How do windscreen wipers work? | AutoGuru
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How do windscreen wipers work?

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Updated 11 Oct 2019

Rowan Johnstone

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The very first type of windscreen wiper dates back to around 1903 and were devices that had to be manually operated.

Drivers were required to operate a lever within the car to move the wipers across the windscreen.

Luckily, technology has progressed to the stage where, today, wipers are all powered by electric motors and mechanical components, and are standard on every car.

So what makes a windscreen wiper wipe?

On most cars, the wiper controls are on a stalk behind the steering wheel on the opposite side of your indicators.

On some cars, the wipers are operated by a circular control located on the dash, which is usually on the right-hand side of the steering wheel (for right-hand drive cars).

Another increasingly common feature is wipers that are activated by sensors in the windscreen of the car, which controls how fast they go by sensing how much water is on the windscreen.

Pretty neat huh!

In any case, once the wipers have been turned on, the next steps are generally the same across all makes and models.

An electric motor located directly underneath the wiper arms (usually underneath a bit of plastic trimming known as a plenum, right in front of the windscreen).

Once activated, the motor transmits drive through the attached linkages and begins to push and pull metal rods that are connected to the base of the wiper arms.

The way this is designed means the metal rods essentially rotate in a circular motion and move back and forth a very specific distance.

This back and forth action is what pushes and pulls your wiper arms across your windscreen.

There are a few types of windscreen wipers movements that can be seen on cars today.


The pivot is the simplest type of windscreen wiper system.

This type of windscreen wiper contains two arms, with one mounted in the centre and one mounted on the far right-hand side.

They move across your windscreen parallel to each other.


This movement also uses two arms.

One is mounted on the far right and the other on the far left, with both facing toward the middle of the windscreen in their off position.

When activated, both arms sweep away from the other one until they reach the edge of their side of the windscreen.

The mechanisms to work this type of windscreen wiper are a bit more complicated than the pivot style.

Mono-arm/Single blade

This style only uses a single wiper arm that is mounted in the centre of the windscreen.

When activated, it completes a full half-circle across your windscreen.

They have a neat ability to extend towards the corners as the blade moves across the windscreen, increasing its coverage.

This style of wiper arm is the most complex and expensive.

If you’re encountering problems with your windscreen wipers, and they’re not performing as they were designed to do, the best thing you can do is book in with a local, high-quality mechanic through AutoGuru.

No matter what type of wiper your car is fitted with, a professional mechanic will be able to get them back in action in no time at all.

Remember not to delay - in Australia, it is a legal requirement to have a functioning wiper system on your front windscreen!

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Written By

Rowan Johnstone

On weekdays Rowan can be found in the AutoGuru office, driving content and growth with the rest of the marketing team.

On weekends you’ll probably find him in the garage with his dad restoring a 1958 Ford Star Model Customline or enjoying a cruise through the Gold Coast hinterland on his Suzuki GSX-R600.

Despite his passion for being behind the wheel (or handlebars), he looks forward to the day when he can commute to work in his own driverless car.