We all have our nemeses. Sherlock Holmes had Moriarty, pasta has anti-pasto, Rick Sanchez has Mr.Nimbus, David Tracy has rust and order, and I have the general sense of doing the right thing, but in autumn I have a very specific nemesis: pine needles and leaves at the base of my windshields. Back in February, I was so very cross about a related issue with this, a lone pine needle stuck under a wiper blade, that I came up with some solutions for that specific problem.
Now I realize what a fool I was! A sexy, stupid fool! Because that barely scratches the surface of the problem, which is so much worse, especially for modern cars that tend to have wipers that at least partially disappear under the hood. I know you know the problem, where the area where your wipers reside, languidly, becomes a foul nest of leaves and needles and crap, which then migrates under your hood, clogging your HVAC vents and making a mess of things. Possibly a fire hazard, too. We need a solution. Hear me out here.
First, here’s a few quick pictures of the problem. These are taken of my wife’s Volkswagen Tiguan, which you may recall is a massive pile. But this isn’t really a problem unique to the Tig, I believe most cars on the road would have the same issue, which is this:
I’m sure this is familiar to most of our readers who park their cars out under the starry skies. The design of most car wipers now is that they reside in a little trench at the base of the windshield, and that trench fills up, lavishly, with leaves and pine needles and all that crap.
In the case of the Tiguan up there, this is a car that’s daily driven, and I’d just cleaned that crap out a couple days ago. This isn’t long-term accumulation: it’s just an example of the constant, irritating struggle that makes hood-and-wiper design of cars from the past, oh, 20 years or so completely incompatible with the vast swaths of our planet with trees and seasons.
When I wrote about the similar problem in February, I was mostly just focused on my daily driver, a Nissan Pao:
The Pao’s somewhat archaic design just has the wipers out there, exposed and unashamed. And while leaves certainly do accumulate, it’s by no means nearly as bad as the Wiper Trench setup, which captures and traps the leaves and needles, letting them form dense mats of discarded plant life around the wipers and under the hood.
So what can we do to solve this overlooked yet significant problem? I think the answer is actually relatively easy, and employs one of humankind’s greatest allies: rubber.
Here’s what I’m thinking:
There needs to be some sort of rubber mat, a leaf-and-needle barrier, that completely seals the Wiper Trench, keeping it free from falling debris. The rubber barrier will meet the windshield, but not be sealed to it, and will be flexible enough that the wipers can easily push through the barrier when in use. Maybe windshield washer nozzles will need to be able to poke through the barrier. That seems solvable.
The barrier may need to be perforated to allow for HVAC air intakes to still function; and while that may limit the amount of air going in, I’m pretty damn sure it’ll be better than what those vents can take in when there’s four inches of packed pine needles crammed on them. Or, carmakers can pull air from somewhere else! Designers love their grilles, after all; let ’em put them to use.
My wife said she’d be happy with something she could lay atop the wipers when parked, and then remove when driving, but I don’t think people will want to bother with that, and they’ll just quit doing it after a while. I think this needs to be an integrated part of the upper hood. It could be sold as an aftermarket accessory, but ideally something like this will just be integrated into the design of the hood from the get-go.
Also, the rubber component should be easily removable, and treated as a consumable, since it will invariably dry out or tear or whatever, and that should just be accepted with grace from the start.
I feel like the Wiper Trench leaf/needle accumulation problem is one of those that is so widespread, we’ve all just become blind to it. But why should we? It causes real problems with wiper performance, which can be a safety issue, it clogs intakes and all kinds of underhood components, and, with EVs that have frunks, it can get your luggage all covered in tree crap.
Why should we sit by and accept this? What are we, animals? Time to get some designers and engineers to play with sheets of plastic until this problem is solved.