/ Motoring

Windscreen wipers wiped out by McLaren

windscreen wiper

The windscreen wiper is dead. Or, at least, on the way out if you’ve read the latest news. Is there anything else you think car manufacturers should ditch as well?

British supercar and F1 supremo McLaren is working on a windscreen clearing system that will make old fashioned wipers obsolete.

It is likely to use high frequency sound waves to create a force field that will bounce water off the screen. Apparently it will work in a similar way to the tool a dentist uses to blast plaque off our teeth, and may be being adapted from systems already used on fighter jets.

It all sounds rather StarTrek-ish to me, but when you consider that the humble rubber strips on our car windscreens are actually 110 years old (American property developer Mary Anderson invented the manual windscreen wiper in 1903), then it’s high time they were reconciled to the archives.

Consigning car tech to history

That got me thinking about the other motoring-related items that have been consigned to the great big rubbish bin in the sky. I applaud the passing of many of them, in particular:

1. The manual choke. I have (not -too-fond) memories of using clothes pegs to keep the manual choke out on my ancient Morris Minor on icy-cold early morning drives.
2. Carburettors. Having to regularly manually reset the carbs on various old motors was a real chore that I never relished.
3. Tape players. The hours spent rewinding the tape back into a cassette with a pencil after it spewed out, and the remains of cassettes strewn around the countryside with tape flapping about in the wind – two good reasons why it’s good tape decks have died.

Things we need back

However, that doesn’t apply to everything that’s been lost. Spare wheels are the most obvious item I’d rather we kept fitted to cars.

And having just had a drive in the latest version of my six-year-old car, I have discovered that not all new tech is as easy to live with as the systems they replace.

The touchscreen multimedia system on the latest Nissan Note looks good, but it’s more time-consuming and complicated to do things. I’m talking about changing the radio station or switching off advanced safety systems like lane assist – a simple button for each of these would be so much better than having to navigate a sub-menu.

Looking to the future, we expect more cars to gain touchscreen technology, and become more integrated with things like smartphones. Let’s hope the designers work hard to ensure these ‘advances’ aren’t really a step backwards in convenience for motorists.

Are there some car things you’d like to be rid of, or are there things you think we should have kept? Will you miss windscreen wipers?


The replacement for windscreen wipers may be effective, but has anyone considered the possible effects of ultrasonic frequencies on animals, including humans?

What I would like to consign to history is the current trend of festooning cars with strings of LEDs as brake lights, indicators and daytime running lights.

I have an indicator on my car that tells me when a bulb has gone. That’s its just its gone, no clue as to which one, where etc, It might as well not be there.

Last time I bough a new car ( back in 2008 ) I was surprised that it didn’t have digital radio. Do they have that now ?

I’d be impressed if I had a car that could change traffic lights in my favour especially late at night when there’s no one waiting at any other signal. Oh h**l lets have that for during the day too. I can’t wait for smart traffic lights.

The gadgets I love and must have in any future car are in no particular order, Power assisted steering, cruise control, ABS.

It will never catch on. It may work on fighter jets, but they do not usually have vehicles coming the other way, swamping the windscreen with dirty water. In the floods, you can see the deluge approaching, and put on the wipers before it hits, so you are blind for only a few seconds. Waiting for ultrasonics to work would take ages, which, assuming everyone at that moment had no vision, would be interesting. Might work, in tandem to wipers, not instead of!

Just because its over 100 years old doesnt necessarilly mean its time to come up with another idea. The quality of wiper blades has improved alot in that time. If it aint broke dont fix it. However, having said that I did have a wiper motor fail on a Citroen once. The cheapest quote to replace was something well in excess of £200 if I recall correctly. So, if they would like to come up with something new which isnt going to cost the earth to replace when it eventually fails I’m all for it.

Mike Robbins says:
27 December 2013

Strongly agree with this article; some innovations are good, some are not. Others are nice to have on a new car, but are a pain for secondhand buyers, because they go wrong. Some years ago I was appalled to have to pay 250 quid to repair an electric sunroof I never used, and did not want. Touchscreens are also likely to die on the last owners, sending the car to the scrapheap. What really would be nice, would be an a la carte options list.

My next car will probably be a small one. On a small car I shan’t need central locking or electric windows, and may not even want power steering; these things add weight and complexity, and will go wrong when the car gets old. I am happy with a cheap aftermarket satnav. I will want a stereo, but some people won’t even want that; in future, they will prefer to get their infotainment and satnav from their phone or tablet, via Bluetooth. But I will definitely want aircon, and I don’t want to pay for all the above junk in order to get it.

I remember that, over 40 years ago, Ford used to advertise its much-loved Cortina Mk II with the slogan, “Our salesman won’t ask, when do you want it. He’ll ask, how do you want it?” Back to the future please.

a 1600 E will do very nicely thankyou

Peter McA says:
27 December 2013

Most, or all, cars now keep the dipped headlights on along with the high beam.The large very bright patch of road close to the car is impressive and comforting but it reduces the driver’s ability to see detail or movement far ahead where the main beam is trying to illuminate. This is true for all drivers because the excessively bright area close ahead causes the driver’s pupils to dilate, reducing the depth and sharpness of his focus and making the distant road relatively darker.
I’d like to have the option of turning off the dipped lights when the main beam is on.

Peter McA says:
27 December 2013

I understand that the MOT requires the dipped beam to remain on along with he high beam, possibly because the dipped lights are usually the outer pair and therefore important in indicating vehicle width. But this could be better arranged.

Round wheels were invented in Neolithic times: should we stop using them because they really are ancient history?

Well pneumatic tyres are well over 100 years old as is the basic design of the piston engine beneath the bonnet and don’t think multi-valve technology is anything new either. Mercedes and Peugeot ran cars with 4 valves per cylinder in the 1913 Grand Prix. The Peugeot even had twin overhead cams. Let’s ditch the lot.

Forgive me if I’m wrong but isn’t it a legal requirement to have windscreen wipers? If so this new system will have to be an “as well as” until the law is changed and that won’t happen quickly.

Mike Robbins says:
27 December 2013

In fact the first recognizable petrol piston engine was built in Switzerland by François Isaac de Rivaz in 1806. So time the industry stopped wishing expensive and unreliable “innovations” like infuriating touchscreens on us and actually came up with a new idea.

Garrett J. Nagle says:
27 December 2013

My old car heating/ventilation system allowed me to enjoy hot air blowing at my feet together with cold fresh air blowing at my face. With my modern car’s air conditioning the choices are limited and when it broke down on a very hot afternoon our journey became almost intolerable

I remember my Dad’s Morris 8 had a windscreen that was top-hinged and could be swung open a little way with a wind handle. I had a Citroen 2CV when working in Belgium and that had airvents below the windscreen with open/shut flaps. Both gave great face-level ventilation!

Paul Sweeney says:
27 December 2013

Door mirrors must be a nightmare for designers / engineers to incorporate into any shape of car.
They are often a major source of wind noise and turbulence (most visibly in rain), and one of the most frequent items to suffer damage – and very costly to replace.
I would think it possible for some enterprising engineer(s) to design a system of rear mounted camera (built in to high-level brake light?), possibly combined with side cameras to eliminate blind spots (built into indicator side repeaters?) . The rear view cameras could easily be used as a reverse parking aid.
I envisage the end of the rear-view mirror as we know it, which would clear a surprisingly large obstruction to the drivers forward view. This would be replaced by a screen approximately the same size at the top of the windscreen above the drivers head (exact position obviously depends on the overall shape of the vehicle).
The biggest problem I see is what happens when the electronics/ wiring/ fuse/ relay etc fails and you have no rear view mechanism – which I think makes it illegal to drive on.

Adam says:
12 January 2014

Perfectly feasible. I’ve seen this on several coaches on the continent. Presumably the problem is cost?

Peter says:
27 December 2013

My car has voice-activated systems; the radio/CD, the heating etc but, quite honestly, it’s easier to reach and push a button than try to think of the correct phrase out of the 140 possibilities. So often when I say ‘CD play track seven’, the response will be ‘Rear screen demister on’…bah!

Alan Marshall says:
27 December 2013

Has nobody realised that it’s not just rain that windscreen wipers are used for, what about all the insects!!!

David Mc says:
27 December 2013

I have found it interesting reading the different comments of what should/should not be included in our cars. The spare wheel, although I never want to use one should be reinstated to all vehicles.
I remember having the headlight main beam operated by a press switch on the floor operated by the left foot. the system worked well but was eventually replaced by a multiple position rocker switch on the dash and then a stalk on the steering column , as was the horn eventually. The stalk is now multiple stalks with multiple functions. Buying a new car meant deciding on an optional extra, heater or without heater, radio, no radio, or (radio cassette) on some models only, The electric demister for the rear screen was purchased from the accessory shop and stuck on the rear window in your spare time.
On one occasion I was wanting air con on the new car and the salesman just couldn’t understand why I needed that for driving in the UK, he thought I was mad. Two of the selling points highlighted during car advertising was, Self cancelling Indicators, ” And it also has a very useful parcel shelf in the rear.” Rear windows are so small these days that it may not be a good sales pitch any longer. As far as the indicator are concerned manufacturers need to let a lot of present day drivers know that the Indicators will only cancel if they are activated in the first place. I often wonder if these are an optional extra on todays cars. I would like a speaker system within the car that would allow me to talk to rear seat passengers without having to talk in a raised voice and vice versa so that I can hear them also. Is there anything out there yet ?

JohnM says:
28 December 2013

I would love to lose the now universal linked wash/wipe. Despite heated washer jets and stiff dosing of washer fluid, the jets will still freeze; when you are on the motorway with a screen covered in salty spray, wiping without windscreen washers will turn the screen opaque immediately, so the ability to check whether the washers are still working before operating the wipers I would argue is a safety necessity.

Heated screenwash eliminates that problem. It is often an option on new cars, but there are several after-market self-fit heated washer kits available. Not only does hot screenwash eliminate freezing, the hot solution seems to clean the screen more effectively too.

Consigning car tech to history

No 3 – should have been the electro-mechanical ignition systems used on petrol engines.

Who could forget having to change the contact breaker (or the effect of it breaking if not maintained), fiddling with the gap, vacuum advance, cracked distributor caps, faulty coils, etc., just to get an ill-timed spark out of some paraphernalia that would have been more at home in Frankenstein’s lab.

The other big improvement has been in the durability of synthetic rubbers. No more cracked radiator hoses, split transmission boots, leaking brake cylinders, peeling door seals and, of course, longer-lasting wiper blades.

The trouble with progress is it costs so much more to put these gadgets right when things go wrong – and you can rarely do it yourself. So no longer fit a new wiper blade, but an ultrasonic generator for which you’ll need a payday loan. The Xenon headlights on my car cost – £100 for the bulb and £450 to replace a failed ballest (off with the front bumper). Is it worth it? No.

Someone mentioned daytime running lights – an EU requirement (like straight bananas). I find these distracting and totally unnecessary for much of the day. I worked out (someone may like to check) that the energy required to operate these lights on all the vehicles on our roads is sufficient to provide all the electricity requirements for 360 000 homes day in, day out. Is there no joined-up thinking?

Vibration, in combination with a superhydrophobic coating, may well disperse nice clean water drops from the windscreen of your aircraft or race car; consider the air drag and inertial difference at 100 – 1000 mph (which is why wipers have difficulty)! Back in the real world the salt slush and other road dirt sprayed from the artic doing 40 mph in front of you will probably stick. Wipers have improved hugely over the last 30 years lasting longer and working better. When wipers wear out I buy some more at reasonable cost and replace them easily. Modern 5L washer reservoirs mean I can keep the salt spray at bay for a fair few miles. This doesn’t seem to be a problem that needs solving.

One question, if my windscreen needs replacing an I being skeptical to think it would cost many times more for the ultrasonic version?

I quite like DRLs, they compensate for cars whose colours provide excellent camouflage when light is low (most of them these days) and their drivers have not turned on any lighting. I liked the dim-dip system which worked well as DRLs and under street lighting. The Sun is low in the sky in the UK (as in Scandinavia) in winter so DRLs in winter make sense; how many folk put on dips when the Sun is in their mirrors?

I don’t like DRLs. They are mostly unnecessary – just a fad of EU regulators who like to regulate. If people use their lights correctly turning them on or off at appropriate times, none of this would be necessary. But then look at all the loonies that turn on their rear fog lights in rain or keep their front fog lights on 24/7.

But that’s digressing from the windscreen wiper question. Wipers with heated water jets are perfectly satisfactory. I don’t want another unwanted £500 extra like the integrated Satnav: the Satnav on my Android tablet is infinitely better, costs a fraction of the integrated Satnav and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to have ‘updated’. Neither do I have to learn a completely new systems every time I get into a different car.

Claims for whiplash are often blamed for increased insurance premiums,this clearly suggests that a number of accidents are caused by one vehicle running into the back of another; therefor fitting sensors to prevent tailgating would be my chosen addition. Speed adjusted of course.

I would also like the front indicators to be seperate from the headlight cluster, as they originaly were, since it is often difficult to define the indicator flashing on an oncoming vehicle in the dark when they are in close proximity to each other.

On the subject of lights, I would like to see a requirement of two bulbs for each of the brake light fittings on all vehicles, so when one goes, the other will still burn.