Windshield wiper brakes are an important yet often overlooked component of the windshield wiper system. As their name suggests, they act as a “brake” to stop the wiper blades in a specific parked position when turned off, rather than letting them rest randomly on the windshield. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about windshield wiper brakes.
What are Windshield Wiper Brakes?
Windshield wiper brakes are mechanisms built into the wiper system to stop the blades in a consistent parked position when not in use. They work by physically locking the wiper arms or linkages in place, preventing further movement once the wipers are shut off.
On most vehicles, the wiper brakes are located near the base of the wiper arms under the hood. In some cases, they may be integrated into the wiper transmission linkage inside the cowling. Their purpose is to provide controlled stopping of the blades instead of letting them simply flop down.
How Do Windshield Wiper Brakes Work?
There are a few different types of wiper brakes, but most work on a simple principle – using friction to stop the wiper motion at a certain point. Here are some of the most common brake designs:
- Pendulum brakes use weighted pendulums that swing up and wedge against the wiper shaft when the power is cut. The weight of the pendulum prevents the wiper arm from moving.
- Automatic park brakes use spring-loaded brake shoes pushed by cams to clamp down on the shaft or linkage when deactivated.
- Manual park brakes engage when the wiper switch is turned to the “park” position, physically locking the linkage.
- Electronic brakes use electromagnets or small motors to push a brake pad against the shaft when turned off.
Regardless of the exact type, the brakes work by creating friction against the wiper components to stop them in a set position. When turned back on, the force of the wiper motor overcomes the braking friction to resume motion.
Why are Windshield Wiper Brakes Important?
Windshield wiper brakes provide some key benefits:
- Consistent parked position – With brakes, the wipers will always rest in the same preset parked position when turned off. This ensures they are in an optimal spot to clear the windshield when turned back on.
- Reduce wear and tear – Letting the wipers stop randomly can lead to undue stress on the wiper arms, linkages, and blades over time. Brakes minimize this by absorbing the stopping impact.
- Improve wiper effectiveness – Parking in a consistent spot prevents the blades from getting stuck in irregular areas of the windshield they didn’t clear well.
- Extend wiper motor life – Sudden impact stopping without brakes can damage wiper motor gears. Brakes provide a smooth controlled halt.
- Aesthetic appeal – Wipers parked neatly in the same position just looks nicer than random stopping points.
Symptoms of Failing Wiper Brakes
As with any automotive component, wiper brakes can wear out over time. Here are some signs of failing or malfunctioning units:
- Wipers stop at inconsistent positions on the windshield
- Wipers slip down from the parked position
- Wipers make grinding noises when turning on or off
- Wipers move very slowly and seem to drag
- Parked wipers are stuck midway on the windshield
- Wiper arms or blades appear loose and wiggly
Any of these symptoms indicate the brakes may be worn or no longer applying enough force. Timely brake inspection and replacement is recommended.
How to Install Windshield Wiper Brakes
Replacing worn or malfunctioning windshield wiper brakes is a straightforward DIY project for most vehicle owners. Here is a step-by-step guide to safely installing new wiper brakes:
Step 1: Get replacement brake assembly
You’ll need a new brake assembly designed specifically for your vehicle’s make and model. OEM parts from the dealer are recommended for proper fit and performance. Aftermarket versions are also available.
Step 2: Turn wheels and remove wiper arms
Turn the wheels all the way to one side and remove the windshield wiper arms from the wiper pivots. This provides access to the brakes. Consult your vehicle guide for proper wiper arm removal technique.
Step 3: Remove old brake assembly
Locate the windshield wiper brake mechanism under the cowling near the wiper pivot. It may be mounted on the wiper transmission linkage. Remove any retaining clips or fasteners to detach the old brake assembly.
Step 4: Install new brake assembly
Follow any directions supplied with the new brake component. Apply any necessary lubricants to pivot points. Mount the assembly in place and attach using the fasteners. Double check that it is correctly aligned and secured.
Step 5: Reinstall wiper arms
Carefully reinstall the wiper arms on their pivots in the proper orientation. Consult vehicle diagrams to ensure correct left and right arm placement.
Step 6: Test operation
With the arms reinstalled, activate the wipers and turn them off in different positions to check brake function. The blades should lock consistently in the parked position.
Step 7: Complete process
Check for any leaks, reconnect anything disconnected, and remove any tools or materials. Test wiper operation through several full cycles. Your new windshield wiper brakes are now ready to go!
With the proper replacement part and some mechanical know-how, this straightforward brake repair can be completed in an hour or two. Be sure to consult your vehicle repair manual if any issues arise during the process. Properly functioning windshield wiper brakes are an important safety component, so take time to install them correctly.
Windshield Wiper Brake Maintenance Tips
To keep your wiper brakes working properly:
- Inspect brakes annually, checking for unusual wear, corrosion, leaks, etc.
- Lubricate brake pivot points as specified by manufacturer.
- Check that the wiper motor is properly grounded.
- Replace worn or defective wiper blades so they park correctly.
- UseOEM factory replacement brake parts when needed. Aftermarket parts may not work as well.
- Ensure wiper arms and linkages are in good condition so brakes can grip properly.
- Don’t let debris build up around brakes restricting their movement.
With periodic inspection and lubrication, quality wiper brakes should provide years of reliable service. Replacement is straightforward when required.
Windshield Wiper Brake Troubleshooting
|Wipers stop at random spots on windshield||Worn brake pad – Loose or damaged wiper arm – Low wiper fluid||Replace brake pad – Tighten or replace arm – Fill wiper fluid|
|Wipers slip down from parked position||Contaminants on brake pad – Weak brake spring – Loose wiper linkage||Clean pad surface – Replace spring – Tighten linkage|
|Grinding noise when operating wipers||Corrosion on brake pivot points – Bent wiper arm – Low wiper fluid||Clean and lubricate pivots – Replace wiper arm – Add fluid|
|Wipers move slowly/drag across windshield||Worn or misaligned brake pad – Damaged wiper motor||Replace brake pad – Realign or replace wiper motor|
|Parked wiper stuck midway on windshield||Broken brake return spring – Damaged wiper linkage||Replace return spring – Repair or replace linkage|
|Wiper arms/blades loose and wiggly||Worn wiper pivots – Loose wiper arm – Damaged mounting||Lubricate or replace pivots – Tighten arm nut – Replace mounting|
Frequently Asked Questions about Windshield Wiper Brakes
1. Are windshield wiper brakes a standard feature on all vehicles?
Most modern vehicles come equipped with wiper brakes from the factory. However, some very basic older models may not include them. Wiper brakes have been an industry standard inclusion for decades on cars and trucks.
2. Where are windshield wiper brakes located?
In most cases, the brakes are positioned near the base of the wiper arms under the hood cowling. Some are integrated into the wiper motor transmission housing. Consult your owner’s manual for the exact location.
3. How can I tell if my wiper brakes need to be replaced?
Symptoms like inconsistent stopping positions, wiper slippage when parked, and grinding noises point to worn brakes needing replacement. Have a mechanic inspect them if any issues arise.
4. Can I drive without functional windshield wiper brakes?
It’s not recommended. Brakes are an important safety feature that help maximize wiper performance and durability. Driving without them risks wiper damage and poor windshield clearing.
5. Do wiper brakes ever need adjustment?
A: Most are self-adjusting as the brake pads wear. Some older types have adjustment screws that may need a periodic turn to maintain proper braking friction as components age.
6. What’s the average replacement cost for wiper brakes?
A: Prices can range from $50-150 for aftermarket assemblies to $100-250+ for OEM brake components, plus labor. Replacement cost depends on vehicle make and model.
7. How are windshield wiper brakes different from windshield wiper motors?
A: The motor powers the wiper movement across the windshield. The brakes are a supplemental component that stops the wiper blades at a designated parked position when shut off. Both work together.
8. Can I just remove my wiper brakes if they stop working properly?
A: It’s not recommended. Non-functioning brakes should be repaired or replaced. Removal can lead to windshield wiper damage over time as well as inconsistent wiping and poor parking position.
While they don’t receive much attention, windshield wiper brakes are an important operator-controlled stopping mechanism built into wiper systems. When maintained properly, they ensure consistent blade parking, reduce wear, and maximize wiper performance.
Use this guide to understand wiper brake design, function, and maintenance needs on your vehicle. With their relatively low cost and straightforward replacement, it’s smart to keep these unsung wiper components in proper working order.