How Uber and Lyft Drivers Keep Windshield Washer Fluid From Freezing
Recently, the majority of the United States came under a frost watch with freezing temperatures and snow as far south as Florida and with the North suffering from temperatures in the low single digit degrees Fahrenheit. Canadians are accustomed to these types of temperatures, but these temperatures for extended periods of time in the Northeast is quite rare. Weird things happens to cars when parked and driven in these low temperatures. The most common problem is that the car doesn’t start due to the inability of the battery to provide sufficient power to the starter to start the vehicle.
One problem some people have been suffering here is the malfunction of the windshield fluid pump. I encountered the same problem when I turned on the windshield fluid pump but no fluid came out of the nozzles. I could hear the windshield fluid pump working but no fluid was coming out. After ensuring all the nozzles and lines out of the pump were clear, I tried the pump again but no fluid came out. I decided to put a small long brush into the windshield fluid reservoir and try to reach the windshield fluid pump so I could clean it. I agitated the fluid a bit and then instantly, fluid started pumping again.
This worked for a few days until temperatures were back down towards the single digits and I had the same problem again. This time, once I got the pump working by agitating the windshield fluid inside the reservoir, I drained the entire tank and then put in new windshield fluid. All they had at the gas station was the blue stuff rated to -20F so I poured most of that bottle into the reservoir, thinking that the new fluid would fix the problem. I left the car parked outside overnight where it hit 10F and tried it again in the morning. The same problem happened again once it was cold enough. I agitated the fluid a little bit and added some more room temperature windshield wiper fluid and eventually the pump started pumping fluid. As I was spraying my windshield, I could see that the fluid started to thicken on the cold windshield. I gave it about a minute on the cold windshield and saw that eventually it was the consistency of thick gravy and slightly sticky to the touch. I could also see small blobs of the fluid freezing on my windshield as well.
Note that if you drive the car long enough, the heat from the engine will help defrost the lines, nozzles and the washer fluid reservoir. My washer fluid was just thick so it only took about an hour of driving to defrost the fluid enough on its own to be thin enough to pump. If your fluid has a rating of 32F, it may take a long time for the fluid to defrost if outside temperatures are near 0F. Most cars put the washer fluid reservoir near the front bumper and if you are driving at high speeds, the tank may never defrost due to its distance from the engine.
While the heat from the engine can defrost windshield washer fluid, it can also boil off the alcohol content in your windshield washer fluid, especially if you go through the entire summer without adding more windshield washer fluid. By the time winter comes around, you may be left with windshield washer fluid that doesn’t have any alcohol left, so the freezing temperature would be back to 32F. In this case, it may be best to drain the rest of the tank and then refilling with new windshield washer fluid with the correct temperature rating.
How to Keep Windshield Fluid From Freezing
First is to get the proper windshield washer fluid. Make sure to read the temperature rating of the windshield washer fluid bottle. While most places that commonly have freezing temperatures sell the fluid rated to -20F, the bug remover variant is only rated to 32F since it doesn’t have any alcohol to lower the freezing temperature. There is a summer variant of the “blue stuff” that is also rated to 32F.
I quickly learned that the basic “blue stuff” starts to thicken at temperatures much higher than the -20F temperature rating. This is what most gas stations, automotive stores, supermarkets and pharmacies around here in Boston sell:
Camco Xtreme Blue Windshield Washer Fluid
I would argue that while the fluid doesn’t freeze at 10F, it definitely thickens near those temperatures, making it very hard to pump onto the windshield. I made sure that the tank was empty before filling it up with a new bottle of the fluid and this fluid still thickened up on my windshield. I suspect that these bottles don’t have enough methanol in it to lower the freezing temperature to -20F.
The easiest solution for any Uber and Lyft driver is to add isopropyl alcohol into your windshield washer reservoir. This is something anyone in the United States can do, even if you are in a tropical location (say Los Angeles) and want to go up to the mountains for skiing. You can find this in any pharmacy and some larger supermarkets with a pharmacy section. You can use the 70% rated isopropyl alcohol but you will need to add a bit more into your tank to get the most benefit from it. Some people make an environmentally safe version of windshield washer fluid with isopropyl alcohol and dish detergent. Windshield Washer Fluid often have varying levels of methanol to reduce the freezing temperature of the fluid. Methanol is usually somewhat cheaper than isopropyl alcohol.
Depending on how frozen your windshield washer fluid is, you’ll need to add varying amounts of isopropyl alcohol. If you start off with the -20F rated windshield washer fluid, you only need to add about 8-10 ounces of alcohol to give it a small boost. If you start off with fluid rated to 32F, you’ll need to add anywhere between 32-64 ounces to reduce the freezing point near -20F.
I am planning on going to Montreal this weekend where it is expected to be near -20F. I didn’t take any chances and added about 8oz to the Rain-x windshield washer fluid and I am also bringing in the rest of the 32 ounce isopropyl alcohol bottle with me in case I get into trouble when I am in Montreal.
In order to keep this stuff from freezing once it gets close to 0F, you can switch to a different brand of windshield washer fluid. Many people have used the Rain-X brand windshield wiper fluid that is rated to -25F and had good luck with it:
Another brand that people trust at low temperatures is Prestone. Here is an example of a Prestone Windshield Washer Fluid:
The best place to buy either one of these windshield washer fluid would be Walmart. They have both of these for under $3, which is just as cheap if not cheaper than the “blue stuff” that doesn’t really work that well near 0F. I understand that this may not be available in California or any states that limit the VOC content in windshield washer fluid so you can just get the normal windshield washer fluid and then dilute with isopropyl alcohol.Have more questions about Uber or Lyft? Head on over to our Rideshare Driver Training Course! Driver Promotions