Here’s What Happened To Headlight Wipers On Cars


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Jan 17, 2024

Here’s What Happened To Headlight Wipers On Cars

Headlight wipers were common in the 80s and 90s, but since then, they have

Headlight wipers were common in the 80s and 90s, but since then, they have dissipated into obscurity.

First used by Saab, headlight wipers seem to be an inventive means of keeping headlights clean and dry. However, their rarity is proof that the concept never took off. In places like the US, it's rare to see headlight wipers. In fact, some Americans may not even be aware that they exist.

Cars across the pond used headlight wipers more often, so they are more commonly seen in Europe, but are they still popular? Many new automobiles, even from companies that once used the wipers, have abandoned them altogether in their newest models.

At their start, headlight wipers were prominent in luxury cars. They seemed to be more of a status symbol. Companies like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volvo would make them optional for some of their high-end luxury vehicles. It seemed that nothing shows that you have money like your very own headlight wipers.

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Early on, headlight wipers were more common on luxury vehicles such as the Mercedes-Benz W123, BMW E30 3-Series, and the Jaguar XJ-S. The first use of the headlight wiper was in 1970 with the Saab 99.

The headlight wiper was most popular in the late 80s and early 90s, and there were many variations. For instance, for the Saab 99, the design was a vertical blade that would move from side to side. Later on, they also developed horizontal wipers that wiped up and down. The FSO Polski Fiat 125p had one long wiper down the center of the headlight that would turn in the center. This way, it only needed to turn 180 degrees to clean the headlight.

Since they were more common on luxury vehicles, they became a status symbol. Everyone knows that only the richest of the rich would dare have headlight wipers. The issue with them serving as a status symbol, though, is that it didn't speak to their usefulness. Luxury vehicles don't go off-roading and encounter muddy or dirty terrain. They’re typically driven in the city, which made them unnecessary.

Flipping on your headlight wipers in the middle of a rainstorm didn't seem to do much. It often seemed like instead of pushing aside the water; it would disperse it across the lens of the headlight. It might show to the world that you had headlight wipers. They may have been cool for someone who had never seen them before, but other than the novelty, they weren't very practical.

They were also flimsy and prone to damage. Since they were at the very front of the vehicle, they were likely to get damaged. Since they are also signs of luxury and wealth, people often times would vandalize or break them. Once damaged, they were also expensive and bothersome to replace.

It wasn't till a bit later that off-roading vehicles adopted the headlight wiper. One of the first examples of an off-road vehicle to use headlight wipers is the 85’ Lada Niva. The Lada Niva was a Russian four-wheel drive hatchback that had off-roading capabilities.

Headlight wipers weren't completely useless. In fact, many people swore by their wipers, but it depended on the climate they were in. Individuals in drier climates had no use for them.

Times in which headlight wipers seemed to be effective were when you were in muddy or dirty terrain. These wipers would clear the headlights of all the debris, so you could still see. Many of the wiper systems also included a spray system that would shoot cleaning fluid onto your headlights to make the wipers more effective. This came in handy with the dirt and mud as well. The only issue with the spray system is that in consistently dirty conditions, it was easy to run out of cleaning fluid.

Other instances where these wipers seemed useful were when there was a buildup of snow on your headlights. In blizzards or snow storms, headlight wipers would push aside snow. This prevented any kind of buildup from occurring. This is why they were most applicable to off-roading vehicles.

Related: How Pop-Up Headlights Became A Must-Have And Then Disappeared

When headlight technology wasn't as advanced, headlight wipers would make sense. New technology for headlights has made driving in snow and rain a lot less dangerous. Back in 2016, the Ford Company in Europe made their Adaptive Front Lighting System available. This system is able to take stock of the environment and weather conditions to adjust brightness appropriately. This type of headlight system has been available in the US since 2022.

You still may see headlight wipers on recent vehicles like the 2019 Volvo XC60. The issue for other companies is that they aren't very practical. Since the COVID pandemic, automotive companies have also had to adjust. Rising prices and supply chain demands have made it difficult. Headlight wipers are an unnecessary accessory that isn't worth it to many companies bottom line.

Although the headlight wiper was an interesting idea, it didn't become widespread. And today, this cool exterior feature has turned out to be something cosmetic or even archaic at this point.

Andrew Tardif is a writer, performer, and a hands on creator. His passion for the automotive world began when he brought a Ford F250 back to life. From a family of mechanics, Andrew grew to learn the innerworkings of vehicles and a curiosity for the process of a combustion engine. He loves to ride, but he prefers getting under the hood and tinkering around.