What are Intermittent Windshield Wipers?

R. Kayne

Intermittent windshield wipers operate in timed intervals rather than constantly. This keeps a windshield clean in conditions of misting or very light rain. In these conditions, constant wiping dries the window, causing blades to stick and squeak as rubber drags across glass. Before intermittent wipers were invented, the solution was to turn the wipers on, let them wipe the windshield once or twice, then turn them off, repeating this process several times a minute.

Intermittent wipers operate on timed intervals, not constantly.
Intermittent wipers operate on timed intervals, not constantly.

Today, there are various models of intermittent wipers. Some models have pre-set intervals with a knob adjustment setting that can be clicked over to one of a few predetermined intervals. Other models feature a control knob that is rolled clockwise or counterclockwise, stretching or shortening the interval between wipes.

An interior control is used to switch between various intermittent wiper settings.
An interior control is used to switch between various intermittent wiper settings.

Intermittent windshield wipers improved upon standard wipers that have been evolving since the manual wiper designed and patented by Mary Anderson in 1903. As history tells it, Anderson, on a trip to New York, noted that streetcar drivers had to open their side windows in rainy weather to see out around the front windshield. Vowing to address the problem, her solution was a single wiper blade attached to a lever located conveniently inside the vehicle. The lever could be used to draw the blade across the window to remove rain and snow while remaining inside. By 1916, Anderson’s invention became standard equipment on all American cars.

Today’s windshield wiper systems are virtually trouble-free in most weather. Intermittent windshield wipers were invented by Robert Kearns (10 March 1927 - 9 February 2005), an Indiana man who saw an opportunity to improve on standard wipers. Kearns realized a need for wipers that would work on a delayed switch principle, and designed then patented this invention in 1967. He presented his idea to the three major US auto companies, Ford Motor Company, General Motors and Chrysler, but none took him up on his idea. Beginning in 1969, however, Ford began introducing models with this feature, and the other automobile manufacturers followed.

Kearns sued Ford in 1978 and Chrysler four years later for patent infringement, but justice was a long time coming, with the legal saga lasting nearly two decades. The inventor eventually ended up collecting $10.2 million US Dollars (USD) from Ford, and $18.7 million USD from Chrysler for what the courts termed to be “non-deliberate infringement.”

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Discussion Comments


Why are they described as "Intermittent" when the wipers operate in timed intervals? Intermittent (Defined): Occurring at irregular intervals; not continuous or steady.

The intervals are regular, continuous and steady. --Eric


I'm really happy to read that there are adjustable controls available for windshield wipers. This feature would be enough to sell me a car, as I hate that pre-set timer.

It never seems to be just right, and I find myself watching anxiously for it to do something before I am unable to see. It would also stop that horrible noise as the windshield wiper arm drags itself across the nearly dry glass.


@Windchime - Some people like to use different types of wipers for different seasons. Maybe this is an answer to your problem? I know that mine didn't work as well in the winter, particularly if there was ice on the car.

I asked the guy at my local auto shop which were the best windshield wiper blades, and followed his advice to buy the all weather type. It costs a bit more but you should avoid the kind of streaking you mentioned when they are on the intermittent setting.


My windshield wiper blades seem to work better in some seasons than others. The other day it drizzled and I put them on the intermittent setting. I ended up with a whole load of blurry mess on the window, which was quite dangerous.

When I put them onto full and used the cleaning liquid it was fine, but I'd like to avoid this problem in the future. Anyone have some tips?

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