The Garage Cars 101

How I Made The Ultimate Windshield Wiper Testing Rig In My Garage

And how a gaggle of Pekin ducks made me better appreciate wiper design.

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In retrospect, windshield wipers might not have been the best first topic choice for our new Hands-on Review testing program here at The Drive. All went well in the beginning. I researched and ordered an array of windshield wipers, prepared the windshields and wiper arms on the test fleet, sorted out the Science Barn, also known as my garage, and mapped testing routes for a high volume water spray. 

Then it stopped raining. Well played, Mother Nature. I guess you’re paying us back for… well, all the other stuff.

The wiper rig coming together.
The wiper rig coming together., Mike Bumbeck

How I Made The Windshield Wiper Test Rig

Original plans scuppered by the mini-drought, I devised Plan B: cobble together some PVC pipe into a garden hose powered rain simulator with an adjustable road spray pattern. With a few sketches, a tape measure, and a digital caliper, it was off to the big box lumberyard for some in-aisle engineering. The first stop was the garden department hose and nozzle shelf. The spark for a new and improved dual spray design was a bargain pack of two adjustable and two fixed brass nozzles.

The next stop was the mix-and-match plumbing department for some more ciphering and measuring. I threw a bunch of elbows and t-fittings, a few ball valves, a baker’s dozen end caps, and one bottle of one-step PVC cement into a five-gallon bucket, grabbed an 8-foot length of 1-inch PVC pipe, and headed back to the Science Barn. After a few measurements, I grabbed a Japanese pull saw and miter box, cut everything to length, marked the nozzle angles, and glued it up. 

Initial testing revealed a minor fabrication flaw. Marking the nozzle angles and eyeballing the t-fittings into place without a jig resulted in a cockeyed spray pattern. I brought the crooked sprayer back to the bench, worked up a wooden jig, threw a few clamps on it, and hit the cross pipe with a heat gun so the nozzles would stay lined up once everything cooled down. Yes, you can bend PVC pipe with a heat gun

The wipers attempting to keep up with our rig.
The wipers attempting to keep up with our rig., Mike Bumbeck

The initial concept for mounting the sprayer directly to the hood didn’t quite work out either, but there was that old Yakima rain gutter roof rack setup out back next to the struts, driveshaft, and cut spring collection. Some quick wrench work, a few jubilee clamps, some red electrical tape, and a thumb valve later and the always versatile Toyota Starlet became the official windshield wiper test rig vehicle.

After a few days of testing, the neighbors probably thought I had finally gone full-tilt bonkers, but their Pekin ducks decided the watery spray rig was worthy of investigation. If they hadn’t ventured around their house and waddled down the driveway, I wouldn’t have noticed the water-shedding capability of the duckbill shaped leading edge on a few of the wipers. Another unforeseen benefit.

A duck bill and a wiper blade.
The duck, the wiper. See what I mean?, Mike Bumbeck

Less than 50 bucks worth of PVC pipe, glue, and hose nozzles made it possible to test dozens of windshield wiper blades. I clamped the rig onto a creaky old sawhorse when it was time to turn the spray back towards the Starlet. The static water spray test isn’t entirely accurate because it doesn’t take forward motion and aerodynamic forces into account. Next time we’ll bolt a propeller up to the spare Starlet engine for improved testing data. 

Our simulated rainstorm.
Our simulated rainstorm. , Mike Bumbeck

Materials Cost

Maybe you want to try this at home? Maybe you desperately need a project to keep the darkness at bay? Maybe you’re just bored? Anyway, I figured you might want to build your own rig, so here’s how much the materials cost me. Happy building!

  1. Two PVC male adapters – $2.28
  2. Brass hose nozzles – $19.94
  3. Three PVC t-fittings – $3.66
  4. About six feet of 1-inch PVC pipe – $2.22
  5. Two PVC end caps – $1.58
  6. Shut off thumb valve – $4.12
  7. Quick release coupler – $3.99
  8. One-step PVC cement – $10.56

Rig Total: $48.45

The 18 pairs of windshield wipers were a different story coming in at $201.43. Ouch.

The rig spraying water at the Mitsubishi.
The rig spraying water at the Mitsubishi., Mike Bumbeck

Things We Learned Making the Windshield Wiper Rig

As you’d imagine, I learned a few things making this windshield wiper rig. Here are just a few of those musings that may help you in your future endeavors. 

  • The overwhelming majority of universal windshield wiper connector designers never owned an automobile with bayonet type wiper arms.
  • Unexpected bargains can result in superior results from driveway plumbing. 
  • One-step PVC cement makes using too much glue way too easy. Purple primer adds a step but helps keep glue use under control. 
  • Plato was right a very long time ago when he said our need will be the real creator.
  • Quick-release hose connectors do not seal if mounted too close to thumb valves. 
  • Nature is an outstanding designer, and ducks enjoy the water. 

So goes the first excursion into what we hope are many more product tests here at The Drive. We’ve got a few hundred years worth of automotive and transportation-related stuff to test around here, so if there’s something you would like to see that doesn’t involve fire insurance claims or bodily injury let us know. We might come up with a half-decent idea on occasion, but we’re counting on you for more so we can steal…um, turn them into reality.

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Mike Bumbeck

Hands-On Testing Editor

When he’s not wrestling with one or more first-generation Mitsubishi Monteros and other fine ‘80s-era Japanese cars and motorcycles, Mike Bumbeck evaluates a constant variety of automotive products from The Drive’s clandestine Science Barn testing facility in New England.