There Is an Insufficient Variety of Windshield Wiper Speeds

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Ever driven through the rain? If not, you are not old enough to be reading this “R rated” blog. If so—read on....

Let’s say it has just started to rain. It is raining very lightly. Just enough to require that you turn on the windshield wipers. You turn the wipers on to the first (lowest) setting. Let’s say this setting is adequate as you are driving at highway speed. Then you pull off on an exit and slow down. What happens? Your reduced speed also reduces the amount of rain getting on your windshield between wiper wipes. Now, not enough rain accumulates between wipes, causing an annoying “squeak.” Unfortunately, the wipers are already on the lowest setting.

You need not change driving speed for a problem to appear. Let’s say it starts raining a little bit harder, as you’re driving down that highway. The lowest wiper speed is no longer sufficient to clear your windshield completely. So you click it up to the next highest wiper speed. Unfortunately, while the rain is too profuse for the lowest speed, it is not yet profuse enough for the next highest speed. You are now left with the choice of an insufficiently cleared windshield, or the grating “squeak” of windshield wipers that are moving too fast for the paltry accumulation of raindrops they are expected to wipe away.


Pick your poison.

There is, of course, a third and darker option. When faced with a level of rain that does not precisely match the speed options that Big Windshield Wiper has presented to you, you can—if you are so inclined—choose to raise or lower the speed of your driving to cause more or less rain to accumulate on your windshield between wipes. This is plainly unsafe—driving speed should be suited to roadway conditions, not forced upon us as a result of an inexplicably small number of windshield wiper speed settings. But what choice do we have?


Despite living in a world in which cars can be autonomously driven by space satellites, Ubers, Teslas, “Lambos,” and computers that have something to do with the exhaust system, we still are forced to grapple with windshield wipers that have a number of speed settings that can be counted on one hand or less. How is it that we have mastered anti-lock braking systems and pickup-mounted machine guns, yet we can’t seem to build a Hyundai Accent whose windshield wipers are controlled by a smooth knob that would slowly raise their speed in an infinite number of fine gradations, rather than in balky, too-enormous “clicks?” Those with a conspiratorial frame of mind may suspect that this is all the result of a plot, probably by car companies, with some purpose that I cannot fathom, but which will make car companies more money. Me? I’m a reporter. A journalist, if you will. I do not speculate. I merely speak the truth that others are afraid to say: Windshield wiper speeds are a problem about which I will talk to you at length during the most miserable “cocktail party” experience of your life.