Select a Brand

The Humble Windscreen Wiper

An essential aid to safe travel

Have you ever thought how important a simple thing such as a windscreen wiper is to the safety of your journey? Perhaps we only think of the windscreen wiper for rainy days, but it is essential for a clear and clean screen throughout summer too, and indispensable during winter sleet and snow showers.

Who invented the windscreen wiper?

Three people patented a mechanism for cleaning a vehicle windscreen, and all in 1903. However, it is generally thought that a lady called Mary Anderson was the inventor of the closest version to our modern day windscreen wiper (go girl!). Inspired by witnessing a tram driver trying to manually wipe his windscreen whilst driving, thus letting cold air in through the open side window, the chilly passenger, Mary, worked on the idea of a mechanism controllable from inside. Although she patented the idea in America, she never found an investor. Robert Douglass and James Henry Apjohn also patented window cleaning devices during 1903. By 1916 windscreen wipers were a standard feature on American cars.

How do windscreen wipers work?

The metal wiper arms and rubber blades are controlled by a hidden linkage mechanism driven by an electric motor. The operating logic is controlled by the car's control unit. Older cars relied on the driver to activate the wand on the steering wheel to start the windscreen wipers moving across the screen and to what speed. Nowadays the control unit and screen sensors usually control when the wipers start up and stop and how intense the screen clearing needs to be. Originally the system only had the wipe mechanism, but now all cars have washer units too, so that dusty screens can be washed and wiped during dry weather too.

How rigorously is the windscreen wiper and washer system tested?

Manufacturers test the robustness of the wash/wipe system at low and high temperatures, at different speeds and in a wind tunnel. ŠKODA's wiper and washer boffins tell us that they test the wash/wipe system from -30 to +70 degrees C and the blades over 500,000 cycles.

When work starts on developing a new car model, the amount of screen space, surrounding parts and car design are factored into the design of the wiper system. The wiper supplier then adapts the basic design to its technologies. Factors to consider are the water propulsion system, the curve of the windscreen and frame, the pressure exerted on the screen and the shape of the wiper arm so that airflow does not lift the blade off the glass. The coordination of the spray and the wiper action has to be spot on - from stationary to top speed. Testing is done by both the car manufacturer and the wiper supplier. The whole process takes roughly 3 years!

What can I do to keep my wash/wipe system working perfectly?

Here's what we suggest for keeping your windscreen wash/wipe system in the best working order possible:

  • Use genuine manufacturer parts - they have taken a lot of time to get exactly the right fit for that model - generic products are all very well but are not manufactured to specific screens like the tailor-made genuine parts.
  • Change your wiper blades (the rubber bit) regularly - your local JCB Service Centre can check the condition of the wiper blades and arms and replace or adjust them as necessary
  • Top up screen wash with the correct dilution and use the recommended product for your make and model. How many times have we seen 'gunky' washer nozzles and tubes that have to be disconnected and jet washed out because a cheap screen wash has been used!
  • Keep your screen wash topped up at all times of the year and in colder weather change up the percentage mix of screen wash fluid to water - it has an anti-freeze element to it to stop it freezing.
  • Make sure your washer nozzles are correctly directed at the right part of the screen - your nearest JCB Service Centre can check this for you.
  • Don't forget your headlamp washer system if you have one - check that it is working correctly.
  • In very cold weather, check that the washer jets and wiper arm mechanisms are defrosted and free to move before trying to turn them on. We get a lot of drivers calling in because they have forced the wipers on without defrosting and broken the arm or over-worked the power mechanism and caused a fault!
  • When washing your car, remember to wipe the rubber blades. Any leaves, twigs or grit stuck in this area can cause scratches to the windscreen and damage to the blade.
  • Remember to clean your whole windscreen before travelling. The windscreen wiper arc only covers the driver and passenger view out of the window, you need to have the whole screen clean to have a full view from all angles.
  • Keep your air conditioning system working properly so that the screen can be cleared of condensation quickly when needed.

What are the implications of not having a clean car windscreen?

The Highway Code says that your windscreen and windows must be kept clean and free from obstructions to vision. Failing to do so could mean a fine and 3 penalty points. You could also be held responsible if you are in an accident. Don't forget to clean the inside of your windscreen and windows too - and don't use anything that could leave a greasy smear. This can create a glare from oncoming headlamps or can freeze inside in cold weather.

Next Steps...

We hope you've found this blog useful and informative. If you'd like our technicians to check your windscreen wipers and washers, please call us and we can take a quick look or book you in for an express vehicle check, which includes the wash/wipe system and other key components of the vehicle.

We urge you to take care and be safe on the road this winter and throughout the year.