widespread, such that retailers often carry products that are compliant even outside of these regulated areas. I surveyed a number of local auto parts stores and found that many products contain solvents in accordance with California's or Texas' standards and say as much on their labels. Ostensibly, it is more cost-effective for a manufacturer to offer one blend, rather than producing and distributing multiple goods to differing regulatory fiefdoms.
The cost of not complying with this can be extraordinary, as Ace Hardware learned a few years back. In the state's largest settlement, Ace was forced to hand over $850,000 to California's Air Resources Board for selling blends that exceeded state limitations. In another case, an Indiana company was fined $150,000 for violating the Clean Air Act and, under the terms of their settlement with the EPA, agreed to reduce the amount of cleaning agents they added to their wiper fluid blend.
And so it goes. Nothing that improves the lives of consumers is beyond the grasp of the legislators, the regulators, the bureaucrats and the busybodies employed by governments. There's the shower head, the toilet tank, laundry and dish soap and many other attacks on civilization. Now we can add windshield wiper fluid to that list of state-ruined consumer products.
In this case, such intervention goes beyond reducing material comfort; and it's not only a nuisance, but impacts safety as well. Without adequate solvents, your wiper fluid won't properly clean your windshield, and can even freeze while driving in cold weather. Cellphone usage is the safety hazard du jour, but the real threat to motor safety is the obstructed windshield. And unlike the cellphone, which has sprung from the voluntary market, and for which the market can provide a solution, the dirty or iced-over windshield is a product entirely of the State.
In Georgia, for example, during the 1990s, the city of Atlanta released a tri-fold pamphlet on the city's wiper fluid regulations. In the classic gangster threat veiled in concern, they wrote: "Complying with this rule is easy. Not complying with this rule can be expensive."
Under the heading of noncompliant fluids, we find this: "Windshield wiper fluid that works in temperatures less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit" and "deicers" are not allowed. So the city threatened businesses, telling them if they sell a product that works in low temperatures — as it is meant to — it "can be expensive" for them.
Now, it is true that winter temperatures don't often fall below 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the South. But having lived there for several years, I can say that's not always the case. It's also apparent that such products were in sufficient enough demand that stores felt compelled to offer them prior to this ban, hence their prohibition. Were there no one looking to buy these products, it follows that the ban wouldn't have been instituted.
There's something else about the ban on deicers that makes no sense if the goal really is to protect the environment. Without them, a driver has to idle his vehicle in order to heat the windshield enough to melt the ice. As we're told, this leads to an increase in air pollution and is also not good for the environment. Of course, consumers could simply use more wiper fluid. But that's no different in principle than having to repeatedly flush the toilet or rewash one's clothes; it's not only inconvenient, but it also negates the supposed gains in protecting the environment.
Curious about how to fix this problem, I looked at what the market is allowed to offer. Most stores carry a handful of brands, and they all have a few variants of washer fluid. At every store, there was at least one product that had 35% solvents, but most had a lower blend. None of the locations had a concentrated formula meant to be mixed by the consumer, as there once was. One store manager told me they used to carry the concentrate, but stopped a few years back. He wasn't sure why.
Unable to find what I needed in the physical world — the world controlled by the state — I began searching online, and to my never-ending joy found that Amazon offers myriad products and concentrated formulas for windshield wipers.
So the solution to such madness is simply to mix your own wiper fluid with the concentrated formula at a higher rate than the packaging suggests. In the winter months, you can add a little antifreeze to your wiper fluid as well. These two fixes will roughly return the wiper fluid to its pre-adulterated state, ensuring clean and ice-free windshields for safer driving.
It truly is a sad commentary that we've been reduced to hacking virtually every household appliance and mixing our own cleaning products in order to reverse the trend of regression the state has forced upon us.
Some of these are simple, inexpensive and easily accomplished, even by those not inclined to handiwork, but some can be far more complex and costly. The point is, however, that none of it is even necessary, since the division of labor had solved all of this long before government declared war on our housewares.
Joel Poindexter is a student of economics, a part-time writer, and a columnist for the Tenth Amendment Center and a contributing author to Voices of Revolution: Americans Speak Out for Ron Paul. See his blog.