I used to believe wipers should be left down during snow storms, but that has changed


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May 19, 2023

I used to believe wipers should be left down during snow storms, but that has changed

Windshield wiper blades stick out from beneath a blanket of thick snow covering

Windshield wiper blades stick out from beneath a blanket of thick snow covering a vehicle parked on Millwood Rd. in Toronto on Jan 17, 2022.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

The debate about whether to leave your windshield wipers up or down prior to a snow or ice storm never seems to come to a conclusion, with both schools of thought expressing numerous reasons to support their claims.

Twenty years ago I believed leaving them up was detrimental to the life of the spring built into the wiper arm. It was my belief that the wiper arm spring would fatigue faster when being left in the stretched, or up position. To support my position, I performed my own experiment in TV show MythBusters fashion. I measured the tension of the wiper arms on my car and compared it to a fellow Honda dealer technician who owned the same year and model car as mine, but he favoured the upright position prior to all inclement winter weather events.

I proved to him that after four or five years of service the wiper arms on his Honda Civic had lost about 40 per cent of their downward force as the springs had stretched significantly. I used a fishing weight scale and the results weren't scientific, but the differences were so significant that none of my dealership peers could deny there were not some merits to my claims.

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Being a dealership with new vehicles everywhere also meant that we had ample examples of new versus old. Similar results were found repeatedly. I continued for a few years using this method to demonstrate to customers the impact of wipers left in the up position. But that was then and things have changed.

Wiper arms, blades and even the mechanical systems located underneath the front cowl covers have been modified and improved in just about every way. The manufacturer testing procedures are extensive, even in the coldest climates. Many newer cars also have heated wipers, and all have a refined defrost system that focuses more heat directly to the base of the windshield to thaw frozen blades faster.

That being said, the wiper blade rubber experiences its most significant wear when being dragged across an uncleared, frozen windscreen, which is irrelevant to overnight arm positioning. Clearing your windscreen properly before departure is therefore the only real issue that remains.

In my opinion, it doesn't matter anymore. So, leave them up or leave them down. It's really about personal choice. However if you ask me, leaving them up looks a bit goofy, but that's just me.

Hi Lou,

I was very interested in your article regarding heat control valves. On the good side as you say, they allow the motors to warm up much quicker than the old thermostat types. This in turn can cut down wear on a motor through running to cool. The new heat control valves maintain a very accurate temperature for the motor at all times. My BMW temperature gauge needle never moves off halfway whether I am going downhill in winter or towing my caravan uphill in summer.

But I hope if there happened to be a reason for the motor to start to overheat for whatever reason it lets you know. Another very expensive item in the cooling system is the thermostat-operated electric water pumps. Gone are the days of a belt driven pump. These also do a very efficient job keeping the supply of cooler water flowing when needed. I guess they are meant to save a bit of horsepower and help fuel economy with no belt driven pump. But unlike the old type of water pumps, which can last for years and then be fitted with a kit or new pump reasonably cheaply, the electric ones cost a lot ($650) for my last BMW, which had only done 65,000 kilometres when it failed. Also, it was not an easy job to replace.

I am a retired motor mechanic, starting work as an apprentice on Chevrolets and Australian Holdens in 1961. I finished work in 2014 at the age of 70. Man, I have seen some changes in motorcars.

Regards, James D. – New Zealand

I amazed that my ramblings reach such far-off places. New Zealand is definitely on my bucket list of places to visit. I am also now old enough to identify a little bit of what you have seen and yes indeed, things have changed in all facets of life, but especially in motorcars. When I hear the brand Holden, I immediately think back to my own youth and one of the famous Mad Max movies where a Holden was featured, I loved those movies as a teenager in the 1980s.

All the best in your retirement James and I hope you keep turning wrenches, but just for your pleasure now.


I hope the editors will give particular attention to Lou's piece on disengaging traction control. I can guarantee that the overwhelming majority of drivers do not understand the importance of this when stuck in snow.

Keep up the good work and special thanks to Lou.

Paul T. – Bath, Ont.

We haven't had much snow this winter here in Southern Ontario, but during those few snowstorms I am constantly reminded that most drivers are completely unaware of what the traction control disengage button is for in their vehicles. If this is completely new news to you and you have no idea what I’m referring to then please read this article.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail [email protected], placing "Lou's Garage" in the subject line.

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