You’re on a long drive, and your windshield needs a wash. You tap the wiper lever, but instead of a spray of liquid, you just get that low hum of the windshield washer pump.
A glance at the dashboard reveals an illuminated windshield wiper fluid symbol. You suppress a sigh. Lit dashboard warnings are never fun.
What does the windshield wiper fluid light mean?
What causes this dashboard symbol to pop on? (It’s not always what you think.)
Read on. We’ll get to it all.
This Article Contains:
- What Does an Illuminated Windshield Wiper Fluid Symbol Mean?
- 3 Reasons Your Windshield Wiper Fluid Light Is On
- How to Refill the Windshield Wiper Fluid?
- 4 FAQs About the Windshield Wiper System
Let’s shed some “light” on the issue!
What Does an Illuminated Windshield Wiper Fluid Symbol Mean?
It indicates a low windshield washer fluid level in the reservoir. The windshield wiper fluid symbol has a windshield sign with a dotted line representing the washer fluid jet.
The washer fluid helps the windshield wipers:
- Remove dirt from the windshield
- Provide better visibility during rain and snowy conditions
- Defrost the windshield in cold weather
The low washer light isn’t as serious as other dashboard warning lights (e.g., Check Engine Light), but you shouldn’t ignore it either. A clean windshield is necessary for good visibility to avoid road accidents.
Now you know what this dashboard light means, let’s get to the causes behind it.
3 Reasons Your Windshield Wiper Fluid Light Is On
The factors behind a lit windshield wiper fluid light generally relate to the washer fluid reservoir, the washer fluid level sensor, or its electrical connections. We’ll cover them here.
1. Low Fluid Levels
This is the most common cause behind the wiper fluid warning light on your dashboard. The windshield wiper fluid level in the reservoir can fall due to:
- Normal usage: If you frequently drive in dusty conditions, rain, or cold weather, you’ll use the windshield washer more often. This will use up the fluid in the reservoir, leading to a low washer fluid light. Don’t forget that your rear windshield likely uses wiper fluid, too, if it has a wiper blade.
- Evaporation: The washer fluid tank can also dry up from evaporation due to a loose reservoir cap.
- Leakage: The washer fluid tank can crack due to age, overfilling, freezing of the washer fluid, or an impact. You can spot a wiper fluid leak as watery blue, purple, or orange stuff under your parked vehicle. A leak will surely lead to a low washer fluid level, triggering the dashboard symbol.
2. Faulty Windshield Fluid Level Sensor
The fluid level sensor is generally located at the bottom of the washer tank and consists of a magnetic float and a switch. The sensor has an electrical connection to the dashboard and turns on this low fluid light if the fluid level gets low.
A malfunctioning sensor can cause the low washer fluid light to pop on despite an optimum fluid level.
3. Wiring Issues
Damaged wiring between the windshield fluid level sensor and the dashboard can result in an open circuit. This can illuminate the low washer fluid indicator on some cars.
Next, we’ll walk you through refilling a windshield wiper fluid reservoir.
How to Refill the Windshield Wiper Fluid?
Refilling the windshield wiper fluid is an easy exercise that you can perform yourself. It’s also the likeliest solution to a lit low washer light.
Important: Windshield washer fluids contain methanol to prevent it from freezing during the winter season. Methanol is toxic, and you shouldn’t ingest it, as even small quantities can lead to permanent organ damage and blindness.
Here’s what to do:
- Park your vehicle on level ground and open your car hood.
- Locate the windshield wiper fluid reservoir. It’s usually a translucent plastic container with a cap embossed with a windshield wiper symbol similar to the one on your dashboard. You’ll likely find it near the firewall at the back of the engine bay. Consult your car’s owner’s manual for the exact location when unsure.
- Open the reservoir cap and store it somewhere safe.
- Check the fluid level in the reservoir.
- In case of a low washer fluid level, mix the washer fluid with distilled water according to the recommended ratio.
- Slowly add the windshield wiper fluid to the reservoir through a funnel till it reaches the “full” or “max” mark. Don’t overfill the washer reservoir, as the fluid can expand due to engine heat and leak.
Note: You can use a turkey baster to remove the excess liquid if you accidentally overfilled it. Also, ensure not to let debris or contaminants enter the washer tank while refilling. These can damage the washer fluid pump or the level sensor and clog the hose or nozzles.
- Clean the cap using a rag and secure it back on the reservoir.
- Close the hood and start the engine.
- Check the windshield wiper fluid system using the wiper lever near the steering wheel. You can consult the owner’s manual to determine how to operate it correctly.
The low fluid light should disappear shortly after refilling the washer reservoir, but if it doesn’t, then there’s an issue with the washer fluid level sensor or the windshield washer system wiring. In this case, you should always go for a professional repair service.
Coming up next are a few questions you may have about your car’s windshield washer system.
Read more: Need to know how to replace your wiper blades instead?
Check out how to replace your wiper blades step-by-step and things to keep in mind.
4 FAQs About the Windshield Wiper System
Here are the answers to four questions about the washer system.
1. Can You Use Water in Place of Windshield Wiper Fluid?
No, you shouldn’t fill your windshield wiper fluid reservoir with plain water as:
- Water doesn’t clean the windshield as effectively as the wiper fluid does.
- It can freeze during winter, leading to cracks in the washer fluid tank and its hose.
- Water impurities can form streaks on your windshield.
2. How to Clear Clogged Windshield Wiper Fluid Nozzles?
Automotive polish or small debris in the windshield wiper fluid can clog the washer nozzles. You can unclog them using the methods given below:
- Method 1: Clear the wiper fluid jet nozzles using a needle or pin.
- Method 2: Use a thin wire to clear the blockage in the jet nozzle. Disconnect the wiper fluid lines from under the hood before thrusting in the wire.
- Method 3: Remove the jet nozzles from the hood by disconnecting the fluid lines. Submerge the nozzles in vinegar for some time to unclog them.
If your car’s washer system doesn’t work even after clearing the nozzles, it could be a bad washer fluid pump at play.
3. Do Other Systems Depend on the Windshield Washer Fluid Reservoir?
While the windshield washer fluid isn’t as critical to your vehicle’s normal operation as fuel or engine oil level, it may sometimes affect multiple systems.
Your car’s headlight washers and rear wiper (if present) use the windshield washer fluid reservoir to source their cleaning fluid. These systems, however, have their own washer fluid pump. You’ll probably have to top up the windshield wiper fluid more frequently if your vehicle has headlight washers and a rear wiper.
4. How Often Should You Check the Washer Fluid Level on Your Vehicle?
The interval will vary depending on how often you use it and the size of the washer fluid reservoir. As a best practice, get it checked when you go for some other automotive service, like an engine oil change.
Additionally, always check the windshield washer fluid level before going on a long trip and at the start of the winter season. It’s advisable to store some washer fluid in your garage for an emergency. You can get it from a gas station when you go for a fuel refill or tire pressure check.
The windshield wiper fluid symbol is usually triggered by inadequate washer fluid in the reservoir. You should maintain an optimum washer fluid level to have a clean windshield and avoid this warning light.
But if there’s enough washer fluid or you notice liquid blue stuff under your engine bay, seek assistance from a professional like AutoNation Mobile Service to diagnose the cause. We’re a mobile auto repair service, and we can help you resolve any lit dashboard light — be it the low washer fluid indicator, tire pressure warning, or the dreaded Check Engine Light.
Get in touch with us today, and our expert mechanics will drop by your driveway to fix your vehicle woes in no time!