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The Great Wyoming Debate: Wipers Up or Down in the Storm?

in Aaron Turpen/Column

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By Aaron Turpen, automotive writer

We just had our first snow and for a place with a lot of local plates, I was amazed at how many drivers seem to have forgotten their lifetime of snow driving after a summer off.

When the snow came, my wife and I were on our way to a parent-teacher meeting at the grade school. It was really coming down as we headed over and continued while we were in that meeting. It was an opportunity to notice something: the number of people put their wipers up was about half. A pretty even 50/50 split.

Wyoming is well known for its high winds. I’m in agreement that it’s one of the things that keeps the riff-raff out. Hail storms being the other one. I’m also often surprised at how many people don’t know to just park and wait it out when the winds come. Semi-truck drivers I can understand, maybe, not knowing how bad it can get. But people who live here? Seriously, that boat can go to the storage lot later, when the winds are down.

I bring up the wind because for me, that’s why wipers should stay down in the bad weather here. If you live in Illinois or New York or some other snowy place that gets winds of a mere 20-30 mph on the regular, leaving them up is probably no big deal. But if you live here, where we measure wind speed with a three pound chain.. Not such a great idea.

I know this will be controversial and there will be pushback. But hear me out. This will be way better than the forehead-slap fest that is political debate nowadays.

Your wiper arms are connected by a hinge with a spring to hold it to the windscreen. It’s that spring that you’re stretching when you stand the wiper up. So the wipers, when up, are already tensioned to come back down. That’s the first problem.

The second problem is that, while up, they are like little tree trunks bucking, swaying, and being pushed by the wind. That means they’re moving in ways they aren’t meant to move.

The third problem is that just behind the hinge where those wiper arms connect to your vehicle is a gear. Often it’s made of plastic. It isn’t made for that kind of stress.

So those three things combine when wipers are in the upright position in the Wyoming wind on a cold winter’s day. So we have wiper arms tensioned to be down that are pushed up but being blown in the wind. If the wind is right, it will knock them down. That can be a hard, fast drop. A windshield cracking drop.

If that doesn’t happen, we still have a spring meant to keep the wiper to the windshield being tensioned in the opposite direction. Which could mean it won’t be as tight over time. Causing windshield wiper chatter. On top of that, we still have the arms being pushed around in the wind, twisting on relatively fragile hinges and gearing. Those gears can wear and break. Also not good.

For those reasons, the better option in bad weather is to cover the windshield itself. There are great windshield covers made for that and they’re readily available online and in stores. Even better, these covers mean you don’t have to scrape the ice off the windshield. Bonus: you can use the cover to help protect the windscreen during a hail storm.

So there’s my heavily controversial advice. I realize now that this means I can never run for office as this will definitely be brought up in attack ads. But I proudly state that I am pro-wipers-down. Damn the consequences.

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