The first windshield wipers were operated manually by moving a lever inside the car back and forth. Today, most of us take our electric windshield wipers for granted. The wipers faithfully keep the window clear, moving back and forth across the windshield countless times as they sweep the water away. On their highest speed, they move impressively fast, sometimes shaking the car from side to side. What kind of a mechanism can move the wiper arms so effectively and so reliably?
Windshield wipers are found on car windshields, some car headlights, airplanes and even on the space shuttle. Now, we'll take a look inside windshield wipers, learn about the blades and the controls and then explore a new rain-sensing wiper control system!
A neat linkage converts the rotational output of the motor into the back-and-forth motion of the wipers.
Motor and Gear Reduction
It takes a lot of force to accelerate the wiper blades back and forth across the windshield so quickly. In order to generate this type of force, a worm gear is used on the output of a small electric motor.
The worm gear reduction can multiply the torque of the motor by about 50 times, while slowing the output speed of the electric motor by 50 times as well. The output of the gear reduction operates a linkage that moves the wipers back and forth.
Inside the motor/gear assembly is an electronic circuit that senses when the wipers are in their down position. The circuit maintains power to the wipers until they are parked at the bottom of the windshield, then cuts the power to the motor. This circuit also parks the wipers between wipes when they are on their intermittent setting.
A short cam is attached to the output shaft of the gear reduction. This cam spins around as the wiper motor turns. The cam is connected to a long rod; as the cam spins, it moves the rod back and forth. The long rod is connected to a short rod that actuates the wiper blade on the driver's side. Another long rod transmits the force from the driver-side to the passenger-side wiper blade.
Now let's talk about some details of the wiper blades.
Windshield wiper systems are designed to wipe 1.5 million times in their lifetime!
When the blade is new, the rubber is clean and has no nicks or cracks. It wipes the water away without leaving streaks. When the wiper blades age, nicks or cracks form, road grime builds up on the edge and it doesn't make as tight a seal against the window, so it leaves streaks. Sometimes you can get a little extra life out of your wiper blade by wiping the edge with a cloth soaked in window cleaner until no more dirt comes off the blade.
This wiper blade is supported in six places for an even pressure distribution against the windshield.
Another key to streak-free operation is even pressure over the length of the rubber blades. Wiper blades are designed to attach in a single point in the middle, but a series of arms branch out from the middle like a tree, so the blade is actually connected in six to eight places. If ice or snow forms on these arms, it can make the distribution of pressure uneven, causing steaks under part of the blade. Some wiper manufacturers make a special winter blade with a rubber boot covering the arm assembly to keep snow and ice out.
Most cars have pretty much the same wiper design: Two blades move together to clean the windshield. One of the blades pivots from a point close to the driver's side of the car, and the other blade pivots from near the middle of the windshield. This is the Tandem System in the figure below. This design clears most of the windshield that is in the driver's field of view.
Some of the different wiper blade schemes used by various cars
There are a couple of other designs on some cars. Mercedes uses a single wiper arm that extends and retracts as it sweeps across the window -- Single Arm (Controlled) in the figure above. This design also provides good coverage, but is more complicated than the standard dual-wiper systems. Some cars use wiper blades that are mounted on opposite sides of the windshield and move in the opposite direction, and some vehicles have a single wiper mounted in the middle. These systems don't provide as much coverage for the driver as the standard two-blade system.
Whatever kind of controls your car has, setting them just right can be tricky -- too fast and the windshield gets dry and the wipers squeak; too slow and your visibility is blocked by raindrops. Compounding this is the fact that the amount of water hitting the windshield changes as your car speeds up and slows down. It can require almost constant attention to keep the wipers operating properly. Carmakers may finally have conquered this problem with the holy grail of wiper technology -- the rain-sensing wiper.
The electronics and software in the sensor turn on the wipers when the amount of light reflected onto the sensor decreases to a preset level. The software sets the speed of the wipers based on how fast the moisture builds up between wipes. It can operate the wipers at any speed. The system adjusts the speed as often as necessary to match with the rate of moisture accumulation.
The TRW system, which is found on many General Motors cars, including all Cadillac models, can also be overridden or turned off so the car can be washed.
For more information on windshield wipers and related topics, check out the links on the next page!