When you've got dirt, road grime, or bug splatter on your windshield, nothing's more frustrating than activating the windshield washer sprayer and discovering you’re out of windshield washer fluid.
Fortunately, replacing windshield washer fluid is simple enough, but you'll quickly learn there's a wide range of options. Below, we'll help you determine which windshield wiper fluid is best for you and why. But first, let's review the mechanical process of refilling your car's windshield washer fluid.
Unlike motor oil and other fluids in your vehicle, windshield washer fluid doesn't break down and never needs changing. Therefore, there’s no specified procedure for changing windshield washer fluid.
That said, if the fluid gets low you can top it off using the following steps:
Many vehicles now include warning lights or messages that alert you when the fluid is low. It will either be a light in the shape of a windshield with water spraying on it or a message that reads something like "Windshield washer fluid low."
At this point, top off the windshield washer fluid reservoir using the steps listed above.
If your vehicle has no windshield washer fluid light or message, you must proceed with a little more care to avoid damaging the system. If you activate your windshield washer fluid and nothing comes out after a few seconds, stop and refill the fluid reservoir using the steps outlined above.
Don't continue trying to activate the windshield washer fluid when it's empty as the fluid acts as a coolant for the windshield washer fluid pump. If there's no fluid in the reservoir, the pump may overheat and fail, leading to a costly repair.
Like so many other automotive fluids, there are various windshield washer fluid types. But instead of each fluid being for specific vehicles, these fluids are for varying environments and climates.
This is the basic, run-of-the-mill blue liquid you can pick up at any auto parts store, discount store, or pay-three-times-as-much-for-it-in-a-pinch gas station. This fluid is generally a mixture of water, methanol, and other chemicals.
Because of its high concentration of cleaning agents, standard windshield washer fluid tends to clean more thoroughly, leaving you with a clear view and fewer streaks than other mixtures. However, since it has little to no antifreeze chemicals, Canada's extreme winter temperatures can cause it to freeze.
There’s a wide range of standard windshield washer fluid brands, including Certified, Peak, Prestone, and some auto parts stores even have their own store-name washer fluid. These are some of the least expensive washer fluids on the market. They generally run $2-$3 at your local auto parts store for a 3.78-liter jug.
During the summer and spring, bugs are in full force, coating windshields in their sticky guts. This is when bug remover windshield washer fluid’s extra cleaning additives come in handy. This type of fluid is especially adept at dissolving and washing away bug splatter. However, because there are more cleaning agents, there’s less room for antifreeze, leading to higher freeze points.
A couple of popular bug-busting washer fluids include Rain-X Bug Remover and Preston BugWash, which fall in the $2-$4 range for a 3.78-liter jug.
Sometimes sold as washer fluid and other times as an additive you mix with your existing washer fluid, this water-beading formula uses silicone and other chemicals to force the rain to bead up on your windshield and roll off.
This beading action can help improve visibility in heavy rain, but the water repellent chemicals tend to cause more streaking as your wiper blades age. You'll see various beading windshield washer fluids, but Rain-X is one of the most popular.
These fluids generally run in the $5-$6 range per 3.78-liter jug for the higher-quality Rain-X brand. You can get other brands for less (in the $2-$4 range), but some have spotty reviews.
De-icing windshield washer fluid is specifically for those frigid Canadian winters, as it features an antifreeze additive, typically ethylene glycol and methanol, that allows it to endure temperatures of -49 degrees C or lower without freezing.
This antifreeze property not only prevents the fluid from freezing but it also means you can use it to melt a thin layer of ice from your windshield.
The downside of the heavy antifreeze content is there’s less room for cleaning agents, so it may not wipe away dirt, grime, and other debris as well as typical washer fluid. Winter windshield washer fluid also tends to be the most expensive mixture.
In most cases, de-icing windshield washer fluids are rated to not freeze at -40 degrees Celsius, but some go as low as -49 degrees Celsius. The lower the temperature rating, the more effective it is at melting the ice and resisting freezing. However, the lower its temperature threshold, the fewer cleaning agents it has and the more streaks it may leave on your windshield.
You’ll see various brands available, including Rain-X De-Icer ClearView, Reflex De-Icer, Reflex Ice Defence, and more. You can generally pick up a 3.78-liter jug of de-icing washer fluid for $4-$5.
Can't decide which windshield washer fluid is best for you? You can meet in the middle with an all-season windshield washer fluid.
This year-round formulation generally endures relatively low temperatures — sometimes as low as -45 degrees C — without freezing and includes additives to remove bugs and enough cleaning agents to wash away road grime.
There’s a broad range of brands offering these year-round washer fluids, including Rain-X All Season, Rain-X All Season ClearView, and Reflex. All-season windshield washer fluid typically costs $3-$6 for a 3.78-liter jug.
In Canada, our winters are not for the faint-hearted. Even in the warmest provinces, wintertime is frigid and snowy. However, in some areas across the country, the summers are mild and sunny, giving us dramatic shifts in high and low temperatures as the seasons change.
This range of temperatures may lead you to believe you need to rotate your windshield washer fluid — just like replacing your summer tires with winter tires — when the temperature drops. Fortunately, most all-season washer fluids offer all the protection you need.
Not only do all-season washer fluids have freeze points as low as -45 degrees Celsius, but they also have a good balance of detergents to help keep your windshield clean and streak-free.
If you do a lot of highway driving and deal with a windshield full of bugs, you may want to consider switching to a bug wash in the summertime.
While there’s a wide range of windshield washer fluids, one option is 100% off the table: water.
Some drivers assume they can simply put water in their washer fluid reservoir and be on their way, but doing so will only lead to problems.
First, in the summertime, you’re missing out on the detergents that help wash away the dirt and grime. Imagine doing your dishes with just water — pretty gross, right? The same concept applies to cleaning your windshield.
The second and most important issue with using water is that it freezes at 0 degrees Celsius. Frozen water expands and can potentially break the washer fluid reservoir, the hoses, and even the washer fluid pump.
Owning a vehicle means understanding the fluids it needs. In some cases, this means changing the fluid type with the seasons, which many Canadians must do.
Using the right washer fluid starts with knowing the five key types of windshield washer fluid:
With an understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of these fluid types and how they interact with the frigid Canada winters, you're now ready to pick the right washer fluid for the job. (And just so you know, every Clutch vehicle is topped off with windshield fluid.)