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Windshield Wipers Not Working or Working Only Occasionally

Windshield Wiper System

Recently in our forums, user reboz had a problem with windshield wipers stopping mid-wipe on his Oldsmobile Aurora and not always restarting. When wipers cease to function or only work occasionally, there are several things that could be wrong.

In reboz's case, I was the first to answer and gave the following advice, which applies to any vehicle with this issue:
"It could be the switch, the wiring, the motor, or the "transmission" (connections from motor to wipers). Start by checking the fuses for the wiper/washer system, then do a circuit check from the switch to the fuse box, then from the fuses to the wiper motor. Then from the motor to the harness and battery. Most likely what you have is a short or loose connection.

"If all the electrical checks out, check the connections from the motor to the wiper arms. The arms that make up the "transmission" for that run in a circle to make the back and forth wiping. If one of the linkages is loose or if the gears connecting them have worn, it could stop when it finds resistance. You'll know this is happening because when the wipers are running (but not moving), you'll still hear the motor turning."

Forum mechanic Big Block 409 also had some advice, which was to check the "timing" for the wiper system. This is explained in a link to another forum, but the gist is simple. The first step is to check amperage via a circuit test on each of the control wires running from the wiper switch on the steering column to the wiper motor. Then, check the linkage (aka "wiper transmission") like this:

  1. Start by running the wipers until they are in the "park" position (in their seated, off position). This can be done with a "pulse" (one-time push up on the switch). The linkage for the wiper arms does not have to be connected when this is done.
  2. Spin the linkage for the wipers by hand until they change direction from counter clockwise to clockwise. Keep them there, this is their "park position."
  3. Re-attach the linkage to the motor without changing the position of the wiper linkage or the motor's rotor. Tighten to spec.
  4. Plug the motor back in and run the wipers from the vehicle switch. If they work, the problem is solved. If not, observe the linkage connection to the motor as it runs and note whether it's "slipping."
  5. If there is a slip, replace the linkage and/or motor as the gears are likely worn on one or the other causing the slippage.

In the particular case for reboz's Oldsmobile, there is a Technical Service Bulleting (TSB) for this issue from General Motors. A replacement wiper arm and bracket kit was produced to address the issue. This problem can happen on almost any vehicle, however, when wipers are run with a lot of weight (usually snow) on them or over time as the linkage and arms wear with age.