Defrosters that don’t use a car’s HVAC system are sometimes referred to as “secondary” systems since they are designed to defrost things like rear windshields and mirrors. These systems typically use wire grids and resistive heating to physically warm up the surface of the glass, which can effectively melt ice and remove condensation.
Rear windshield defrosters typically use surface-mounted grids that are easily identifiable by looking at them, while heated mirrors usually have internal wires that you can’t see. However, both systems use the same basic mechanism of resistance heating. An electrical current is applied to the wire grid when you activate the system, and the resistance of the grid causes heat generation.
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