Your Corner Wrench: Plugged-up washer jets are bad news in winter
If there’s anything worse than running out of washer fluid on a slushy commute, it has to be finding out that one of your vehicle’s washer nozzles is blocked, broken, or disconnected after refilling the jug. Repairing lines, and replacing nozzles and connectors can be a straightforward DIY job — if you know a few tricks and how things work.
First things first: Washer nozzles and the various hard plastic connectors — in sections between the washer bottle and the nozzles themselves — don’t like to be handled cold, and will likely snap no matter how careful you may be. So, get your ride inside a heated area and let things warm up before tackling anything.
Figuring out if you’re dealing with a plugged nozzle versus a broken supply line should be as easy as tracing the line from the bottle where the pump is located, to the nozzles while a helper is activating the washers from time to time. If the nozzle is plugged, one of the best ways to clear things out is by using a can of compressed air. Hold the straw tip tight to the working face of the nozzle and try a few short blasts. You can achieve the same effect if you have a home air-compressor and shop blow gun.
When trying to disconnect a fluid supply line from any connector, warm and gentle are the key words. Use your fingers to loosen the rubber line gently off the connector with a slight twisting motion before trying to pull it off. The most fragile part of almost any washer system is their nozzles. After a few years of being exposed to our environment, they can become brittle and easily broken.
The most common culprit is a snow brush when used to try to remove a coating of ice. Almost all nozzles come with a short section of hard plastic tubing where the hose attaches. Here, no clamps are needed. Almost every vehicle make and model uses similar (but not identical) designs for their nozzles. They insert from the top side of the hood and small plastic clips automatically lock them into place. Make sure they are facing the windshield when pushing them into place.
Many consumers are shocked when pricing out nozzles at their authorized dealerships, running almost $40 each for common vehicles. More than one aftermarket company has stepped up with replacements at lower prices, but there’s often a catch. Most of these suppliers only offer them in pairs and while they’re often priced as low as half of what a factory part would cost, you still end up paying out the same dollars. Not to worry, though — if you’re replacing a nozzle on an older vehicle, you’ll probably need another one soon enough.
Before tackling any process that involves removing the washer fluid reservoir, take a close look at where and how it’s mounted. Many automakers bury these units deep in inner fender structures, making access a major task. If you’re stuck with this problem on an older ride and it needs a new pump, you may want to compare the costs of replacing the original with wiring in an aftermarket inline pump.
And remember those ads for heated washer fluid systems? They do work, but require a substantial amount of fluid flow before the heated stuff starts to come out. If you opt for one, keep a case of extra washer fluid in the trunk.