Windshield Wiper Malfunction (Here Is How To Fix)

Windshield Wiper Malfunction

There are many reasons why your vehicle may be suffering from a windshield wiper malfunction. Without knowing which vehicle you own, it is tough for us to know exactly what is behind the problem.

However, we can give you a few tips and tricks that will help you to get to the bottom of things.

Remember, if you are ever in doubt, talk to a mechanic. If you don’t know what you are doing, you can make the problem far worse.

Can You Drive With a Windshield Wiper Malfunction?

We are in two minds about this. Obviously, we would suggest that you never drive with any sort of vehicle malfunction.

If something is wrong with your vehicle, then it needs to be fixed. However, having a windshield wiper malfunction isn’t always the end of the world.

Obviously, the windshield wiper is a safety feature designed to sweep rain and snow away from your window. Without it, driving would be absolutely awful and dangerous.

However, if it is not raining or snowing, etc., you can probably avoid fixing the problem immediately. Although, we still don’t recommend it. The sooner that you can get the problem fixed, the less chance there is of more problems appearing.

As most people will probably know; small problems can very quickly become big problems, particularly on vehicles. 

Read also >> Sensor Malfunction (Here Is How To Fix)

What Causes a Windshield Wiper Malfunction?

There are several reasons why you could have a windshield wiper malfunction. Some of them can be fixed yourself, while others may need a trip to the mechanic.

We are, mostly, going to be focusing on those problems that you should have no issues fixing yourself. After all, we assume the bulk of the people landing on this page will not have huge amounts of mechanical knowledge. 

Remember, cars are becoming increasingly complicated. So, even your average mechanic probably won’t be able to fix most of the issues on your vehicle.

These are the most common reasons behind a windshield wiper malfunction:

  • Damaged or worn windshield wiper blades.
  • Empty windshield wiper fluid
  • Frozen wiper blade
  • Electrical issues
  • Bent wiper arms
  • Loose wiper fixtures
  • The wiper motor has failed
  • The wiper motor fuse has burned out

Let’s fix these problems, shall we?

Damaged or Worn Windshield Wiper Blades

This is probably one of the most common reasons for a windshield wiper malfunction. You will probably know this is the case if:

  • Your windshield wipers are clearly working
  • They are either smudging water, or not wiping it away at all.

Sadly, windshield wiper blades don’t last forever and, sooner or later, you will need to replace them. How you do this will be dependent on the vehicle that you own (make sure that you consult the vehicle’s manual!)

You will need to buy proper replacement windshield wiper blades. Most windshield wiper blades are easy to replace:

  1. Buy like-for-like replacements i.e. blades designed for your vehicle. 
  2. Unscrew or unclip the old ones.
  3. Clip or screw the new blades into place.

Bent Wiper Arms

If you have bent wiper arms, then you can replace them in exactly the same way as replacing old wiper arms. Unbolt them, then bolt the new ones into place. It’s pretty easy. 

Empty Windshield Wiper Fluid

Your windshield wiper has fluid in it. It is this fluid that you spray onto your vehicle’s windshield when it gets a bit dirty. The windshield wiper then wipes it clean. A lot of people actually forget there is fluid in there.

The windshield wiper fluid container should be under the hood somewhere. Your vehicle’s manual will tell you the exact location of it in your vehicle.

All you need to do is refill that container (to the fill line) with your windshield wiper fluid. You’re then done. 

Frozen Wiper Blades

If it is incredibly cold outside, then you may end up with frozen windshield wiper blades, and this may cause a malfunction on your vehicle’s dashboard. You have two options here.

Either you can wait for them to melt, which could take forever, or you can try and defrost them yourself. If you are trying to defrost them yourself, then make up a solution with the following ingredients:

  • Three parts vinegar
  • One part room temperature water

Do NOT use hot water. It will break your windshield.

You can then pour this solution onto the blades. It should unfreeze them. 

Loose Wiper Fixtures

If your windshield wipers have been knocked loose, then you will need to tighten the nut on them.

Although, if something has hit them hard enough to knock them loose, there may be a bit of a bend in them, so we really suggest that you replace them instead. It isn’t going to be too expensive!

Broken Wiper Fuse

Your windshield wipers are powered by a wiper motor. Inside that wiper motor is a fuse. If the fuse blows, then your vehicle’s windshield wipers won’t work.

There are a lot of things that can make a fuse blow e.g. overloading the electrics, or the wipers being put under a lot of pressure.

You can easily replace the fuse yourself, assuming you have a bit of electrical knowledge. To be honest, the hardest part is trying to work out where the wiper fuse is located.

As with all things, your vehicle’s manual should give you a rough idea, but you will need to know how to read electric diagrams. Thankfully, if you want to make things easier for yourself, you can probably look at videos for your specific model online.

As we said, it isn’t a difficult job, it is just that the location of the fuse can vary depending on the vehicle.

Once you have located the fuse, you just pull the old one out and put the new one back in. It is a job that takes no more than a couple of minutes.

You will need a vehicle fuse of the right amperage, but any car parts supplier should have all the fuses that you need.

They may even have a selection box, and it is nice to have some spare fuses handy as one of the main things that can blow in any vehicle’s electrical system will be the fuses!

Electrical Issues

This is where you start to run into some serious issues with fixing the problem yourself. There may be small electrical issues, a loose wire here or there. However, most problems can’t be fixed yourself. You will need to have the vehicle looked over by a proper mechanic.

If you are noticing that other features in your vehicle don’t seem to be working quite as they should, then there is a strong chance that your vehicle’s battery has very little power in it. If the battery is more than 5 years old, then you can replace it. If the battery is fairly new, then you can charge it.

If you are fine looking at the electrical systems in your vehicle, then you can give the wires leading to the windshield wipers a visual inspection. If you notice any broken wires, frayed wires, etc. then you may need to replace them.

Getting the wires isn’t too difficult, and most will just clip or solder into place. Just remember to have the vehicle’s power shut off when you do so!

If the issue is electrical, then we would probably suggest that you go to a vehicle dealership. This isn’t because we don’t believe that you can fix the problem yourself, it is just that any electrical issues may have caused other problems with your vehicle, and it often means that your vehicle hasn’t been maintained properly. Having a good vehicle service can save you a lot of money in the long run. 

Failed Wiper Motor

Remember the wiper motor fuse earlier? Well, that isn’t the only part of your wiper motor that could break. The entire thing could fail, although it is admittedly a very rare problem.

If your wiper motor has failed, then you may hear a grinding noise just before the windshield wipers stop functioning completely.

In rare cases, the windshield wipers may keep working, but they work quite sluggishly, or may not have a huge amount of power behind them. 

Unfortunately, the only way that you can really fix this problem is to replace the motor. You can do this yourself, once you know where the windshield wiper’s motor is.

It is located either under the windshield wiper cowl, or under the hood. Once you have located it, do the following:

  1. Disconnect the windshield wiper blades.
  2. Unclip the old windshield wiper motor
  3. Clip the new windshield wiper into place.
  4. Reconnect the windshield wiper blades
  5. Replace the cowl, if needed. 

Remember, you should only be replacing the windshield wiper motor with the same one. So, make sure that the motor that you choose has been rated for your vehicle.

While this is a problem that you could potentially fix yourself, we do recommend that you talk to a mechanic beforehand.

This is because the windshield wiper motor is a pretty expensive replacement. It may be worth knowing whether there is another issue in your vehicle before you go and remove it, right?

If you are changing the motor, it may be worth changing the windshield wiper blades at the same time. They will need to be replaced eventually, anyway.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are many reasons why you may be dealing with a windshield wiper malfunction and many ways to fix the problem.

A lot of them can be fixed from the comfort of your own home, but if you aren’t quite sure what you are doing, then it may be worth talking to a professional.

It will ensure that there is a lot less trial and error trying to determine the root of the problem, which could save you a lot of money in the long run! 


Steve P.

Steve is an automotive technician, technical writer, and Managing Editor. He has held a lifelong passion for cars, with a particular interest in cars like the Buick Riviera. Steve is based in Boise, Idaho.

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