A Century of Good Ideas
For over a century, automobiles have been equipped with one or more windshield wipers. The earliest was a hand operated unit: handle on the inside of the windshield, brush on the outside, with a connector passed through the frame. Soon after, the rubber squeegee replaced the brush. Today we have computerized mechanisms that sense rain, start their process automatically, and clear windshields continuously unassisted, intermittently as chosen, or automatically as needed.
Changes in Weather, Changes in Composition
Progressive change in the design, manufacturing, and production of windshield wipers and wiper systems have been largely uniform, due to standardized changes in technology and little change in the basic elements of weather. Industrialization has released acids into the atmosphere that weren’t there in vast numbers 100 years ago, but synthetic rubber, the use of stainless steel, and galvanizing processes, by and large, have worked well to fend off a significant impact on everyday reliability with only a fair share of incremental cost to the consumer. Still, though, windshield wiper arms and assemblies are not indestructible. By today’s standards a windshield wiper system will be in operation for about 12 years. Consumers will still find a need for after-market arms and assemblies during that period due to mechanical wear and prolonged exposure to the elements.
Electronic Mechanisms, Less Common for Problems
Switches, modules, circuit boards, and motors are the more expensive elements of the windshield wiper system. They fair better, in longevity, than arms, assemblies, and windshield wiper blades… more along the 12 years durability of the vehicles themselves. First off they are shielded from the elements of whether, and don’t require regular maintenance or human physical contact. Secondly, with the exception of motors or actuators, they don’t physically move, but rather passively handle the passage of low voltage electrons. If a motor does fail, more than likely the failure will not be a hardwire issue, but rather something that will signal a need for attention with noise, such as a worn bearing or damaged spline.
Natural and Synthetic Rubber
Since the outbreak of World War I (1914) the demand for rubber products has been instrumental in the growth of industrialization. Shortages due to geopolitical changes in South America and Asia spurred the need for synthetic rubber. By 1943, two years after the start of WWII, petroleum based synthetic rubber surpassed the supply of natural rubber. Windshield wiper blades followed suit, but despite advancements, synthetic or natural, rubber windshield wiper blades continue to succumb to elements of acid rain, fluctuating temperature, and constant friction.
Most Common Windshield Wiper Problems
Dirt, grease, and grime are among the most common problems associated with wiper blades. The good news is, dirt, grease, and grime can be removed by frequent cleaning with alcohol wipes or soap and water. A small amount of petroleum jelly will replenish the natural oils lost under normal conditions. If you don’t expect the blades to do the work of an ice scraper, your blades will surprise you with their longevity, barring unexpected injury do to road hazards and abuse. Make sure to physically remove ice and frozen grime from your windshield and wiper blades prior to running the windshield wipers.
When your wipers leave fine streaks and lines on your windshield, and cleaning the blades has no effect, or when your wipers become noisy as they move across the windshield… check for damage such as rips, bends, and brittleness. If you find the blades are damaged, replace them with refills when available or assemblies from your local automotive retailer.
If the wipers appear to jump along the windshield at high speeds or leave large streaks on your windshield under every day conditions, pull the windshield wiper arm back and inspect the springs and linkage. Sometimes their function can be restored with a lubricant. If not, then, replace the arm or assembly as needed with any one of the fine replacements found in your local retailer. Some retailers will install blades, assemblies, and arms free with your purchase.
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