Up or Down? When It Comes to Wipers, There's Snow Consensus

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Cars in Kensington section of Brooklyn deploying the windshield wiper-up technique during a snowstorm.

If you're wondering if snow is coming and you missed the forecast, just walk down any street. One sure sign: parked cars with their windshield wipers up. But does this blade gaming make any sense?

It does for Robert ("I'm an up man") Sinclair, the spokesman for AAA of New York. He spoke via cell phone from a Home Depot, where he was buying wiper fluid. "Anything you can do to lessen the wear-and-tear on those poor little thin pieces of rubber, the better," he says.

Okay, but who would rip frozen blades off a windshield anyway? I asked WNYC transportation reporter Stephen Nessen, who happens to be a Vermonter, what he does. He's "very much a down guy."

He's also judging you.

"When I see these New Yorkers who put these windshield wipers up," says Nessen, "I think it's just for show, just for decoration."

Nessen is so hardcore he doesn't even own a windshield scraper.

"I scrape it off with my elbow, a little bit of the wrist action, and turn on the heater," he says. "Once the car's on, that ice is gone, baby."

That technique baffles the newsroom's executive editor, Maine native Sean Bowditch.

"I'm trying to think about which of the many illogical points Stephen made that I should rebut," said Bowditch. Because he — like Robert Sinclair — perhaps over-empathizes with the rubber on the wiper blades.

"The kind of snow in the north east is often heavy, icy," he said. "Wipers are delicate things,and when they get frozen to the windshield, one little tug and that very delicate strip of rubber peels away."

(At this point Stephen Nessen had to interject: "It's industrial rubber!")

Time for a professional. Tim Islip (yes, that Islip — he says his relatives founded the Long Island town sometime after the Revolutionary War) is the senior service adviser at Herb Chambers Honda in Seekonk, Massachusetts, and he sides with Stephen Nessen, but not for the reasons you might think. Islip says leaving the blades protects your windshield.

"I live in an apartment complex," he says, "and I see cars that look like porcupines because all the wipers sticking up and everything, and I'm like 'these poor people. One of them is going to end up with a broken windshield.'" 

Because cold weather makes glass more brittle, "a wiper arm in the cold weather, can be like a hammer hitting the glass if it comes down quickly."

Islip says wiper blades are designed to catch wind to hold them tighter to the windshield. So if you leave them up—and they get blown down—it can crack your windshield. "And I have actually seen it happen."

But WNYC's twitter followers disagree...mostly.