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Cold snap sparks 44% rise in drivers breaking windscreen wipers

British motorists have suffered from the recent cold snap… quite literally.

The blast of Arctic weather and sub-zero temperatures, which started in December, hit in January again and has now returned, has sparked a significant rise in drivers breaking their windscreen wipers, according to the AA.

It says in December it attended 44 per cent more callouts than the same month a year previous for snapped wipers and burnt-out wiper motors caused by drivers trying to clear their windscreen when the parts were still frozen to the glass.

And if an entire wiper unit needs to be replaced, it can cost up to £400 on some modern cars, the AA warned. 

Motorists are experiencing a cold (wiper) snap: AA’s patrols have reported a 44% rise in callouts for broken windscreen wipers caused by freezing temperatures

In a normal month heading into winter, the AA says its patrols commonly deal with around 300 wiper-related calls for help.

However, in December 2022, that number hit nearly 800 – up from 550 the same month a year earlier.

And motorists believe worse is yet to come, with just 3 per cent polled by the motoring group thinking December is the harshest winter month of the year. 

An AA survey of 15,739 of its members last week found that while drivers fear January most for bad winter driving – with 28 per cent saying it is the worst month – another 12 per cent believe it is February.

Three defrosting ‘hacks’ you need to avoid 

There’s a lot of videos out there claiming to have genius ways to defrost your car. But most of the methods don’t work or could even cause you extra problems, says the AA. 

These are the three most commonly shared that should be avoided: 

 1. Warm water 

If you use hot water on an iced-over car, you run the real risk of damaging your windscreen. Boiling water will almost certainly cause damage.

And the AA says you should absolutely avoid using even lukewarm water. This is because glass expands quickly when hot or even warm water touches it. But it’ll contract quickly too as it cools down in the cold air. That flexing can make the glass crack even if you’re using lukewarm water – especially if it had small chips or cracks already.

2. Hot water in a sandwich bag

Social media has seen a wave of drivers sharing the ‘hack’ of putting hot water in a sandwich bag to defrost his windscreen. 

The AA says the melted water could refreeze and cause your windscreen wipers or even door handles to stick.

3. Half a potato on your windows

Another hack suggests rubbing half a potato onto the inside of your windows to stop them steaming up. The AA says it wouldn’t recommend rubbing anything onto your windows that could smear them.

Driving safely means making sure that your line of vision is kept clear.

According to the latest Met Office report, minus temperatures are predicted to dominate the UK this week, with freezing conditions forecast particularly overnight.

The breakdown provider’s patrols say that motorists should expect sub-zero conditions throughout the month, and take extra precaution when trying to use their windscreen wipers in the morning, else they risk costly windscreen wiper repairs that can amount to £400 in worst cases. 

‘It has seemed like a while since a severe frost and heavy snowfall has hit so hard and so far south in December for such an extended period. 

‘Many drivers had got used to bracing themselves for a ‘beast from the East’ in January or February,’ says Tony Rich, AA roadside rescue expert and a former ‘Patrol of the Year’.

‘What particularly stood out in December and January, and now in February, was not only the severe temperatures but also the length of the cold snap. It just seems to go on and on.’

He adds: ‘What has featured in particular has been the increase in frozen or broken windscreen wipers and wiper motors often burning out as a consequence – alongside the usual plague of flat batteries, frozen engines and cooling system faults. 

‘Replacing an entire windscreen wiper unit can cost up to £400 on some vehicles.

‘Poor maintenance and preparation for winter conditions, likely made worse by the cost-of-living squeeze on personal budgets, has been a factor. But drivers were clearly caught out by the severity of the Arctic blast in December.

‘The scary bit is that one in eight drivers fear there is worse to come.’

Windscreen wiper faults are most likely to arise when the wipers are switched ‘on’ when the blades are stuck to the windscreen.

Doing so can burn out the wiper motor or damage fuses and wiring due to excessive resistance from the blades being stuck to the screen.

It can also break wiper linkages and the blades.

The AA also said windscreen washer pumps can burn out when persistently activated when washer fluid in frozen.

Trying to use windscreen wipers when they are frozen to the glass could land drivers with a repair bill of up to £400, the AA warns

Trying to use windscreen wipers when they are frozen to the glass could land drivers with a repair bill of up to £400, the AA warns

The company’s breakdown patrols also provided their top four tips to prevent damage to windscreen wiper systems in these colder months: 

• Cover the vehicle windscreen with an old sheet then ‘trap’ the sheet between the wiper blades and the screen – this helps to save fuel, and time by removing the need to run the car to clear frost from the screen, it also means that the blades need to be lifted clear of the screen to remove the sheet, guaranteeing the rubber blades won’t be stuck to the glass.

• Keep your washer fluid reservoir topped up with a sufficient strength mix of washer fluid.

• Switch wipers off (including automatic wipers) when you park up.

• Reduce the chances of wiper system damage by using an ice scraper to clear the screen. Although tempting, dragging the wiper blades across a frozen will inevitably lead to some damage.

AA’s 5-step guide to defrosting your car’s windscreen safely

1. Check your wipers

Make sure your wipers aren’t turned on before you start the ignition.

If the wipers are frozen to the glass, the wiper motor could be damaged or the rubber could tear off if they start wiping.

2. Turn on the engine

Start the engine and turn on the heating features inside, including the air blower on the windscreen, heated rear screen (and ‘Quickclear’ windscreen if you have a Ford model) and heated door mirrors.

If your car is equipped with air-con, turn that on also as it will remove moisture from the air to stop the car misting up.

If you do need to clear a misted-up screen, use a lint-free absorbent cloth and not your hands.

And while the engine is running, always stay with the vehicle to ensure it isn’t stolen.

3. If there’s snow, sweep it off

If there has been a scattering of snow, make sure you remove this, especially from the roof to prevent it sliding down onto your windscreen and obstructing visibility.

A soft brush is also good for clearing the front grille (otherwise there is risk of the engine overheating).

4. Scrape while you wait

Use a scraper and de-icer on the outside of your car while you wait for the inside to warm up.

5. Get the all-clear

Don’t drive off until all of the glass is clear. ‘Portholing’, which is the term for when motorists clear only the small section of the screen behind the steering wheel could land you with a £60 fine if caught by the police.

Source: AA 


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