Choosing the right windshield wiper fluid isn’t the most complicated aspect of maintaining your car, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be confusing. It seems like if you ask three different people what wiper fluid you should be using, you’ll get three different answers, which isn’t much help when you’re standing in the aisle at you local NAPA AUTO PARTS store trying to decide which type to buy.
It’s time to cut through the noise and lay out, in simple terms, what windshield wiper fluid is best for your driving needs.
Don’t Use Only Water
One of the most common mistakes made when refilling your windshield wiper fluid reservoir is to pour in regular ole’ water and call it day. Sure, water might get your windshield clean in warm weather, but once the temperature drops, it’ll freeze up inside your tank and lines, potentially causing damage to your washer system and blinding you out on the highway.
Another, more insidious side effect of using water in your windshield fluid reservoir has to do with bacteria. Over the course of a hot summer, even the purest water can breed microbes, such as the legionella bacteria that cause Legionnaire’s disease, and make you sick when you activate your washers and spray the toxic mixture into the air. It’s a common issue for professional drivers who try to save cash by sticking with water, but don’t let it happen to you. Make sure to use a fluid mixture that contains at least a small amount of alcohol to prevent breeding disease inside your engine bay.
Winter Is The Enemy
Back to the part about windshield washer fluid freezing up in cold weather. If you live in a harsh winter climate, you’ll want to make sure that you use a windshield washer fluid that contains the appropriate mixture of antifreeze for the temperatures you will be facing. Most windshield washer fluids will post the temperature they can be safely used at right on the bottle, and all you have to do is match the fluid to the average low in your neck of the woods and you’ll be all set. Keep in mind that some might require you to thin them out with water, while others will be pre-mixed for your climate.
If you don’t want to lug around a jug of washer fluid with you in your trunk, you might want to pick up a concentrated washer product that you can mix with water and create your own cleaning solution. Mixing one of these commercially-available concentrates with water will kill bacteria as well as provide you with a few solvents to help better clean your windshield glass. Once again, you’ll need to make sure you match any concentrate with the temperatures you’ll be driving through in the winter months to avoid any risk of freezing up your washer system.
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Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.