Windshield washers are fairly reliable. When they fail, it's usually the result of a clogged nozzle or a dead pump. Here's how to diagnose and fix both problems.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine:February 2007
With the car parked in a quiet place, operate
the washer and listen for the whirring
of the pump. If there's no sound, head
right for the fuse box. If the fuse is blown,
it's usually a sign of a dead pump motor
or one that's ready to check out. If it blows
again, replace the motor (see Step 4).
Follow the washer hose to locate the reservoir and motor – usually in the engine compartment or hidden behind the front fender.
Clear the clogged nozzle with a pin, then use compressed
air to blow the debris backward through the hose.
If you hear the pump going but don't get
fluid, you probably have clogged nozzles.
Lift the hood and trace the washer hose
from the nozzles back to the reservoir.
Somewhere along the route, you'll find
either a plastic barbed connector or a
round one-way check valve. Disconnect
the tubing there and try the washer again.
If fluid squirts out, you know the nozzles
are plugged. Clean the nozzles by pushing
a small pin in to loosen any debris, then
blow the clog back down the hose and out
the end that you disconnected (Photo 1).
Access a hidden-style reservoir by removing
the tire and the wheel well liner.
If the fuse is good but the pump doesn't run, disconnect
the connector at the pump and check for
power with a volt meter. With the washer switch on, it
should read 12 volts.
If you don't hear the pump and the fuse is
OK, the problem is usually a poor electrical
connection at the pump or a bad
pump. Most car manufacturers mount the
washer pump near or inside the washer
fluid reservoir. To locate your reservoir,
simply follow the washer hose. If your
reservoir is located in the engine compartment,
access is simple. But many are hidden
inside the front fender. Remove the
wheel and the wheel line fender liner.
Then you'll have access to the reservoir
and pump. Remove the pump wire connector and have a friend operate the
pump switch while you check for 12 volts
with a digital meter at the connector. If
you don't have voltage, the problem is
probably in the washer switch or the
wiring. That's the time to take the vehicle
to a pro.
If you have voltage, clean the terminals
and coat them with dielectric silicone
grease. Try the pump again. If it works,
your problem is solved. If it doesn't,
replace the pump. The main cause of
pump failure is repeatedly running the
motor while the reservoir is empty. So try
to keep your reservoir full to avoid dealing
with replacing a bad one.
Pull out the old pump and replace it with a
new one, following the replacement procedures
packaged with your new pump.
Check with an auto parts store for a
“direct-fit,” not a universal-style replacement.
If one isn't available, buy directly
from the dealer. If your
reservoir is located inside the engine compartment,
remove the retaining clips and
lift out the entire unit and remove the
pump. If it's in the wheel well, just remove
the pump (Photo 4). Some pumps are
held in place by a rubber grommet, others
with retaining rings or clamps. Follow the
instructions included with your new
pump for installation advice.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
You'll also need a volt meter, a trouble light and a pin for clearing the nozzle.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.
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