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Wipers: A clean sweep does it

2013-03-11 09:51

WISHY WASHY: Wiper blades in good condition are vital for safe driving in wet conditions. Make sure not to be caught in the rain with worn rubbers that can impair your vision while driving.

  Video

General Motors's James Bell and Edmunds editor Bill Visnic talk about the simple mistakes drivers make when it comes to vehicle maintenance. Here Visnic emphasises the importance of wipers.

DAVE FALL

My goodness, we've had some rain in Cape Town - something that hasn’t happened it seems for some months during our marvellous summer down here.

While waiting in gridlock traffic during a downpour my attention was drawn to my wiper blades that seemed to be doing a lousy job of clearing the water along with a terrible shuddering noise from the wiper on my side. I made a mental note to discover more about this overworked and oft-forgotten piece of equipment that we take so much for granted.

PATENT BY A LADY

Well, they’ve certainly been around for a long time – 108 years. I’m slightly embarrassed to mention that a wiper patent was taken out in 1905 by one Mary Anderson, a New York resident, so obscurely famous for her invention of the first simple wiper that consisted of a metal arm with a cloth attached to it. Travelling on a streetcar (tram) one day, she was left wondering just how the driver managed to see. Not surprisingly, her invention remains pretty much the same today as it was back then except the cloth became a rubber, and later even silicone, strip.

Let’s be honest, even back then us men would have been more interested in making V8 engines and creating record traffic-light grands prix sprint times. From then on all ancestor drivers simply had to reach up and activate a lever that allowed the glass to be cleaned, and again and again every few seconds while it rained.

SOMETHING BETTER

About a dozen years later it was New York theatre owner John Oishei who improved on Anderson’s design with a simple, but malleable, rubber blade as we know them today. So successful was the idea - along with a massive car industry, albeit still in its infancy - he went on to found the Trico company which today supplies 400-million original-equipment and aftermarket wiper blades.

Not to be outdone by Anderson’s design patents, German electrical wizard Robert Bosch devised the first electric motorised wiper in 1926. Many car manufacturers of the day implemented wiper motors that could only work on the (mechanical) vacuum tank principle powered from the inlet side of the manifold. Fine and good when stationary or going slowly but put your foot down and they virtually stoppe working.

Fast forward to the 1980's when Mercedes-Benz came out with the single and rather lengthy mono blade system. Rather clever in design, it was spring-loaded as it reached the corners of the glass and arguably more successful than the usual radial-hinged wipers. BMW, in its innovative way, tried step-motors to keep the rubber blades pressed on the glass - vitally important considering the speeds that most cars have been achieving these past 30 years or so.

TOUGHER RUBBER

Where to next, wondered car designers/manufacturers? Well we received wipers that parked themselves below the bonnet line; automatic rain sensor systems (that work surprisingly well); to after-market liquids that can be wiped over the windscreen every few weeks to ensure that rain falls off the glass almost as quickly as it arrived there. Even the humble wiper blade is manufactured far tougher today than ever before as to remove grime and embedded leaves without damaging the blade edges.

Perhaps the next time someone leaps at you at the robot offering to clean your windscreen, why not let him remove the bulk of the dirty, streaky marks – it’ll make all the difference during the next bout of rain, I promise you!
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