The Immutability of the Windshield Wiper – The Emergency Lane

The Immutability of the Windshield Wiper – The Emergency Lane

The automotive industry is currently undergoing a rapid pace of all kinds of innovations, especially in the fields of electric and autonomous driving. Yet there are things that have remained more or less unchanged for decades: the windshield wiper is one of them.

A metal or plastic arm that rotates on one side and has a rubber blade on the other to remove rain or dirt from the window: the principle of the wiper dates back to the 19th century. At that time, several inventors were working on the idea and also applied for a patent. The most famous of those inventors is Mary Anderson, an American who not only invented the windshield wipers herself, but also added a lever in the vehicle to operate the windshield wipers. Anderson’s invention was only a first step: Power-operated windshield wipers were first patented in 1917.

However, the first automatic windshield wipers were not electric, but operated with a vacuum. The air pressure that was created in the intake manifold due to the supply of air when accelerating was used to operate the windscreen wipers. The main disadvantage was that the wipers could not function independently of the motor and that they stopped working at times when no air pressure could be built up. Finally, in the 1960s, the first electrically operated windshield wipers appeared on the market. The next step was the rain sensor: Citroën applied that principle in 1970 to its top model, the SM.

lemon SM

So much for the brief history of the windshield wiper. Although the way the windshield wipers function changed, the principle of the windshield wiper has remained the same over the years. In most cases, cars have one or two windshield wipers. On a small car like the first generation Fiat Panda, one wiper was sufficient, but for cars with larger windows it was usually necessary to use two wipers. In many cases they move synchronously with each other, but an opposite movement is also regularly used. Sometimes manufacturers installed windshield wipers in unusual places: for example in the car or on the side windows and mirrors.


Mercedes-Benz thought there was another way and introduced the ‘monoblade’ on the 190. The disadvantage of having a single wiper, especially on larger cars, was that it could never cover the entire window area. For example, the Citroën CX unveiled in 1974 also had one windshield wiper, but it was fixed. Mercedes-Benz gave it its own twist. In the video below the article you can see how this special wiper works. The monoblade pivot is centrally located under the windshield and the wiper blade extends quickly when it reaches the top corners of the windshield, then retracts again at the top of the windshield. This allowed this wiper to cover 86 percent of the windscreen.

Windshield wiper Emergency lane

Eventually the ‘monoblade’ found its way to the 190E, but also to the E-class (W124 and W210), the C-class (W202) and the SL (R129). However, Mercedes-Benz said goodbye to the system around 2000. The reason? Although the system was quite innovative, it had quite a few drawbacks. The complexity in particular turned out to be a problem. The wiper was notorious for giving up the ghost fairly often and it was expensive to do so. In addition, the system was a lot more expensive for Mercedes-Benz to make than the usual arrangement of two windscreen wipers, so that the brand eventually reverted to that principle.


The basic operation of the windshield wiper is a century old. Although car manufacturers have improved the principle over the years, for example with heated wiper blades and integrated windscreen washers, the basic solution has not changed: a rubber blade that removes rain from the windscreen. The principle works, but at a time when the pace of technological innovation is hard to keep up with, you might want a more high techexpect a solution. A few students experimented with air pressure to keep rain off the windshield, but automakers have not adopted that system so far.

Tesla is currently working on a solution that looks like it came straight out of a science fiction movie: laser beams as “windshield wipers.” The patent application states that targeted laser pulses should, as it were, burn the dirt away from the window pane. That still sounds rather far-fetched, so it remains to be seen whether and to what extent that idea will be given shape in the coming years. Until then, you as a passenger will still have to watch as the old trusted wiper blades wipe the raindrops from your front or rear window.

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