The windshield wiper and washer systems are two of the most important components of a vehicle. A quality wiper blade like those manufactured by Trico helps keep your windshield clean of debris so you can see your path of travel. However, even a great wiper blade only works effectively when there is adequate windshield washer fluid to keep the glass clean. When your washer system does not work, it is important to address the problem immediately or you may find yourself driving blindly should something soil your windshield while you are moving. Understanding how to troubleshoot this system can help you address the problem quickly, before it becomes a bigger headache.
The windshield washer system itself has a rather simple electro-hydraulic setup. The fluid is stored in a tank under the hood. Whenever you use the device to trigger the system, which can vary between vehicles, an electric pump at the bottom of the tank gets activated. This pump pushes the fluid through tubing that moves it from the tank to under the windshield. If your vehicle has a rear wiper blade, the system may also move it to that window. The tubing generally ends at a nozzle that helps create a spray effect to get the fluid over the entire windshield. Then, the wipers can do their job once the windshield has been sprayed adequately.
Troubleshooting the Washer Fluid Container
With a better understanding of how the washer system works, you can begin to troubleshoot a malfunction. To start, look under the hood at the washer fluid tank. If you do not know which tank is for washer fluid, refer to your owner’s manual. Typically, the container has a black lid with a wiper design on it in yellow.
Look inside the tank and use a flashlight if it is dark. If the tank is empty, you have likely found the problem. Refill the tank, but be sure to use washer fluid, not water. Tap water can cause the spray nozzles to clog, and it can freeze in colder temperatures, which means it will not flow through the lines. Once you refill the tank, press the spray trigger for up to 10 seconds. If the fluid still does not come out, then you likely have a secondary issue. If the fluid does work, it can be worthwhile to recheck the container and ensure there isn’t a leak.
If you look in the tank and find that the fluid is frozen, then you have a different issue on your hands. If this is the case, you will need to thaw the fluid, perhaps by running the engine or parking it in a warm environment. Then, you will need to remove the fluid and replace it with one that has a lower freezing point. Often, you will need a mechanic to do this, especially if you live somewhere that experiences below-freezing weather.
Alternately, you could find that the fluid is dirty with debris that could be
clogging the lines. If this is the case, you will have to remove and clean the tank. Since
other parts of the system could be affected, it is best to hire a mechanic to check
The Other Possible Causes of Washer Fluid Issues
If everything with the tank looks fine, you may be dealing with an electrical problem. Get your owner’s manual and check the section on fuses. This section should tell you where the fuse box is and which controls the windshield washer pump. The lid to the box may have a map on it if you already know where it is. Once you have identified this particular fuse, remove it carefully and look for any scorch marks or a broken wire that indicate it has blown. If that is the case, replace it with a new fuse. Make sure the amperage rating on the new fuse is the same. If the pump still doesn’t work or the fuse immediately blows again, consult a mechanic because there is a more serious issue at hand.
You can also take a look at the pump itself. If the pump overheats, which can happen if it runs too long without fluid, then it may need to be replaced. If the fuse is fine and the fluid container is filled, yet you cannot hear the pump when you press the activator, the small motor is the likely problem. While replacing the pump isn’t difficult, getting access to it can be tricky since it sits at the bottom of the washer tank, which is often buried in the engine. If you need to disassemble part of the engine to get to the motor, you may want to hire a mechanic to do it for you.
If you still have not identified the problem, check the lines and the nozzles. Check if fluid is getting to the nozzle at all. If not, you likely have a clog in the line. Also, check for any leaks in the line. With a leak, the line will need to be replaced. With a clog, you can use a fine wire to try breaking it up or even use condensed air, although it may be better to hire a mechanic. If fluid gets to the nozzle but not past it, then the nozzle is likely clogged. The nozzles may be in the hood, the cowl under the hood, or the wiper blades themselves depending on your vehicle. You can use the tip of a needle to clean the nozzle openings. Be sure to scrub them well to remove any buildup and keep them working well.