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Automotive features are like fashion trends一they have their heydays, but after some time, they go out of style.

One of the many features that didn’t last long was the headlight wiper, which is essentially a small windshield wiper that cleaned the headlights.

The Short-Lived Headlight Wiper Trend

Headlight wipers were popularized sometime between the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in Europe. This feature was common in luxury vehicles like Saab, Volvo, BMW, and Jaguar.

Back then, automatic headlight cleaning wasn’t necessary for all vehicles, but it did wonders for those that frequented muddy and dirty terrain, as well as vehicles that were usually driven on snow-filled streets.

Headlight wipers were popularized sometime between the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in Europe.

Pulling over to the side of the road to clean the headlights was treated as an inconvenience, so the small wipers did an excellent job of keeping the driver behind the wheel no matter how dirty the headlights got.

How Windshield Wipers on Headlights Got the Job Done

Headlight wipers work the same way windshield wipers do.

A lot of old vehicles that come with this feature have a separate motor to control the wipers’ movement. The headlight wipers share the same water reservoir as the windshield.

In most setups, there’s a toggle switch on the side of the steering wheel to activate the wipers.

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There were also some variations to how the headlight wipers worked. For example, the ones on the Saab 99 had the wipers move from side to side. Another version moved up and down.

The FSO Polski Fiat 125p, on the other hand, had its wipers sitting in the middle of the headlight. This version required the wiper to turn 180 degrees to clean the headlight.

The Headlight Wiper’s Demise

Headlight wipers were unable to withstand the test of time. They were seen as more of a status symbol, given that they were common in luxury vehicles.

As helpful as they were, headlight wipers were impractical in places that rarely saw snow or had rough road conditions.

Headlight wipers were also prone to damage because of their position, and it became a hassle to replace everytime they broke off.

Recent advancements in automotive technology also pushed headlight wipers to the edge of obsolescence.

In 2016, Ford developed its adaptive front lighting system, which automatically adjusted headlight brightness to adapt to weather conditions.

Which Cars Came With Headlight Wipers?

Even though headlight wipers are a thing of the past now, you might still come across a few classic cars that have this feature. Here are some of the most common ones.

BMW E30 3-Series

The BMW E30 3-Series came with 2 pairs of circular headlights that required four separate wipers. These wipers were placed on a straight arm on a fixed pivot and let the rubber blades bend inside the outer housing.

1985 Lada Niva

The 1985 Lada Niva was one of the first few off-road vehicles that were manufactured with headlight wipers. This Russian four-wheel drive hatchback was the first mass-produced off-roader with a unibody design.

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Saab 99

The Saab 99 was the first car to feature headlight wipers. These wipers were positioned behind the grill and operated from side to side to clean the rectangular lights.

Mercedes-Benz W123

The Mercedes-Benz W123 was one of the many luxury vehicles that donned headlight wipers. This four-door coupe succeeded the W114 and was produced from 1975 to 1986.

Jaguar XJ-S

Manufactured from 1975 to 1996, the Jaguar XJ-S had headlight washers that only work when the headlights are on. The luxury grand tourer had a screenwash button on the steering column that activated both washer pumps.

Other Obsolete Automotive Features

The headlight wiper isn’t the only thing that dropped out of the limelight for many vehicles. Here are five more automotive features that have become obsolete.

Pop-Up Headlights

Pop-up headlights (or hidden headlamps) were popular back in the 80s and 90s along with headlight wipers. These were seen in vehicles like the MK1 MX-5, Porsche 944, and Pontiac Firebird.

Pop-up headlights added an eyelid effect for these vehicles and streamlined the look of many sports cars.

White,Old,Japanese,1980s,Car,With,Pop up,Headlights.,Blurry,Countryside
Pop-up headlights (or hidden headlamps) were popular back in the 80s and 90s along with headlight wipers.

While these were perfectly legal, safety concerns eventually led to their demise. European regulations stressed that vehicles should be manufactured with a front crumple zone that can twist or bend upon hitting pedestrians, and pop-up headlights can inflict a more serious injury.

Floor Vents

Floor vents helped route fresh air into the cabin. Most trucks that had this feature came with a knob that opened the vents and let cold air rush inside the vehicle at certain speeds. These were popular before manufacturers standardized air conditioning units.

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 Automatic Seatbelts

Automatic seat belts were introduced in the 1980s. These were cheaper alternatives to putting airbags in vehicles, which a lot of manufacturers tried to avoid.

The automatic seat belt went diagonally across the driver’s chest, but the lap belts still had to be buckled manually.

By the mid-90s, highway regulations required vehicles to have side airbags. In 1998, all vehicles had airbags on both the driver’s and passenger’s side.

Vinyl Roofs

Vinyl roofs are stamped to look like leather tops that were mostly seen on luxury cars. These roofs were popular during the 1970s because they gave off a neo-classical look for a lot of vehicles.

Unfortunately, these roofs trapped water and developed rust, fast. You’ll rarely see vehicles that come with standardized vinyl roofs, but several manufacturers can retrofit this feature on your daily driver.

Bench Seats

Bench seats provided an extra seating capacity for a lot of American cars. Unfortunately, safety regulations eventually caused manufacturers to stop including bench seats in their vehicles, mainly because there is no way to restrain the passenger in the event of a crash.

There are, however, some trucks and SUVs that still come with this feature.

About The Authors
Lisa Conant, Automotive Features Reviewer at
Reviewed By Lisa Conant

Automotive Features Reviewer at

Lisa Conant grew up in Canada around a solid contingency of gear heads and DIY motor enthusiasts. She is an eclectic writer with a varied repertoire in the automotive industry, including research pieces with a focus on daily drivers and recreational vehicles. Lisa has written for Car Bibles and The Drive.

CarParts Research Team
Written By Research Team

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The Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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