Windshield Washer Problems

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image of windshield washer pump
Windshield Washer Pump

Here you’ll find some good Information about common windshield washer problems on cars and light trucks. You’ll also find some hard to find parts like an aftermarket nozzle kit and replacement washer line, that is quite different from standard vacuum hose.

We all know windshield washers spray cleaning fluid onto the windshield that works with the wiper blades to remove dirt from the front windshield. In some cases the same windshield washer pump is used to spray fluid on headlights and in some cases on the rear glass of an SUV or station wagon.

Some manufacturers will use one pump to service all of these surfaces. Other manufacturers will have separate pumps and reservoirs for the rear glass or headlight washer system. Your owner’s manual can give you a few clues about the kind of system that is equipped on your vehicle by showing you the filling locations and therefore where the reservoirs are located.

In most cases vehicle manufacturers will install a washer pump in the fluid reservoir. Although a few vehicles will use a pulse type pumps that gets its power from the wiper motor. Just about all windshield washer systems or activated by pushing and holding a washer switch. A slick feature on many vehicles is that when the washers are operated the windshield wipers are activated at the same time. You may need a car repair manual to diagnose malfunctions in these kinds of systems.

Problems with Windshield Washer Systems

trico washer pump image
Trico Washer Pump

Some vehicles are equipped with a low fluid indicator. The warning systems are most often operated by a float connected to a switch. when the washer fluid level drops to less than a quarter of a tank the float drops and closes the switch which allows current to flow to the fuse panel and turn on the low washer fluid lamp to notify the driver to refill the washer fluid.

As with any parts that are constantly submerged in water these floats and switches can malfunction and provide an inaccurate warning or you may find that the bottle is completely empty but the warning light has not come on. In many cases removing the float and switch and cleaning off the corrosion or rust buildup coupled with applying a very small amount of lubricant can get the system working again.

One of the most common windshield washer problems that I see is that the fluid in the reservoir becomes contaminated. I have seen many different types of contamination. Sometimes somebody will put the wrong fluid into a windshield washer reservoir such as engine oil or coolant. This can cause clogs in the system and other kinds of issues with the electrical parts such as the washer pump and fluid level indicators.

waher fluid image
Washer Fluid

I have also seen people install some additional detergents they think will do a better job of cleaning the windshield. The windshield washer reservoir was made to hold specialized windshield washer fluid only. It was not designed to have dish washing detergent or harsh chemical bug removers in the reservoir tank or flowing through the hoses and pump. The rubber impeller inside the pump is easily damaged.

Many times when I have come across these detergents that were installed in the system it was necessary to replace all of the rubber hoses and the windshield washer pump itself. Sometimes a standard windshield washer fluid does not appear strong enough to remove what is on the windshield.

In this case take the time to physically clean the glass with an approved glass cleaner. The windshield washing system was designed to remove light dirt and debris. Not baked on stains or even stubborn deposits. For more information about common auto repair problems you can return to the blog’s home page.

Can't fix your car problem on your own? Ask a live mechanic!

7 Replies to “Windshield Washer Problems”

  1. Dan

    I purchased a pre owned Subaru sport-wagon. The windshield leaves a hazy white after run wipers, & can’t see if sun or car lights are in front of me. The windshield is beautiful, until use wipers. I have cleaned windshield with all kind of hand wipe cleaners, I have replaced wipers many, many times; I have replaced windshield twice. Still, this problem exists, I never dealt with something like this in all my years of owning cars— the last windshield replacement guy from 3 A said he thinks my windshield washer is shooting contamination onto my windshield, what do you think it is, I asked many people that just shake their head with no answer. What is your answer without the help of the 3 A guy’s remark? I give up. To replace the windshield washer unit, I would if it is the real problem, I put enough money into this car. Thanks for reply,Dan

  2. Mark

    Dan: I have seen a few cases of contaminated fluid but never to the point of ruining the glass. If the fluid was bad enough to penetrate the surface of the glass you would think it would destroy the washer bottle and connecting parts? Long story short I do not know whats wrong with your particular car. But let me tell you what I know about milky windshields.

    In town we had a do it yourself car wash that recycled water and the system malfunctioned and it damaged some windshields but also some paint. Also some car washes sell hot wax service that is sprayed onto the entire car including the windshield. This hot wax can cause milky windshields after a wiper sweep. Sometimes this stuff winds up in the recycled water and applied even if you didn’t want it. Finally rainx has been reported as causing a milky vision situation after a wiper sweep. For these reasons I never use rainx and hand wash my car from my own hose. If you figure it out please stop back and tell us what fixed it so we can all learn from it. Thank you~Mark

  3. Dan

    Thanks for reply. I don’t use Rainx, & don’t go to car wash. I hand wash car, & keep window clean using stoners glass cleaner. I hardly drive this car; I use another car a lot more, that sits in driveway next to this one, & is older, & never has this windshield problem. I have had windshield cleaned by a glass place about 4 times — they said they used cerium oxide. It does clean the windshield, but within a week this haze starts to build up again. It builds up worst & worst, until I get it cleaned again. This haze only occurs when the wipers are used, otherwise the windshield is brand new beautiful looking. This is a mystery of life that is driving me nuts. I’ll never take a clear windshield when use wipers, for granted again.

  4. Ronald Bruce

    I used some Moto Tech Eco Bug Wash in my Ford truck. A few weeks ago the windshield washer stopped working, but the pump continued to attempt to pump. I initially used a piece of wire to probe the hose fitting from the inside of the reservoir, and all sorts of black “goop” rose to the surface. Once that was done, the washer functioned properly.

    The bottom line – the windshield washer fluid had large amounts of black mold in it, both in the fluid reservoir and the remainder of the fluid in the plastic bottle. I had to use a shop vac to extract the contaminated fluid. I thought the problem was in my reservoir until I was attempting to refill it with the remaining Moto Tech solution. The bottom of the plastic bottle was FULL of noxious black moldy substance, as well as various places on the container wall. I promptly disposed of the remaining fluid, and re-filled with another brand of clean, new fluid. I certainly would NOT recommend this product.

    • Mark Gittelman

      Thanks for the tip Ronald. Usually the alcohol content in washer fluid that prevents freezing also stops mold from growing. I’ve seen mold in the reservoir a few times on cars that had straight water in them for a period of time.

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