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Five steps to repair and replace your windshield washer system

Summertime. Long, warm, breezy days, slightly cooler nights and lots and lots of bugs. As anyone who has driven in the bug belt during the summer months can attest, the absolute worst time to find out your windshield washer system is no longer working is when your windshield is smacked and smeared with the remains of flying insects. While the colors and patterns of smeared bugs may amuse the kids to no end, not being able to properly see out of the front window is a downright dangerous situation. Even the smallest amount of reduced forward vision can obscure road hazards that could potentially cause an accident.

The right time to make sure the windshield washer system is operating properly and full of window washer fluid is before you ever leave the driveway. Also remember to clean your headlamp lenses frequently during the long buggy days of summer. Bug buildup can seriously cut down on headlamp light output.

Seeing clearly
The windshield washer system in all but the most fancy of cars and trucks is relatively simple.

First there is the reservoir that holds the windshield washer fluid. The windshield washer fluid reservoir is usually in the engine compartment, but it sometimes lives in the trunk. The tank itself will likely have a cap with a windshield washer and fluid spraying pictogram on it. Second is the windshield washer pump motor and system of hoses that get the fluid from the reservoir to the windshield. Third is the actual squirter or squirters.

The windshield washer fluid, under pressure from the pump motor in the hoses, sprays forth all over the windshield from the squirters. With the help of the windshield wipers, the fluid usually does a great job of clearing the windshield of dirt, bugs and debris. Keep the windshield washer reservoir full and all should be well. If a pull on the washer lever brings nothing but the sound of wipers scraping across dried-up bugs, then it's time to inspect the system.

Adding windshield wiper fluid and checking the lines
The first thing to check is the most obvious. If demand has exceeded supply, then simply refill the washer fluid tank. A funnel and a jug of washer fluid are the solutions to your problem. Remember to only pour the windshield washer fluid where it's supposed to go. If you're not sure, consult the owner's manual or look for the cap with wipers and spray on it.

If filling up the reservoir doesn't solve the problem, use your ears. Have a pal turn on the ignition key to Accessory and fire up the wipers and washer with the engine off and hood up. Listen for the pump motor. If the motor is whirring away to no avail, then it's time to inspect the lines and squirters. Find the squirters and follow the lines back to the tank. Make sure there are no pinched, cracked or broken lines. Lastly, find the squirters themselves and make sure they're not clogged with old car wax or crud.

Step-by-step summary

Step 1: Finding and filling the washer fluid reservoir is half the battle. This may be your first and last step.

Step 2: With the help of a pal, test the washer function with the engine off, and listen for the pump motor. No whirring? Check the fuse and electrical connections. Replace the motor if it's dead.

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Step 3: Find the lines that run from the pump motor to the squirters. Make sure they're not pinched, like this one.

Step 4: A pinched or broken line can be patched up with a barbed fitting or replaced with new line, which is available right near the windshield wipers at the auto parts store.

Step 5: Clean up the squirters. Old car wax and road crud can clog up the holes. Also check the aim. Windshield washer fluid will do no good squirting over the roof of the car. Now go drive through a swarm of bugs!

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