How Windshield Wipers Work

Working Windshield Wipers

Today, vehicles come with an amazing piece of technology that many drivers take for granted: the windshield wipers. The windshield wiper is important for the safety of the occupants of the vehicle, although it’s one of those parts that is easy to ignore until it’s no longer working. Windshield wipers have come a long way from the hand cranked early versions of the 1900’s. Those early versions used a hand crank or switch on the interior of the car. From the 1920’s to the 1960s, windshield wipers were vacuum powered. The intermittent windshield wiper that we know today was introduced in the early 1960s.

How Windshield Wipers Work

The windshield wiper is moved by a motor at the base of the window to clear the window of rain. There are multiple ways for the windshield wipers to be configured. Most cars have two wipers which move in sync with each other, but some models such as Fiat, Citroen, Subaru, and Mercedes have a single wiper that covers a wider swatch of window.  There are also some models of vehicle that come with a wiper on the back window, such as SUVs, hatchbacks, and minivans. Also important to note are the few older vehicle models that have wipers on their headlights like Saab and Chevrolet.

The Parts of a Windshield Wiper

Like most systems in a vehicle, the windshield wiper is made up of many parts. The main parts of the windshield wiper are:

  • Wiper Blades - The wiper blades are what removes the moisture from the windshield

  • Wiper Arm - The wiper arm connects the wiper blade to the wiper transmission, to allow for unhindered movement over a large patch of the windshield

  • Wiper Transmission - The windshield wiper transmission controls the movement of the wiper arm

  • Wiper Motor - The windshield wiper motor provides power to the wiper transmission and fluid pump

  • Windshield wiper fluid pump, tanks and tubes - The windshield wiper fluid pump, tanks, and tubes are the system responsible for spraying out windshield wiper fluid, allowing the driver to clean a dirty windshield

  • Windshield Wiper Interior Controls - The windshield wiper internal controls are located either on a control arm protruding from the steering wheel, on the steering wheel, or on the main dashboard panel, to the left of the main dash display

Types of Windshield Wiper Blades

When windshield wiper blades need to be replaced, it seems like the easiest option would be to let the mechanic install the most basic package. But, as with any car part, improvements are constantly being made to windshield wiper blades. This is a great benefit to consumers, because it improves the performance of the blades, and anything that improves visibility in inclement weather is a bonus.

Most wiper blades are the traditional frame style. These are a combination of metal framework with a strip of rubber, backed with metal, that contacts the window to remove moisture. They’re relatively inexpensive, and do the job in a regular rainy season.

Winter wiper blades are an upgrade that should be considered if the vehicle is operated in an area where it will be exposed to harsh winter driving conditions. If the car is driven regularly through snow, or subjected to icy or blowing snow conditions, a set of winter windshield wiper blades can make life easier on the driver. The blades are usually encased in a protective covering, so the harsh temperatures don’t make the rubber brittle, they’re less likely to get a build-up of snow or ice, and they’re less likely to freeze to the windshield.

A third option are the beam-style windshield wiper blades. These blades are considered a premium upgrade; they aren’t necessarily better than the frame style, but they are more attractive. Their sleek look is less “frumpy” than traditional frame style blades, so they are often used on show vehicles.

Common Symptoms and Repairs

Like with any mechanized vehicle part, the windshield wiper has many parts that can have issues.

  • Windshield washer fluid runs out - If there’s no fluid when trying to use the ‘wash’ setting, the fluid needs to be refilled.

  • Blade replacement - If the windshield wiper isn’t removing all of the moisture, the blade needs to be replaced.

  • Windshield wiper motor - Issues with the motor will present as a grinding noise heard from the engine compartment (near the passenger compartment), the wiper stuttering, or it not working at all.

  • Broken wiper arms or blades - This generally happens when the blade has frozen to the windshield or the windshield wipers have been turned on before removal of heavy snow; a licensed mechanic can replace these broken pieces.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

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