Deadly problem with windshield washer fluid dispenser on 2004 Volvo XC70

Basics: perfectly good car except when temperature reaches low 20s. Washer fluid is full, but does not dispense when temperature is too low. The fluid is the typical -xx that you find anywhere and moreover the fluid upon closer inspection was not frozen. It just couldn’t come out. I discovered this while driving in white-wash conditions not once, but twice. The first time was not as bad and I thought it was a fluke. The second time I thought I was going to die as after road muck hit my windshield and I couldn’t see a thing during a snow storm. I pulled over and after 10 minutes or so of constantly hitting the fluid dispenser button, a got a few squirts out of one then the other, then a regular flow, then a squirt, until it was working properly.

This happened first two years ago and again in January 2010. Both on road trips. It’s possible this feature was always defective as the road trip in winter 2009 through VT was the first time I drove in freezing temperatures.

Once I got home I called Volvo and they said they never heard of this problem. I then called the dealership mechanic and he said he has heard of this issue before but he doesn’t know what causes it and that there is no “fix” for it.

What is the problem and how can it be fixed or replaced?

Once upon a time, not that many years ago cars didn’t even have “washers” at all. So the grime hit the windshield and you couldn’t see for a bit. These blackouts, or mush outs, were not fun.

No washer system is perfect. Even use of antifreezing washer fluids doesn’t guarantee the system will get the fluid on the windshield when you need it. What I’ve learned to do is to test the fluid squirt when I know I’m getting on a busy road. Sometimes that means digging out the little sprayer buttons on the hood that contain the nozzles. Ice builds up on the outside of the nozzles and needs to be cleared off. It isn’t the fluid that’s frozen its the water on the hood and at the very end of the nozzle that’s frozen. In a couple of rare instances I had to pour a little warm water on the nozzles to get them clear and working.

Volvo’s design might be a bit more susceptible to icing up, but I have experience with Volvo’s and other cars and the Volvo’s weren’t better or worse than other cars in this respect in my experience.

the fact that you were able to clear the lines suggests that the fluid in the tubes and near the nozzles is somehow becoming diluted or less effective and freezes…

There are windshield washer fluids for cold weather driving, for instance Prestone makes one.

On some of my fine vintage automobiles, I carried a bottle of Windex for such occasions.

Ed B.

Are you SURE that your washer fluid is rated for the temps encountered? The standard blue jug isn’t what it used to be. They all used to be rated for -20F- - 30F. Now you have to pay a premium for that level of cold capability.

It took be by surprise. I’ve never seen washer fluid “complicated”. I have to conclude that it just got cheaper.

You made sure that the outside of the nozzles was completely clear of ice, right? I figured I’d ask since you didn’t specifically say that you checked this.

My wild guess is that a little moisture is entering the nozzles and freezing just inside. Maybe the pump is letting a little washer fluid drain back over time, which would facilitate this. If that’s the case, it might help to spray the washer regularly, especially when parking the car for the night. You could even cover the nozzles at night if precipitation is expected.

Maybe you’d want to locate some windshield washer concentrate and boost your fluid from -20 to -40 or more (making sure you don’t go so far that it’s bad for the paint). This would help to eat through any ice in the system more quickly.

Yes, the nozzles were clear of ice.

I’ve had similar experiences to the OPs, and even had it on several vehicles.

Like other replies have noted, I too then discovered the regular window washer fluids have been “watered-down” and that I had to pay extra for the premium freeze protection.

Those “more expensive” washer fluids solved the problem.

I agree the others, it wasn’t your car, it was the fluid. Even though the fluid in the reservoir wasn’t frozen, there’s much less in the pumps and lines, so it’ll freeze more quickly when the temp drops below the fluid’s freezing point. Just get the expensive low temp fluid.

I’m really surprised that the consensus is that this is just a fluid quality issue. All the friends I’ve consulted on this and personal experience with cold mid-west winters suggests the prevalence of this problem would be zero. Somewhat reassuring I guess that this is not a Volvo-specific problem.

Any other thoughts? Is it possible that water is getting in the tube somehow and freezing? I was about to get a new car as I didn’t want to risk going through another winter with this problem.

The blue jug was rate to minus 40. I was driving in low 20s, not below 0 … or is there no meaningful difference between the two?

I’m really surprised that the consensus is that this is just a fluid quality issue. All the friends I’ve consulted on this and personal experience with cold mid-west winters suggests the prevalence of this problem would be zero. Somewhat reassuring I guess that this is not a Volvo-specific problem.

Assuming that there’s no slowing of the pump in the cold temp (you didn’t report any oddball sounds) …and the total absence of a problem during warmer temps, the fluid is the most likely suspect. Unless some rigidity issue with the tubing has you leaking fluid …or some pump rotational speed issue causes it to have lower output, that’s about all that there is too it. Dirt doesn’t care whether it’s cold or warm, the viscosity of the fluid changes (yes, folks, even water does a decent change), it’s so minor on scale that it won’t be a factor.

Outside of seeing if the electric motor has some lube access point (not likely- it’s probably sealed) …there’s not much else within the realm of “usual suspects”.

You’re now looking for an obscure or “unusual suspect”.

Right no odd sounds when I was trying to get the fluid to come out. Just total silence. And no problems during warmer temps, even 10 degrees warmer (32+).

There are valves where the PVC tubing splits to supply fluid to the headlight wipers. These tend to clog, sometimes leak, and quite likely have water in the line which is freezing in winter. They are realtively cheap and easy to replace-- I would start there.