Windshield Wiper Problems

wiper linkage image

Wiper Linkage

It is the season for windshield wiper problems. Overall the system was designed to be extremely reliable. With that said it is not invincible. Common driver complaints can include poor wiping where the windshield is not swept completely clean as the wipers pass up and back.

Another big complaint would be extremely noisy wiper operation this is addressed below. Other complaints related to the wiper linkage or arms may include situations where they are out of adjustment and could be slapping the windshield moldings.

I’ve seen situations were the blades are touching each other as they sweep back and forth. Although not as common would be other complaints such as intermittent operation and slower than normal sweeping action. We will discuss all of these windshield wiper problems below. I have made available some of the parts that are often required to solve these issues including new wiper blades.

Common windshield wiper problems

new wiper blades image

New wiper blades

The driver complaint about the wipers not clearing the windshield properly is often due to problems with the wiper blade itself. Nicks in the rubber and bent brackets that hold the wiper blade insert are some of the most common problems associated with the windshield wiper that does not clear properly. In many cases replacing the windshield wiper blades will correct both of these conditions.

Also keep in mind that the rubber on the wiper blades themselves will harden over time which will reduce the efficiency of the blades and can cause extremely irritating noise. As a general rule of thumb I replace my own wiper blades about once a year whether they need it or not.

When the wiper blades become out of time or do not park low enough or hit a windshield molding this can be a sign of bent parts. Often this can be traced back to the wiper transmission linkage or the arms themselves. The most common cause of bent windshield wiper parts is a driver that does not clear the windshield of built up snow and just turns the wipers on.

Windshield wiper systems were not designed to move heavy loads. Also in some cases the wiper blades can become frozen to the windshield. When you turn the wipers on the force of the motor breaks the blades loose but at the same time can damage the wiper transmission linkage and other parts that are connected to it.

Windshield wiper motor problems

wiper motor image

Wiper Motor

If the wipers are working slower then would be considered normal one of the quickest ways to figure out if it is a motor problem or a binding linkage problem would be to disconnect the wiper linkage at the motor. Then turn on the wiper system and if the motor runs properly without laboring the problem is most likely not with the motor but with the wiper transmission or linkage.

If you are not sure on what the condition of the motor is, you can always take your automotive meter and measure the resistance and compare it to the specification in your service manual. You can confirm a binding wiper transmission or linkage by operating the wipers by hand. Not only should they be easy to move but they should be consistently smooth with no harder to move areas or binding taking place.

If the wiper motor does not run in a particular speed or not at all, an electrical problem should be considered. Checking the wiper fuse is a good place to start if the wipers are not working. On most vehicles a separate wiper fuse is supplied. If you suspect you have an electrical problem I recommend following the diagnostic tree chart in your car service manual for wiper problems. These systems are fairly straightforward and have not gone through too many changes over the years. Therefore the diagnostic charts are some of the easier ones to follow.

If you are interested in learning more about automotive electronics I have a repair module dedicated to not only some basic information but also theory and operation. You can read through this section from this next link that will take you to the automotive electrical problems area. For more of the latest posts on this auto repair information blog this next link will take to the home page from this page about windshield wiper problems.

23 thoughts on “Windshield Wiper Problems

  1. Mark Gittelman Post author

    Evelyn: On your model the delay wiper feature is built into the wiper motor. They use plastic or nylon gears. So I would say that replacing the wiper motor would most likely take care of the issue.

  2. Evelyn Chadwell

    I have a 2001 Lincoln Town Car Executive Series & the other day it was raining & I turned on the wipers & heard a noise that I had never heard before when the wipers would cycle. I know it’s not the wipers because they were just replaced & I have used them since then & didn’t hear the noise. The wipers work and don’t seem to be moving any slower or hesitating during the cycle it just has this new strange noise. Is it most likely the wiper motor or could there be another problem?

  3. Mark Gittelman Post author

    Michelle: I would start by checking for power at the wiper motor with the ignition on, engine off. If you have power and a good ground at the motor, it probably needs a motor. If there is no power at the motor with the switch on, then the rest of the circuit needs to be tested before replacing the switch. There might be a circuit breaker or a relay in between the motor and switch.

  4. Michelle

    We have a 2003 Honda Accord LX sedan. During a recent snow/ice storm my windshield wipers stopped working all together. Hoping things were just frozen, we waited until the car thawed out, but still no action. There is a possibility the wipers were left on when the car was parked just before the storm and they tried to run while frozen. We had the fuse checked, that is OK. We want to know how to tell what part of the wiper system needs service or replacement. When I manually try moving the wipers they move easily and smoothly. Is there a way to diagnose motor vs switch vs something else?

  5. Mark Gittelman Post author

    Tough call John as it could go either way. I would run a charging system output test when the wipers start to slow down. Seems to me the recent Alternator issue would be more than just a coincidence.

  6. John J

    My wipers started running painfully slow during a recent trip. However, after being turned off for several minutes, they seemed to get back to a normal speed, but the problem re-occurred later. Car is a 2004 Honda Civic with about 160K miles. Here is some potentially related information. The alternator was replaced a few days before we noticed this wiper issue. Any thoughts on whether this is a wiper motor issue, or potentially some electrical issue, or something else?

  7. Mark Gittelman Post author

    Greg: It sounds like either the wiper pivot post or the splines inside the wiper arm are stripped. Could be both? You’ll have to remove the arms in order to see what’s damaged. I think the pivot posts are part of the wiper transmission on your model.

  8. Greg

    I have a 2004 Chevy impala my windshield wiper on the passenger side went halfway up then drop back in the position where it rests when it’s off. Then I turn it back on didn’t move. Then my driver sided wiper goes up passed the position it suppose to stop at. It ended up on my drivers door like its striped. My motor works all speed do you think I need some more windshield wipers arm.

  9. Mark Gittelman Post author

    Ashley: The post that the wiper arm attaches to has splines that grip internal splines on the arm. These can become striped. In this situation you wind up replacing the whole transmission for one small issue with the pivot post. Also Timing the wipers can be an issue. The arms should be installed when the wipers are in the parked position so they don’t run off the glass on the up swipe.

  10. Ashley

    I have a 97 Buick park avenue and my drivers side wiper blade would go up and way past the window (fling off the side of the car) after looking the bolt was severely lose, we tightened and it didn’t help, now my husband just took it off completely. (Makes for interesting rain days….luckily te passenger side is long enough I can just lean a little and see) but we were told may need a new transmission for it? I don’t understand, the mechanism works (turns on and off, adjusts speeds accurately etc) just a matter of the one going to far to the left and it not seeming to clear the window properly…any ideas?? Something stripped? (Like the bolt)

  11. Mark Gittelman Post author

    Brigette: Curious about the year, make and model car and the current miles. Generally speaking the 2 most common issues for this type of malfunction is a stripped wiper pivot or a defective wiper transmission. On some models the pivot can be replaced separate from the transmission.

  12. brigette

    The wiper on driver side has stopped moving, the motor still runs and wiper on passenger side works fine, I was told that I need a windshield wiper transmission, why not just the windshield wiper arm? What does the windshield wiper transmission do anyway?

  13. Mark Gittelman Post author

    William: They call this condition Phantom Wipe. This was common on GM cars from the Nineties due to problems with switches inside the steering column or delay wiper module malfunctions.

  14. William

    My wipers go on 1 stroke anytime.It just turns on for 1 stroke then shuts off.

  15. Mark Post author

    Bryan: The component for making the wipers stop in the right spot is called the Park switch. I believe on your model this part is integral with the wiper motor (but check with your dealer for more information).

    Ron: The Corvette also has a complicated wiper system with rain sensors and delay module functions. I would check for technical service bulletins or make your rounds on C5 corvette forums and see if this is a common problem with a known solution.

  16. Bryan

    The wipers on my 2004 Impala stop in a vertical position when turned off. Whats up?

  17. ron stocking

    my 2001 corvette wipers keep going on even tho the wipers are turned off. it’s like it is stuck on intermitted wiper.

  18. Mark Post author

    Leo: Sorry, not real strong on the Lexus systems. They can get real complicated with windshield rain sensors and all that good technology. I recommend at least paying for an hour or 2 of dealership diagnosis. A Lexus dealer will be best equipped to handle a speedy and accurate diagnosis.

  19. Leo Bao

    Mark, my 2002 Lexus IS300 has an issue where the wipers seem to have a mind of it’s own. About a year ago I moved my wiper switch to the off position but they never stopped. It will keep going until I stop the car, pull out the fuse or at some point, turn off on their own. Also, since this has started to occur, I have not been able to use my windshield washer fluid. The wipers seem to respond in the summer, or warmer weather (except for the washer) but as soon as it gets below 35 degrees, they seem to just go off on their own. Any ideas on what this could be?

  20. Mark Post author

    John: If it did not do it with the old blades I would put them back on. Otherwise a problem like you described can often mean replacing parts like the wiper transmission, arms or linkage. It would need to be inspected to know for sure.

  21. John Sobierski

    2001 GranM Merc..Just changed notice the passenger side blade starts to return a fraction at the end of the sweep..causing an annoying click. What can I do??

  22. Andrew Barnes

    My wife used to get tired of hearing me ‘remind’ her not to use the wipers to clear the windshield in the winter. Finally, it came down to installing a remote car starter or moving to a tropical country. It was worth the move.

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