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Windshield Wipers, the basics

Posted on by Defensive Driving Team | in Defensive Driving Tips

Winter has been with us awhile and you have no doubt been overwhelmed with information about winter driving. Leave an appropriate space cushion, your speed should meet conditions, make sure you have proper tire pressure, tire tread and depth, that you have all the necessary emergency gear in your trunk and that you know the route and weather conditions along route.

All of these are great guidelines to arriving safely to your destination during the winter months.

You should always properly maintain your vehicle, regardless of time of year, but it is especially important during the winter months.  Depending on what part of the country you reside, the winter months either mean snow, ice or rain, there is an important piece of equipment on your vehicle which greatly impacts your ability to see.  As DefensiveDriving.com discusses in its online driver safety course, vision is an important aspect of safe and defensive driving.  Vision, how much you can see, literally should decide the speed in which you travel as your reaction time as a driver is impacted by your field of vision.  If you are able to see potential driving hazards in front of you without obstruction, your reaction and the time your need to react are increased.  It goes without saying, if you cannot see well, you might not see a hazard or react soon enough to avoid the hazard.

The windshield wiper is a vital part of your vehicle. Your windshield wiper is part of a system when properly maintained and when properly functioning, allows you to be able to see and increases your field of vision in variable weather conditions. Have you ever tried to drive in a hard rain, or driving snow or sleet without a properly functioning windshield wiper?  It is nearly impossible in the best case, extremely dangerous in any case.

The original windshield wiper was invented in 1903 but it was not until cars started to be enclosed to protect the passengers, that a need for wipers was realized.   Initially, wipers were powered by a hand crank on the inside of the vehicle but they were replaced by the automatic windshield wiper system – which was powered by the air from the intake of the engine. The latest windshield wiper, the intermittent powered blade was patented in 1967 by Robert Kearns for Ford Motor Company. These systems have been the predominant wind shield wiper systems until very recently, with the invention of optical and rain sensing systems, which automatically turn on and adjust the speed of a windshield wiper blade, based on the presence of moisture.  One system detects the moisture itself, the other detects if its optical sensors are blocked which activates the system.

The windshield wiper system is composed of the windshield wiper arm and the windshield wiper blade. Both are essential to proper function of the system.  A very simple test will tell you when you have a problem.  If you spray your windshield wiper fluid on your windshield and the windshield wipers leave streaks, it is time to replace either the blade or arm.

Most manufacturers of windshield wipers list the life span of a wiper blade to be six to twelve months.  Over time, the blades crack and wear due to normal usage, extreme heat or cold and because they are made of rubber.  Replacing the blade is generally the most cost-effective, but you should always check to see if the arm is good working condition.

The arm essentially holds the blade on the windshield to allow it move away snow, rain and sleet.  Sometimes, snow, ice, dirt or mud become lodged in between the arms connectors causing the arm to bow or lose pressure on the windshield over time.  Usually, you can visually see this and if the arm is not applying good pressure, regardless of how new the blade is, the windshield wiper system will not work as intended.  Winter windshield wiper systems are designed with a particularly strong-arm which prevents the buildup of snow or ice within the windshield wiper arm.

Any number of auto parts stores have the parts you need, the part is typically listed by make and model and any decent auto parts store will actual replace the arm and blade as part of their service.

Remember, the majority of any driving decisions you make are based on good clear visibility.  Anything that takes away from your visibility and your decision-making ability should be fixed as soon as possible, especially something so simple but necessary as a windshield wiper!


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