Windshield Wipers Not Working Properly: Causes & Solutions

Unless you live in an arid climate where rain is only a distant memory, windshield wipers are a necessity.

The problem is, most of us don’t check if they work unless we need to use them – and when we only find out that they don’t work when we’re on the road, it’s too late to do anything about it right then and there.

If you’re driving along and it starts pouring with rain, or if a truck passes you and splashes your windshield with mud, you’ll definitely turn your windshield wipers on.

Plot twist: you turn the wiper control switch (wiper switch) and nothing happens! The windshield wipers are dead, and you just found that out the hard way.

Is it an electrical component that no longer works as intended? Is it a mechanical failure? A problem with your vehicle’s battery? Or is it something way less serious than that which only requires a few minutes of your time for a quick fix?

Wet silver car from rain, and windshield wipers working to clear the windshield

Any situation that compromises visibility when you’re driving is dangerous, for you (the driver), for your passengers and for anyone else who happens to be on the road near you at the time.

If your windshield wipers aren’t working and it’s raining or snowing, your visibility is going to be severely affected, and you could risk an accident. Another potential danger is if the rubber flies off and hits another car, putting other road users at risk.

So, what should you do? It’s a tricky situation to be in, but don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place for answers.

This article will not only show you what to do if this were to happen with you out of the blue, but we’ll also explain what the most common causes are, how to prevent this problem from coming up in the future, and how to solve any issues that already exist.

As for your rear wiper, that’s another subject for another article.

What to Do If Your Windshield Wipers Stop Working?

If you ever find yourself in such a situation, and you’ve only realized this now without ever getting the chance to notice that the symptoms of bad windshield wipers exist in your vehicle, here’s what you should do:

Stay Calm

If you brake abruptly or swerve in traffic, you could become involved in an accident. And you do want to avoid an accident, right?

The key thing to do is not panic – instead, stay calm, slowly decelerate and check the situation.

If you can see well enough to keep driving, even if at a slower speed, do so. If you’re on a highway, your best bet will be to get to the nearest gas station.

Keep Your Distance

If it’s raining, keep your distance from the car in front of you.

You don’t want them to spray even more muddy water on your windshield, as this is only going to make your life more difficult than it already is right now.

Also, since you’re driving with reduced visibility, it’s generally considered a good idea to maintain a greater distance from the vehicle in front of you anyway.

Focus Closely

The situation will resemble driving when it’s snowing or foggy, so you need to be focused and alert.

Turn down the music, check the mirrors more often, go slow and be extra careful with everything you do.

Do not attempt to clean your windshield while driving, whether you’re considering doing so with your hand or a rag.

Pull Over

When it’s finally safe to do so, pull over and stop the car.

If your windshield was simply dirty because someone passed you and sprayed mud or other debris on it, clean it. You’ll then be able to safely reach a service station or repair shop.

Assess the Problem

After safely pulling over, check what the problem is.

If you can fix windshield wipers right then and there, and have the spare auto parts needed, go ahead and do so. If not, either wait for the rain to stop, or call for help.

It’s always best not to drive long distances with poor visibility, unless you absolutely have no other choice but to do so.

Why Do Windshield Wipers Stop Working?

Now, let’s take a look at everything that could possibly cause your windshield wipers to stop working.

You now know all about what you need to do when your car’s windshield wipers stop working all of a sudden, but knowing why this problem occurs can help you avoid it from happening again in the future.

The most common causes of the wipers not working are:

  • Torn wiper blades.
  • Wipers are stuck.
  • The wiper fuse has burned out.
  • The wiper motor has burned out.
  • Pivots nuts are loose.
  • A nozzle is obstructed.
  • Blades on your car are not put on properly.

Now, let’s look at each of these potential causes in more detail. (P.S: Not all of these reasons require you to change the wiper blades on your car completely).

Wiper Blades Are Ripped

If the wiper blades are not in good condition, the windshield wipers will not serve their function well enough. This happens often if normal wipers are used in frosty conditions, where you’d be far better placed to use the best winter wiper blades you can source.

They may still move to and fro, but your windshield will not look any clearer. All they’ll do is glide over the ice, or smear the water over your windshield instead of sweeping it to the sides.

This means that you’ll have to change your wiper blades. Luckily, they are relatively cheap and easy to replace. This should be done after 30,000 miles at most.

Windshield Wipers Are Stuck

This is more likely to happen in winter if they are covered in ice or snow.

Windshield wipers will remove a relatively light load of snow, and they are not powerful enough to deal with huge amounts of wet snow or ice.

Before you get on the road, make sure you brush excess snow or ice off of your car. Of course, don’t forget your windshield – otherwise, there is a high chance of damaging the wiper blades and even the mechanical parts.

The same could happen in the fall, as sticky leaves piling on your car could also prevent your windshield wipers from working properly.

Keeping your windshield clear is very important. Always remember to clear your windshield before turning them on – otherwise, the motor will be overloaded, and the wipers will malfunction.

The Fuse Has Burned Out

Windshield wipers work thanks to an electrical motor. If there’s an issue in the electrical system (electrical problems), the fuse will burn out in order to protect the actual motor.

It is much easier and cheaper to replace a blown fuse than the entire motor. This should be the first thing to check if the wipers are completely dead.

Motor Burnout

Another possibility is that the entire motor has burned out, which happens when the fuse doesn’t do its work correctly.

In this case, the damage is more costly, since the motor has to be replaced. If the motor stops working, the windshield wipers don’t receive electricity. Even if they’re in perfect condition, they will not work.

Wiper Pivot Nuts Are Loose

A loose pivot is yet another very common reason for such windshield wiper problems.

The arms of the wipers are connected to the transmission with pivot nuts. If these are loose, the wipers might move a little, but will not have full power.

Each wiper arm is independent, so you could be in a situation where one wiper works well, and the other one doesn’t. Luckily, all you have to do in this case is tighten the pivot nuts and you’ll be all set.

Nozzle Is Obstructed

If the car windshield washer nozzle is clogged up, the washer fluid for your windscreen will not be able to reach your windshield. You’ll get a very weak (or non existent) washer fluid pump.

Even if the wipers work fine, without fluid, they’ll be pretty much useless.

In this case, all you have to do is use a needle to clear the obstruction. The holes are tiny, and a bit of dirt will be enough to clog them up.

Blades Are Not Put On Properly

If your windshield wiper blades are not mounted correctly, surely enough they won’t work.

If you’ve never mounted them yourself, you may want to check with a professional.

The Dangers of Not Addressing Broken Wipers

The severe dangers and repercussions that come with neglecting addressing windshield wipers that don’t work revolve around causing a hazardous situation to you and your passengers, as well as pedestrians and other road users.

The main dangers of broken windshield wipers are:

Scratched Glass

Not only does the rubber edge wipe the water from your windshield, it’s also a soft material against the glass shield.

If the rubber goes, some water might be removed by the metal part of the wiper, but there is a serious danger that the metal can scratch the glass.

Visibility can be reduced with a scratch, let alone be a distraction to you while driving. Since there’s an imperfection in the angle of the glass with a scratch, the light will reflect awkwardly while you’re driving.

If there is a weak spot in the glass, the scratching can exacerbate the weakness and cause a crack to occur. This is an even more dangerous situation, and a more costly one as well.

Loose Rubber Seal

The seal coming loose doesn’t just prevent the windshield being cleaned.

If you’re traveling at a speed, there is a serious risk of the seal flying off the car. This endangers pedestrians, as well as traffic behind you or coming in the other direction.

Tips to Avoid Your Windshield Wiper System Not Working

Here are a few tips to keep help keep everything working just fine, keep all of these problems away, and minimize the chances of being faced with any unpleasant surprises when on the road:

Check If they Work Before You Drive Off

I know it sounds obvious, but how many of us actually bother to check them before driving off?

Unless it’s raining or snowing, we’ll most likely ignore our windshield wipers.

Get into the habit of checking them and making sure they’re functioning properly when you start your car and before you drive off to your destination. That way, you’ll most likely avoid being caught unprepared if it does start to rain or there’s heavy snowfall.

Keep the Blades Clean

We’ve seen that if the blades are torn, they won’t work. The same happens when they’re not clean.

Pollution, grease, and dirt are very common when driving, especially in cities. Every once in a while, give your windshield wiper blades a nice, thorough cleaning.

When doing so, use warm, soapy water (boiled water is a good idea here, but be sure not to boil it too much so it doesn’t become too hot), and a rag. Rinse it off and, for a finishing touch, dampen a clean cloth in rubbing alcohol and apply. This will prevent streaks and smears across the glass.

Do Not Overload the Wipers

Always keep in mind that windshield wipers are designed for a light load. So, do not overload them!

Be careful enough to brush off excess snow or any other debris piled up on your windshield. Get into the habit of doing this before turning on your windshield wipers, and they will surely last longer.

Use Proper Washer Fluid

It may not seem evident, but windshield washer fluid plays an important role in keeping your wipers working properly.

Always use good quality washer fluid, and make sure it never runs dry before topping it up. Also, check that there are no obstructions in the nozzle. A little extra care will go a long way!

Not to alarm you, but a study found that bacteria thrives in windshield washer fluid. This is especially true in warm weather. In some types of windshield wiper fluid, the pneumonia bacteria actually survived for months.

Can You Get Help from a Professional?

What if you don’t have the time or motivation to “get your hands dirty” and deal with all of this on your own?

Some of us might not feel confident enough in our abilities to resolve some of the above issues on our own, and we might tend to always prefer a professional to fix any wiper problems for us.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with leaving it to the experts, if you prefer.

Nowadays, there are professional mechanics that will even come to where you are to fix such a problem for you on the spot. This means that you don’t have to waste time taking your car into a repair shop – the repair shop will come to where you are at the time (figuratively speaking).

Repair estimates, on average, are between $20 and $40 to replace windshield wiper blades. The only part that will be more costly is the motor. If you need a new windshield wiper motor, be prepared to spend between $250 and $700, depending on your car model.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we’ve seen that windshield wipers are a pretty simple (yet delicate) part of cars. Even when you forget they exist on sunny days, when it starts pouring, that’ll be a completely different story!

You’re now aware about some of the most common reasons your windshield wipers malfunction, and you know all about what to do if they were to stop working abruptly.

You now also know what you need to do to make sure they continue to work well and don’t start causing any inconvenient problems anytime soon.

Before we sign off, we want to leave you with a curious fact: Did you know that the first ever hand-operated windshield wipers were invented in 1903 by a woman from Alabama? 20 years later, a motor was added, and they haven’t changed much since then.

For now, have a safe driving experience!

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars. Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned. Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

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