Everyone wants to look out of a clean, streak-free windshield when they are behind the wheel. To be honest, windshield wiper fluid is rarely something one thinks about. But when your reservoir runs dry while your windshield is filthy, you will wish you had paid a little closer attention. Depending on where you live and the driving conditions, you may want to use a windshield wiper fluid that is specially formulated for the season to maximize visibility. Wandering the aisles at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store it is easy to see that there are not just many brands of windshield wipers fluid, but also different types. So which do you choose? There are a few things to consider before grabbing a random jug of blue fluid and heading to the counter.
General-Purpose Windshield Wiper Fluid
For the best all-around cleaning, you can fill your car’s reservoir up with regular automotive windshield washer fluid. Some window cleaners are concentrated and need to be diluted before adding them to the reservoir, so check the label carefully before use. Concentrated window cleaner can be found in bottles or even as tablets that dissolve in water.
Keep in mind the temperatures that you will encounter when picking a general-purpose windshield wiper fluid. Some fluids will have temperature ratings on the bottle advising their cold weather ability to withstand freezing. For those who live in warm areas like Florida almost any windshield wiper fluid will be fine to use. For those in colder areas like the upper Midwest look for something that can handle what your normal winter throws at you with a few degrees colder margin for safety. The last thing you want to happen is a snap freeze causing your wiper fluid to freeze and crack the plastic reservoir. There are also all-season windshield wiper fluids, but again double-check the freeze protection if you live in an especially harsh winter area. We’ll cover winter specific windshield wiper fluid in a minute.
Although some household glass cleaners may be suitable substitutes for standard fluid, make sure never to use detergent or liquid soap as it leaves a residue that can plug up your lines. Some cleaners may also damage paint or plastic if they were not formulated for use on the exterior of a car. Best practice would be to use a household glass cleaner when you are detailing your car and not for filling your wiper fluid reservoir.
Water-repellent windshield wiper fluids and additives from companies like Invisible Glass, Rain-X or Aquapel do more than just clean; they also use water-beading technology to disperse water, sleet and snow. They may cost a little more, but if you frequently drive in rainy conditions, water-repellant fluids can provide greater visibility when driving in the rain. These additives usually don’t complete replace a stand-alone windshield coating, but they boost the cleaning performance and water beading ability of the windshield glass.
Usage is a snap, as the additive is simply mixed into the washer fluid jug or even directly into the windshield washer fluid reservoir. Due to differences in automobile manufacturers, it can be difficult to gauge exactly how much fluid your windshield washer fluid reservoir holds. You might get lucky and find the windshield washer fluid reservoir capacity listed in your vehicle owner’s manual. If you want to be precise in your preparation, then we suggest starting by mixing the additive as per the directions on the bottle in the quantities specified. Most windshield wiper fluids are sold in gallon jugs, and most additives are geared towards treating a gallon at a time, which makes mixing a breeze.
What About De-Icing Fluid?
If you live in snowy areas, consider using a winter specific de-icing windshield wiper fluid. De-icing windshield wiper fluid is formulated with chemicals that reduce adherence of frost, ice and snow in freezing weather. In addition to alcohol, these solutions contain a small amount of antifreeze to melt snow and ice while keeping the liquid from freezing up in the fluid reservoir.
If you live in extreme temperatures, check your fluid’s label to determine its freezing point: All-season windshield wiper fluid freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas windshield washer fluids formulated for the winter are safe until about -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Other heavy-duty de-icing fluids can remain liquid at temperatures as cold as -30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Take note that even though salt is used to melt snow on the roads, resist the temptation to use a saline solution to melt ice on your windshield, as constant exposure to salt can also damage glass. It can also accelerate corrosion of your vehicle’s body panels and chassis as the saline solution drips down the windshield into areas around the cowl and front fenders. These areas are already highly prone to rust due to the difficulty of ensuring proper draining. Leave the salt for use on the roads, driveways, and sidewalks.
As with any household cleaners or chemicals, be sure to keep your windshield wiper fluid out of reach of small children or pets. Its bright colors make it look like a tasty beverage, but it’s poisonous if inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or ingested by drinking due to the presence of methyl alcohol (methanol) and/or ethylene glycol. Never store windshield wiper fluid in an unmarked container.
Finally, always make sure to install fresh wiper blades at least once a year, usually at the end of the dry summer season, to ensure they can effectively wipe the windshield clean of dirt and washer fluid. Windshield wipers wear out slowly so you get used to lower and lower performance as time goes on. A new set of wiper blades can make a dramatic improvement in your forward visibility.
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Image courtesy of Morgue File.