Stinky washer fluid


This week’s newspaper column has a question about how to cure a problem with stinky washer fluid on a luxury car. Click and Clack don’t know the answer.

Perhaps it has something to do with cars that have heated washer fluid. The only cars I’ve been around with truly nasty smelling washer fluid are newer, luxury level cars, many models of which offer heated washer fluid as an option.

So then the question becomes, why does heating washer fluid make it stink so badly?

Just my thought as to a possible cause of the cited problem.



Well, most washer fluids do contain some ammonia in addition to the alcohol, IIRC, and when it is heated, that ammonia probably wouldn’t smell very nice.


Is it the fluid, or something the fluid is contacting?

  • Is a leak spraying the exhaust manifold?

  • Is there something dripped on the car top the fluid is contacting and either releasing or reacting with?

  • Is the fluid reacting to something in the car wax?

  • Is the idiot who checks your oil dripping oil on the exhaust manifold?

  • Did some kid put something down your defroster that is getting roasted (I found a crayon in there in a used car I bought in 1993).


I believe i may have a suggestion for the stinky winsheild washer problem,refering in particular to the 2001 jaquar post the otherday,I am a mechanic in Corpus Christi,Texas and i have encounterd a few vehicles with that exact problem,however,it wasnt because of the fluid itself.I spent many hours trying to figure out the problem and i believe the problem lies in the winsheild washer motor itself.In every instance i changed the pump with a later model motor and the problem was fixed.After doing some research i beilve the problem lies with the type of rubber washers and o-rings inside the pump.For some reason those type of rubber washers emit a very nasty smell when in use.I am still tryin to figure out exaclty what type of rubber it is to ind out why this is happening but until thn i have solved this problem in the vehicles i have worked on.Once i find the exact reason this occurs i will post it until then maybe this post will help you resolve this issue.
Thank you,


I have about 4 gallons of cheap winter mix formula at home that stinks. Whatever the chemical is that this company used, I notice the smell when I use the washers.


I’m actually sitting here thinking “heated washer fluid!? You’ve got to be f*&@#ing kidding me.” (I had not heard of this before). This is what auto designers & engineers spend their time on? And this is what people spend money on? Is the luxury car crowd really that desperate now to distinguish themselves from the normal schmoes?

In Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series there was this character named - if I remember correctly - Wonko the Sane. He lived in an inside out house. The interior was exterior wall and decoration, while the exterior was interior wall and decoration. He called the “outside” of his house (which looked like an inside) “the Asylum” b/c he had decided that whenever he left his house he was entering the “inside” of the Asylum. I think I might have to go move in (or out?) with him. To me, only the latest but perhaps clearest sign that we are witness to the final decline of western civ.


Guess you don’t live where it is cold and experienced washer fluid freezing on the windshield. Also helps melting ice buildup. J C Whitney and the like have sold this system forever, a coiled tube that wraps around a radiator hose. Also works to quickly evaporate water film in the summer. Post shows as much thought as your others.


Actually I’m quite familiar with fluid freezing on the windshield. Makes a fairly large and immediate mess of the entire windshied by smearing the whole thing in nice opaque coating of ice. Its really bad, of course, if you manage to do this while driving into the early morning sun.

But ever since heater cores and defrost systems there has been a means of dealing with that. Of course, that only works when the car is warm - but so too does a fluid heater that relies on a radiator hose. I’m going to guess that the luxury car versions work by electricity rather than radiator heat. If so, I can see these being marginally helpful if you live in a severely cold climate - like maybe International Falls, ND. (Notice though, that the most informative post here was probably the one by Shawn from Corpus Cristi, TX - not a place I would put on a list of places where cars would need such a gadget).

But even if marginally useful it would have to be mostly as a way to warm up the windshield faster than having to wait for the heated defrost to do it. Warm fluid squirted and smeared on a windshield cold enough to freeze fluid will itself cool so quickly that it will also freeze. Anyway, the “thought” behind my criticism is that we often tend to be “gadget” people who like new gadgets b/c they’re new gadgets. I don’t think this gadget is really worth the time or money - but opinions and tastes will certainly vary.

As for the crack about the posts, I should just ignore it, but am a little mystified. I toss up the occasional banter (which is one of the things that makes this site fun) - but mostly I just try to give people fairly straightforward suggestions to help with car issues. Some have probably been screwy or ill-informed. But a lot of the time I find that my own guesses and suggestions are not out of line with lots of others. But thanks for adding to the “banter”.