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Experts: Evaporating Chemicals Can Cloud Your Windshield

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(credit: CBS) Jennifer Mayerle
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – You know that new car smell? Experts said the same thing that causes it could be creating a film on the inside of your windshield.

One Twin Cities dad said it was so thick, it made it hard to see in the sun and impaired his driving. Jim Williams believes it’s a danger to drivers.

Williams bought his Nissan Altima new. He wanted a safe, reliable car for his wife and daughter.

“I drive [my daughter] to school, to her activities, just like any mother and father would do,” Williams said.

Soon after he drove the car off the lot, he noticed something strange.

“When I drove into the sun, directly into the sun, there was a real dense film on the front windshield and when the sun hit it, it magnified it and made it real blurry,” Williams said.

He took it back to the dealership to have the windshield cleaned. Williams said he did that numerous times over the course of the first year. The windshield would stay clean for a while, but Williams said the film just kept coming back. He said it’s a safety concern.

“It distorts the vision, your vision when you go into the sun,” Williams said. “You’ve got to be able to see traffic and others.”

Hugh Hefferan worked as a Nissan service manager for more than 30 years. He said every year there were half a dozen customers who would complain about the problem.

“It’s on the inside of the windshield. A lot of people think they have a problem with the glass itself, but it’s not the glass,” said Hefferan, who’s now retired. “Everybody talks about, ‘Oh, I love the new car smell. It’s outgassing of chemicals.'”

Polymer chemist and University of Minnesota professor Marc Hillmyer said the phenomenon occurs when chemicals used to make the dashboard more resilient evaporate over time and stick to the windshield. Warm temperatures make the problem worse.

“If it gets hot enough, you get more and more of the compounds coming from the solid material, the plastic material, exuding out by basically a vaporization process,” Hillmyer said. “So the hotter it gets, the more of these molecules can, if you will, exude from the plastic material.”

And he said that’s what clouds the windshield.

It’s a real concern for Williams, who knows driving can be dangerous, especially when you can’t see clearly.

“I would like to see the issue resolved,” he said. “Either a change in what kind of product they’re using on the dashboard, just so everybody is safe.”

The dealership didn’t charge Williams to clean his windshield. WCCO has heard reports of other makes of cars having similar problems.

WCCO reached out to Nissan. A spokesperson issued this statement: “Nissan has dispatched a field engineer from the region to inspect the car later this month. Once they have examined the car and understand the nature of the windshield coating, we will be better prepared to assist the customer and reach a satisfactory solution for them. This has not been a common problem, and Nissan strives for a high level of customer satisfaction and confidence with Altima owners.

The customer requested the date of 07/30 for inspection due to scheduling conflicts. We’ve offered a rental to the customer for the time being so that we can keep the vehicle at the dealership with the film on the windshield, so that there is no problem with the concern not being able to be duplicated. We also have been told that the customer is pleased thus far with Nissan’s attempts to resolve this situation.”

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