Pitty the Poor Windshield Wiper

We certainly take them for granted.  They rarely get changed unless they are falling apart and there is precipitation to remind us that they have aged out of their useful life. 

By the same token they can be a life saver when that bad weather enters our road trip and we owe it to ourselves and our passengers to pay respect to the lowly wiper.

You also need to understand that the wiper does not do its job alone.  It is highly dependant on the windshield (or windscreen for those that drive on the left) for its effectiveness.

Over the years the technology of the windshield wiper systems has made modest gains.  Early cars had none.  Later there were ones operated by hand and then later by the vacuum produced by the engine.  Those vacuum actuated wipers were almost comical in their operation as the vacuum generated by the engine would vary with engine speed and so would the wipers.  I remember being in an old Jeep with those vacuum wipers and watching as snow hit the windshield and as the driver pressed on the accelerator that the wiper suddenly crawled across the glass and then, just as suddenly, picked up its regular speed.  On my side was also a wiper, but I had to reach up and move it back and forth across the glass myself.

The electric motors that operate today’s wipers have been enhanced by electronic timers that the driver can adjust so that the speed of the wiping action is set to the volume of precipitation.  Intermittent wipers. 

Key to all this is the harmony between the windshield and the wipers.  You can help this by doing a couple of things.  First, don’t plan to use a set of blades for more than six months.  In some weather conditions this will be shortened to half that time.  If you are not able to store your car in a garage and live in hot sunny weather, you can expect that the blades will deteriorate quickly and require replacement sooner than six months.

Second, keep your windshield clean.  I don’t mean that you should run your wipers and spray washer fluid every chance you get either.  Take the time to lift the wiper arms away from the glass and clean the windshield inside and out.  You will appreciate the improvement at night in good weather as well.

So what should you use to clean your windshield?  In the “old” days newspapers was an excellent choice, but since inks are no longer kerosene-based you had better resort to a good quality spray on water-based cleaner and a low quality paper towel.  What you say?  A low quality paper towel?  What I have found is that the high quality paper towels that do such a great job in the kitchen are not that effective on auto glass.  They tend to leave lint and often times have additives for strength and absorption that result in smeary windshields.

The best towel (so far) that I have found is the cheaper Scott towels.  They don’t leave anything objectionable behind and dry very well.

I happen to favor a glass cleaning product called “Perfect Glass”, but I’ve also found that with the right paper towel most cleaners perform very well.

Once that glass is clean and dry inside and out (it may take a couple of cleanings), it is time to replace the wiper blades.  You have several choices here.  You can replace just the rubber blades or you can replace the section that holds the blades.  I tend to do the latter because of the mechanical spring tension that keeps the blades in contact with the glass is also affected by wear and corrosion.

When you replace the assembly you also have some choices.  My current favorite is Exact Fit blade assemblies.  They fit very well and use high quality materials in their construction.  If I lived in snow country I would definitely purchase assemblies that were made for the winter precipitation and are covered in rubber to keep out freezing rain and snow.  On my Mitsubishi Evolution I purchase factory blade assemblies as I find them superior to any aftermarket sets. 

Be sure to fill your windshield washer reservoir with a good quality washer fluid and do your best never to let it get empty.  If you let it get empty and leave it that way it can mean the end of the pump as most designs rely on the fluid to keep the diaphragms from drying out and cracking.  A good quality washer fluid should also contain an antifreeze agent.  It not only keeps the stuff from freezing, it can also act as an additional solvent helping your wipers to push away material from bugs, road grime, salt, and precipitation.

In between replacements take the time to clean the windshield and also clean off the blades edges.  As it wipes the glass it accumulates a lot of dirt that scratches the glass and leads to early end of life.

As you windshield ages it will get pitted and scratched so keep in mind it may reach a point where it too should be replaced.  Keep that comprehensive insurance covereage in force it might pay off.

Your windshield is there to protect your eyes and provide you with a less windy experience.  Your wipers are there provide better visibility in bad weather.  Give them a chance to do their best for you and spend a little time and money.  it will pay you back.


The history of the windshield wiper can be found at:  http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blanderson.htm

This entry was posted in Automobiles, Care and Feeding, Cars, Servicing Cars. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Pitty the Poor Windshield Wiper

  1. Chris says:

    Thanks for the tips, Jim. Cheers

  2. Howard says:

    Ever use rainX? It works ok, but kind of a pain to apply.

  3. jimsgarage says:

    RainX! Yes I have. It can be an amazing product. Almost eliminate the need for using the wipers at all. It requires a very clean windshield and, as you say, it needs to be applied according to the instructions. I have found that over time it can leave a irritating deposite on the wiper blades when you do use them. I am also not sure how well RainX is with snow and ice. I think it helps, but it does wear out.

    I used to use it on my cars, but no longer.

  4. Mark says:


    Good advice. I tend to neglect my wipers until I notice odd wiping patterns and find that sections of the edge of the blade have fatigued and torn away. Many people wipe their dashboards and interior with products like “Armor All”. While these sure shipe up the interior, when left in the hot sun, these products tend to outgass and the deposits wind up on the inside of the windshield. Containing silicon, these products are very difficult (in my experience) to get off the glass. Any recommended cleaners beyond what you’ve mentioned?

    Lastly, in a future post, you might discuss the embedded wire defrosters (you know the lines on the back window) and what to do if one of the lines doesn’t work any more – you’ll see a horizontal stripe that didn’t melt with the rest. I’ve seen paint on repairs, and also solder kits – any experience? I don’t presently have the issue, but have seen it, and suspect others have faced this as well.

  5. Judy says:

    Jim, I have a terrible time cleaning my windshield…I usually ask my husband to clean the inside because I leave streaks(thanks to Mark for the info re Armor All..I have seen deposits)which makes it worse. I’m terrible about replacing the wipers as well…so thanks for the education.

  6. david says:

    Jim, I have found that microfiber towels work great for cleaning auto windows and leaves no fibers or lint behind.

  7. jimsgarage says:

    David –

    I’ve used the microfiber towels for polishing, but have not tried it with cleaners on windows. Do you use it dry or with a cleaner?


  8. Jerry says:

    can the rain =x be used on motorcycle windshields? Most are made of lexan I believe.

  9. jimsgarage says:

    Jerry –

    The chemical glass treatment known as Rain-X was designed for glass only. You could probably get a similar effect on a motorcycle windshield by polishing it with a plastic polish and then applying a coat of pure carnuba wax (no cleaner wax).

    You might want to go to the Rain-X web site (http://www.rain-x.com) and see what they have to say or use their contact information there to direct your question. If they haven’t thought of lexan or acrylic windshields then maybe you can inspire them to develop a new product!


  10. michelle says:

    hi my name is michelle and i am doing a project fo science class and it is a bout windshield wiper. but the thing is that i need 2 find out is who made the first 1 (i already did) and why, how,when,and i was just wondering if u can help me.

  11. jimsgarage says:

    Michelle –

    I think if you follow the link in my entry – http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blanderson.htm – you will find out many of your answers. You can also do a search using Yahoo or Google on “windshield wiper inventor” and come up with many links on the subject that should answer your questions.

    It is quite a facinating subject to read about.


  12. Igor says:

    Do you have an email newsletter?

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