Every driver’s nightmare is being unable to see the road in front of them. Heavy rain or snow can remove your line of sight and endanger the lives of your passengers and other drivers. It’s essential to make sure your windshield wipers are working correctly. You don’t think about them, but when you need them you pray they work.
But what if they aren’t working? In this article, we’ll take a look at the possible causes of broken windshield wipers and how to fix them.
The good news is that aren’t many possible reasons your windshield wipers aren’t working. Most of them are quick and inexpensive to fix.
Here’s a quick run-down.
Ice and snow
The first and easiest thing to check is the windshield itself. Snow accumulation – especially wet, heavy snow can block your wipers from swinging. You’ll probably notice an accumulation of snow the moment you get in your car.
Less obvious is a thin sheen of ice from the previous night. You’ll want to check for this if there was a storm the previous night. This might also happen if any leftover moisture froze to your windshield overnight.
Fixing this is simple: Remove the snow and/or ice from your windshield with an ice-scraper. While you might be tempted to just pour some warm water on your windshield to melt it, that warm water might just freeze your wiper blades back in position.
The rubber edge that pushes water off your windshield will get worn and ripped as it gets older, especially if you live where it’s cold and it regularly comes into contact with ice. This won’t stop your wipers from moving, but they won’t clear rain and snow as effectively.
If your wiper arms still swing but leave streaks or even large sections of windshield un-wiped, there’s a very good chance that you need to replace your windshield wiper blades.
Replacing them requires a visit to an auto parts store. You’ll need to know your vehicle’s make and model to get the right one. Be sure to familiarize yourself with how to connect your new blades, as there are several different ways to mount blades to wiper arms.
Mounting new wiper blades aren’t usually very complicated. Sometimes, it requires just sliding it into place until you hear a satisfying click. Other times, you have to clip it in place.
If you get it wrong somehow, then as the wiper arm swings the blade will eventually come loose and start waving itself all over the place. Not only does this leave large swaths of your windshield unprotected, but the wiper blade can fly off while you’re driving.
If this happens to you, pull over immediately and reinstall your wiper blades per the instructions. It’s a good idea that you familiarize yourself with the kind of connection your wiper blades require when you buy the car.
Loose retaining nut
There’s a nut at the base of the wiper arm that can loosen over time, especially if you shake your wiper blades to remove snow or slush. If that happens, the wiper arms will stop working.
This is most noticeable if you turn on your wipers and there’s no movement but you can hear the motor trying to swing the blades. There’s a cap at the base of the wiper arm you can pry off to determine whether the retaining nut is still firmly secured.
If the retaining nut is loose, fixing it isn’t difficult. Just tighten it with a small wrench or a nut driver. The nut driver will probably be the easiest because the retaining nut can be a bit of a chore to get at and you probably have a driver that will just slip easily over the top of it.
Because windshield wipers are an electrical system, if your wipers just flat-out don’t work, the odds are there is a problem with this system. You’ll want to check whether the vehicle has blown a fuse.
Checking isn’t hard. Find your car’s fuse box – depending on your vehicle, there might be a couple – and consult the fuse box map to see which one runs your windshield wipers. Replace it and see if the wipers work.
If they do, you might want a mechanic to take a look at your vehicle to determine why the fuse blew. There might be an underlying electrical issue that you need to get fixed to prevent other – potentially more costly – repairs.
If the fuse is still good but the wipers aren’t working, the motor responsible for swinging your wiper arms may be burned out. You can check whether your motor is working yourself if you have a multimeter.
Set your multimeter to test for voltage and test the connecting cable to see if the motor is receiving power. Place the black probe on the ground connection and the red probe on the positive connection.
If it comes up close to 12 volts, the motor is receiving electricity. It’s not working because the motor is burned out and requires replacing. While it’s not a difficult repair, take your car to a mechanic if you’re not comfortable.
If your meter reads a lot less than 12 volts, the issue is somewhere else.
If you’ve checked everything else and can’t find what’s wrong with your windshield wipers, the fault is somewhere else in the electrical system. It could be as simple as a loose wire or a dirty connection. It could also mean that your battery is dying.
If you have a wiring schematic for your car, check each connection to make sure that it is firm and clean. If you’re having problems with other electrical components – say, your lights are dim or your radio isn’t working – it could be your battery or alternator.
If you can’t easily find the cause, take your vehicle to a mechanic. You want your windshield wipers in good working order in case it rains, but if the problem is something fundamental with your car’s electrical system it could cause problems with starting or the lights.
Most of the time, your windshield wipers don’t work because of something simple and relatively inexpensive. You can get them back to operational in a few minutes. It might not cost you any money at all.
Figuring out the issue starts with turning on your wipers. Based on what happens, you can start to troubleshoot the issue to fix it. A couple of the causes are physical, a couple are mechanical, and a few are electrical.