The windshield washer on a car, truck, or SUV is one of the most overlooked devices. It's often assumed that as long as we fill up the reservoir with windshield washing fluid and change out wiper blades as needed, this system will last forever. However, most drivers depend on a fully functional washer fluid level switch to inform us electronically that windshield washer fluid is running low. When this device fails, it can cause damage to your windshield washing motor and reduce visibility as you drive.
Today's cars and trucks have a windshield washing fluid system that includes multiple components including the washer fluid reservoir, a washer fluid pump, fluid lines, and sprayer nozzles. Together, they allow washer fluid to be pumped up and sprayed on the windshield so that the wipers can clean dirt, grime, pollen, dust and bug debris from the glass. The washer fluid level switch is designed to monitor the level of washer fluid in the reservoir and turn on a warning light in the dash if the level drops too low.
If this switch breaks or is faulty, in addition to not being able to use the system, attempting to spray fluid without enough in the reservoir can actually damage the pump, which is cooled by the fluid moving through it. Using the pump without any fluid can overheat it, and cause it to break entirely. In order to avoid this potentially expensive replacement and repair of your windshield washer system, it's important to be aware of any symptoms or warning signs that a problem with your washer fluid level switch exists.
Here are a few of the common warning signs to be aware of:
1. Windshield Fluid Warning Light does not illuminate
Typically when your windshield washing fluid tank is running low, a warning light will illuminate on the dashboard or on the center console control panel in some newer cars and trucks. If this light does not light up when the tank is low, it can result in overuse of the windshield washer fluid pump and eventually the pump overheating and breaking down entirely. If you try to spray windshield washer fluid on your windshield and only a little bit comes out of the nozzles, you should stop using the windshield washer fluid level immediately. Replacing or repairing a broken level switch is relatively inexpensive and easy. However, if the pump breaks, it is much harder to replace and more expensive to install.
2. Windshield Fluid Warning Light is always on
Another common sign of a broken windshield fluid level switch is when the warning light stays on all the time – even if the tank is completely full. The level switch is designed to measure volume inside the storage tank. When the level of windshield washer fluid is too low, it is supposed to send a signal to the ECU in your car, and then light up the warning light on the vehicle's dashboard. But, if you fill up your tank or it's been completed during a routine oil change or engine service check-up, and the light stays on, it's typically a broken washer fluid level switch.
3. Strange noise comes from the washer fluid pump
When you engage the washer fluid pump by pressing the switch on your turn signal, the pump typically makes a consistent noise in conjunction to fluid spraying out of the washer nozzles onto the windshield. When the pump is running hot due to low fluid, this noise will go from consistent to a grinding type noise. Although it's very hard to describe this noise, you can notice a difference in the tone that the washer pump will make when the tank is low or dry. It's also possible that you might smell burning fluid if the pump gets too hot.
It's always better to fix a minor problem before it turns into a major mechanical expense. As a good rule of thumb, it's a good idea to visually inspect the level of your washer fluid tank once per week, especially during times of the year when you'll use it a lot. Make sure to keep your washer fluid level full at all times and add fluid as needed. If you recognize any of the above warning signs, contact a local ASE certified mechanic as soon as possible so they can repair any damage or replace your washer fluid level switch