Winter warmup times for a car are dependent on a host of factors, many of which engineers can control such as engine RPM levels, heat shielding, airflow, and so forth. Some things are not so easily controlled, however, such as blocked vents due to environmental factors (like packed snow or a covering of ice). Those can be managed, however, with some smart engineering.

One engineer at Chevrolet got the idea of using the material that gives baby diapers their absorption power. Nicholas Jahn, a GM Vehicle Thermal Systems engineer, was swimming with his daughter and noted how her diaper swelled with water. He learned that the size multiplication of the diaper was due to the absorbent material they use, sodium polyacrylate; a powderish substance that turns into something a lot like snow when saturated.

He sprinkled some onto the air vents of a Cruze along the bottom of the windshield, where intake occurs. He left the car to idle for a few minutes and then took apart the inlet panel to observe how much “snow” had been sucked into the system and how much blockage there was on the intakes.

Jahn discovered two things. First, he discovered a material that mimics snow and ice in any temperature setting and without special equipment such as wind tunnels or snow machines. Second, he found a renewable way to conduct these tests since the sodium polyacrylate can be dried out and re-used.

Using what has been learned, GM engineers are now re-tuning intake systems and vent covers to better keep snow and ice from entering, improving vehicle warm-up and window defrost times.

All thanks to diapers.

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An automotive enthusiast for most of his adult life, Aaron has worked in and around the industry in many ways. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP), the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA), and freelances as a writer and journalist around the Web and in print. You can find his portfolio at AaronOnAutos.com.

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