Can Catherine get the coolant out of her windshield-washer reservoir?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 01, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

I recently had my 2006 Chevy HHR worked on at the dealership where I purchased it new. Long story short, the mechanic put antifreeze in the windshield-washer reservoir. Of course, the dealer believes his mechanic would never make that kind of mistake, and wanted to charge me a large sum of money to remove and flush the whole system. Is there a way that I can clean it out myself? Getting the majority of the fluid out of the reservoir wouldn't be too hard (it's now half washer fluid and half antifreeze), but how can I get the rest out of the pump and hoses without destroying or replacing everything? It's coming out on my windshield as an oily sort of mix. I have a back window washer that it's not coming out of yet, but it's probably in the hoses already, since I've used it once. I'm on a very tight budget and have to do it myself or just not use the washer fluid. Help!

-- Catherine

RAY: Not to worry, Catherine. You can do this.

TOM: It IS a complete pain in the butt to remove the reservoir and clean it all out. But I think there's an easier way.

RAY: Yeah, use a siphon or a turkey baster, and remove as much of the combined fluid as you can. Antifreeze is a toxic waste that shouldn't be poured on the ground, so put the stuff you remove into a container, and then seal it and dispose of it properly (by dropping it off at a gas station or repair shop).

TOM: Once it's mostly empty, you can blot up the bulk of what's left with paper towels. And then, to wash it out, you turn the garden hose on it. Just stick the hose in the windshield-washer reservoir and let it run for a few minutes. The water will overflow, and the tiny amount of remaining coolant will be washed out with it.

RAY: Then go to a good auto-parts store and pick up a bottle of windshield-washer concentrate. That's basically concentrated washer fluid that you mix with water. Put a little bit in the windshield washer reservoir, and use half as much water as it says to use. Then sit in the car, and use the front and rear windshield washers until you stop seeing the greasy mix. That means the new fluid has worked its way through the rubber washer hoses and cleaned them out.

TOM: Then you're all set. Total cost: $10 in windshield-washer concentrate (but you'll have enough left over to last you a year), and $1.69 for paper towels. Go for it, Catherine.

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