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Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 4/13/2003

Going back and forth on the wiper issue

When you spend a lot of time driving, you have time to think about the parts of the automobile. Though seat belts that get you in the neck and won't let go, and belts that automatically fasten when the car door is closed are my pet peeves, another automotive accessory is a close second.

For several months I have been concentrating on windshield wipers. You may say, what does she know about windshield wipers?

The answer is, not much, except that in my humble opinion, based on 50 years of driving at least 100 different cars, rentals plus my own, wiper design is due for improvement.

True, compared to the early models, newer designs give the driver a choice of slow, fast, and faster swipes during rain or snow, but in a heavy rainstorm the fastest power is blinding and nerve-wracking as the blades pace back and forth at incredible speed. Are you watching the blades or the road?

When ice clings to the wiper it leaves an ugly mark on the window so you stop the car, knock the ice off the wiper, and proceed a few miles until another ice build-up forms. If, in the ice removal process, the rubber is so damaged that it no longer gives an even swipe, there is only one solution: Buy new blades and try to install them.

The victims of all kinds of weather and automatic car washes, blades are easily damaged because they are out in the open. A crooked or damaged blade does but half the job, leaving part of the window clean and the other part streaked. Don't bother to shoot more washing fluid on the window. It won't repair the damage.

A salesman at a local automotive store is amazed at how long people wait to replace blades, and at the condition the wipers are in when they finally do decide it's time for a change - and that is often when it's raining or snowing. Often the rubber is missing entirely. His recommendation is that new blades be purchased once a year, and that 100 per cent rubber is better than blades that are 50 per cent natural rubber and 50 per cent synthetic rubber.

Much as this issue has been pondered, I do not have a solution. Perhaps somewhere out there in invention land, someone has a plan that will improve this small but very important hardware on the automobile and become a millionaire.

That's what Robert Kearns, a professor at Wayne State University did and won a $10 million settlement. Mr. Kearns was annoyed that blades were not efficient in light rain and drizzles and frequently had to be turned on and off by the driver. Mr. Kearns' invention was a mechanism that allowed a variety of settings and would work intermittently. After Ford began using the invention on new cars, without compensating Mr. Kearns, he sued and won.

Even before the first Ford was on the road, Mary Anderson of Birmingham, Ala., invented the first windshield wiper. The inspiration for Mary's invention, patented in 1903, came on a trip to New York City. As she rode on a streetcar on a day with snow and blinding sleet, Mary was concerned that the driver had to open the window to see the road. Her invention was a swinging arm device with a rubber blade that the driver operated by turning a lever inside the car. In 1916 her design became standard on American cars.

Mary didn't give up. Neither will I while waiting for improved windshield wipers.



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