What happens when you use concentrated screen wash as car coolant?
July 17, 2005 2:11 PM   Subscribe

What happens when you use concentrated screen wash as car coolant?

A 'friend' returned to his car today to find a puddle underneath the car, probably from the radiator. In a moment of shear genius (it's been hot) he got out a container of what he believed to be antifreeze and proceeded to pour roughly 0.5 - 1 litres into the water reservoir before realising it was screen wash.

Will the detergent damage the radiator / cooling system? Is there anything that can be done other than continue to top up with water until the radiator get fixed?

(His car is a Volvo 440 if that helps.)
posted by gi_wrighty to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
I guess it will be sparkly clean inside. It might also froth a bit which is not good as it will hamper heat transfer. Here are some instructions on how to flush the radiator.
posted by caddis at 2:42 PM on July 17, 2005

Yeah, he needs to flush that out ASAP. There's also a chance that the ammonia or other chemicals in there could cause corrosion on the interior surface of the engine and radiator or could get into his water pump seals, which would be doubleplusungood.
posted by SpecialK at 2:59 PM on July 17, 2005

I doubt that one liter of washer fluid will cause much, if any damage in the short term. There are probably eight liters of mixed antifreeze in the system, and half of that is water. Washer fluid is probably 95% water, and I believe there's no ammonia in it, just a small amount of detergent and some alcohol. So the liter of washer fluid has introduced a tiny amount of unusual stuff into the cooling system.

Fix the leak and flush the system, but there's no reason for panic.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:22 PM on July 17, 2005

What they said, and don't forget to have a laugh about it!

Antifreeze is nasty. I used to do it myself, but I now think it's worth letting a reputable garage worry about the disposal problem. Please don't dump it into the storm sewer.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:07 PM on July 17, 2005

Depending on the washer fluid, it may already have lots of antifreeze in it anyways... At least the -40 deg. C blue stuff in Canada does. :-)

Not that this would give you cause to leave it in there.
posted by shepd at 12:22 AM on July 18, 2005

The blue stuff is alcohol not glycol. But it still won't cause instant catastrophic harm.

And ya don't sweat it, just go get it flushed and refilled telling the service guy what you've done. I'm, ah, sure your not the first guy to have a, ah, "friend" do this to ya.

PS: did you know the washer fluid and rad overflow tank are like, right next to each other on a '96 Caravan?
posted by Mitheral at 6:37 PM on July 18, 2005

I've never owned a vehicle where they weren't right beside each other. It's like a conspiracy.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:01 PM on July 18, 2005

He should also have his cooling system checked to see if it is actually leaking. It could have been condensation from running the a/c, his actual wiper fluid reservoir leaking, etc.
posted by attercoppe at 7:06 PM on July 18, 2005

five fresh fish writes "I've never owned a vehicle where they weren't right beside each other."

My "friend" never had this problem on his PowerWagon or Fiero. To add to the rad on the truck you took the rad cap off and poured it in. The washer tank (if you had one, some older stuff had a bag) was over on the fender some place safely away from the radiator. The Fiero had the engine coolant fill in the back on the engine. It's only on these new fangled, overflow tank, remote fill equiped autos that this is a problem.

I've taped the coolant tank shut on my "friend's" Caravan. I've never needed to put coolant in anyways and when I do need to change it I'll spend a couple minutes removing the tape.
posted by Mitheral at 7:56 PM on July 18, 2005

Just a quick update from my 'friend' - turned out the water pump was leaking and the engine was dry a number of times before 'he' started out on a journey so there was no screen wash left in the system. Now all better with a new pump and fresh coolant. He asked to pass on thanks for all your answers.
posted by gi_wrighty at 3:58 AM on August 5, 2005

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