Q: What are Windshield Wipers?

December 17, 2013 12:53 PM

Share this article

Windshield wipers are devices used to remove moisture and unwanted material fragments from the windshield of a vehicle. Practically all motorized vehicles, including planes, trains, boats and cars, feature windshield wipers. A wiper is typically comprised of an arm that pivots at one end with a rubber blade attached to the other. The arm moves back and forth over the windshield to squeegee water and debris from the surface. The speed of most windshield wipers can be adjusted to continuous and intermittent settings. Many vehicles are equipped with two windshield wiper blades that are synchronized.

Mary Anderson created the first working windshield wipers in 1903. In her patent, her invention was referred to as a window cleaning device for electric vehicles. Anderson's version worked via a lever that could be operated from within the vehicle. Another type of windshield wiper was created by an Irish inventor in 1903 as well. His method involved the use of two brushes that moved up and down vertically. The first automatic windshield wipers were conceived in 1919. The new system was vacuum-powered and remained in wide use until the 1960s. The first intermittent wipers were invented in 1963. Rain-sensitive intermittent windshield wipers were later introduced in 1970.

A number of additional features are available to complement windshield wipers, including the use of windshield washer fluid. Windshield wipers typically operate in conjunction with a pump that supplies a blend of detergent, alcohol, and water from a special tank to the windshield. Small nozzles that are mounted on the car's hood dispense the fluid. Some larger vehicles are also equipped with hidden wipers. When the wipers are turned off, a mechanism moves the windshield wipers to a lower area near the bottom of the windshield and below the hood edge so that they are completely out of sight.

Many vehicles also feature automatic windshield wipers that are driver-programmable. These wipers are capable of detecting both the presence and the amount of moisture on the windshield. A sensor will adjust the frequency and speed of the blades automatically based on the amount of fluid detected. A manual override is also available so that you can control the blades if you wish to do so. Some vehicles possess small wipers that are located on the headlights. Other vehicles include wipers located on the back window of a vehicle. Rear window wipers are commonly found on sport utility vehicles, hatchbacks, minivans and station wagons. Ford introduced the first rear wiper in 1972, but they did not come into widespread use until the 1980s.

If you purchase a used vehicle, it is a good idea to ensure the wipers are in good working order. When you purchase a certified pre-owned car, the windshield wipers will have been inspected and replaced or repaired as needed. The rubber blades on windshield wipers require periodic replacement because of wear.

If you often drive in winter conditions, blades made from materials that resist ice accumulation also can be purchased.

Share this article
New Car Spotlight


Thanks for Supporting
Kelley Blue Book.
We deliver up-to-date car values, expert reviews and unbiased reporting at no
cost to you. To do this, we display ads from only trusted partners.

To continue on our site, simply turn off your ad blocker and refresh the page.