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Don’t Use Water as Windshield Washer Fluid

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Blue windshield washer fluid
Photo: Charles Roderick

At first glance, windshield washer fluid doesn’t seem like a big deal — it’s just some brightly colored solvent that keeps your windows clean, right? Unfortunately, there are some hidden dangers in swapping windshield washer fluid for plain water. Here are a few of the risks for both you and your car.


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Freezing

When you use water in place of windshield washer solvent, it may seem like you’re saving money. However, if the water freezes inside your car, it could cause the tubing to burst, leading to costly repairs. Even if the tubing stays intact, if the water freezes in the line, you won’t be able to use the fluid to clear ice, grime, or other debris. Save yourself the trouble by using non-freezing, de-icing windshield washer fluid.

Visibility

Whether you’re clearing away splattered bug goop or surprises left by a bird, your windshield washer fluid should be strong enough to blast away grime. Some brands of washer fluid offer “bug wash” or “bug remover” formulations that are designed to cut through dried-on organic matter. Plain water doesn’t have the same cleaning power.

Legionnaire’s Disease

This is the big one. Legionnaire’s Disease is a form of pneumonia. Legionella, the bacteria that causes the illness, thrives in warm, stagnant water — like the washer fluid reservoir in your car. Researchers discovered this while trying to figure out why truck drivers are five times more likely to suffer from Legionnaire’s Disease. It turns out it’s because some of them used water in place of bacteria-killing washer fluid. In fact, windshield wiper water is linked to about 20 percent of Legionnaire’s disease cases.

When you spray water on your windshield, some of the mist gets into your cabin through the vents. Once inhaled, that mist can infect your lungs. Worse yet, it’s especially dangerous for the children, the elderly, people with weakened immune systems, and people with respiratory illnesses like asthma. It’s fatal in around 10-15 percent of cases. However, Legionnaire’s disease doesn’t spread from person to person.


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Windshield washer fluid only costs a few dollars per gallon — it’s a worthy investment to protect your vehicle, yourself, and your passengers.

Source: BBC