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Killer windshield-washer fluid -- it's true!

Who'd have guessed the spray that cleans the bugs off your windshield could cause so much trouble?

By Karen Datko Jun 16, 2010 1:46PM

This post comes from Des Toups at MSN Money.


Commercial washer fluid can cost anywhere from $2.99 to as much as $5.99 a gallon. Trying to save money by dumping in water from the tap could cost you your life, though.


A June 7 report from the British Health Protection Agency says motorists face an increased risk of a potentially fatal infection if they use water alone in their car's washer systems. Additives that prevent freezing may also kill bacteria, apparently.


The British researchers say as much as 20% of Legionnaires' disease cases could stem from this previously unidentified risk, which emerged from a finding that professional drivers were five times more likely to be infected than the public at large.

Legionnaires' disease has been linked to water systems such as air conditioning units, showers and fountains, where water is given off in a fine spray. The bacteria Legionella can cause pneumonia if inhaled. Automobiles often have as many as three different spray systems, for windshields, rear glass and headlights.

Yet adding some satisfyingly blue washer fluid isn't quite the slam-dunk solution it would seem.


Commercial windshield-washer fluid usually contains some kind of alcohol or spirits to prevent freezing. Methanol, once a common ingredient, can be poisonous if ingested. Ethanol is generally considered less toxic but can be corrosive to paint and rubber. From 2006 to 2009, General Motors offered a popular feature that dispensed heated washer fluid to de-ice windshields. Unfortunately, that system has been linked to fires, and GM has recalled a total of more than 2 million vehicles so equipped.

It's also possible to make your own.


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