Wiper blades

Wiper Blade Buying Guide
Wiper Blade Buying Guide
Getting Started

It's easy to forget that wipers are a safety feature—until you end up driving in heavy rain or snow, or are blinded by glare through dirty glass. An unclean or obscured windshield is a true hazard. Just as you typically don't know the washer fluid tank is empty until it no longer squirts cleaner, drivers may not realize that the wipers are shot until there is an immediate visibility concern. By then, it can be too late, as many accidents are a result of poor visibility.

Wiper blades have a finite service life, as they perform a hazardous duty in harsh conditions. Dirt, debris, and road grime abrade wipers, and sunlight breaks down their rubber edges. Beyond visibility, it is important not to wait too long to replace a blade, as a torn wiper blade can allow the wiper arm to rub against the glass, possibly scratching and ruining the windshield. 

1

What We Found

The good news is that, based on our testing, you don't have to spend a lot of money to get good performing windshield wipers, but you might need to replace them every six months or so.

To get the most from your existing wipers, inspect them periodically. Lift each wiper arm off the glass and run your finger along its rubber edge. If the rubber is rigid or chipped, or produces nonstop streaking, you need new wipers.

If the wipers are in decent physical condition but not clearing the windshield effectively, clean them. Simply put windshield washer fluid or glass cleaner on a damp sponge or rag and wipe debris off the rubber and the windshield where the wiper rests. You might be rewarded with a couple more months of a clear windshield without spending money on replacements. Further, be sure to clear snow and ice from the windshield in the winter before dragging the wipers across the uneven surface.

When the time comes for new blades, remember to replace them in pairs. If one is worn out, its mate can't be far behind.

Don't forget to check the rear wiper, if your vehicle has one. Even though it may not get as much use as the front wipers, it is exposed to the elements and can fail over time.

How to Choose
Windshield wiper blades come in many sizes, even on the same car. Look in your car's owner's manual, measure the blade, or ask at an auto-parts store for the proper fit. Major brands that you are likely to see include Anco, ACDelco, Bosch, Goodyear, Michelin, PIAA, Rain-X, and Trico. Prices vary greatly depending on the brand, type, and size. For a smaller wiper blade, you can pay as little as under $10 and for a large blade of 24 or 26 inches, you can pay $25 or more.

It's becoming harder to find replacement inserts where only the rubber is replaced into the existing frame and while inserts can save money, installing them requires deft use of needle-nose pliers. Experience shows that replacing an insert can be a frustrating task whose grief simply isn't worth the money savings. It's often more convenient to replace the whole blade assembly—just pull the old wiper off the metal arm and push the new one on until it's tight. (You might need a small screwdriver or hammer to tap the old blade off.) Our research shows that most car owners replace the assembly, rather than just the blade.

All wiper blades are marketed with great promise, and it can be difficult to sort through the claims and hyperbole. In our testing, we have found that some of the best blades are among the least expensive. Lesson here: Don't equate a high price with high quality.

When new, we saw that all of the tested windshield wipers provided very good or excellent performance initially, but most quickly degraded after a few months of regular use. Depending on the model, deterioration showed up on the windshield as streaking (leaving lines of water behind), smearing of the water (instead of clearing it), or missed areas of wiping. Because we found that a wiper blades will typically provide very good or better performance when new, with performance dropping off quickly, most blades should provide adequate performance after about six months when they should be replaced. Consequently, we no longer test them.

When we last tested wipers, we conducted an exhaustive assessment of more than a dozen windshield wiper models on 185 staff members' cars. When the project started, about half those cars had wipers that needed replacing, showing that drivers often don't notice the slow degradation and leave wipers on longer than they should. Therefore, our experience suggests that beyond a quick monthly inspection, it would be wise to plan for wiper replacement twice a year. Consider going with the change of seasons, replacing the blades with at the beginning of winter and again for summer—two seasons that prove particularly challenging for wipers.

2

Types

Conventional Wiper Blades
The most common design, conventional wipers have a replaceable rubber blade that fits into a spring-tensioned frame assembly, or bridge. Most blades have a metal spline that supports the rubber element and runs through the ribs of the contact points.

 

Beam Blades
Unlike conventional wipers, beam blades have no external frames. Instead, they have spring steel incorporated into the rubber. As a result, beam blades are promoted as providing more uniform pressure on today's curved windshields and therefore better wiping performance. Also known as bracketless, beam blades are becoming increasing popular. In general, the more expensive beam blade wipers tended to perform as well or better than conventional blades, but the inexpensive beam blade models tended to perform worse than conventional blades.

When buying blades, consider purchasing from a major auto parts chain. Often, name-brand stores will have good prices and be willing to install the wipers for you.




3

Installation

Many car owners replace their wiper blades themselves. While some owners may be meticulous enough to plan their wiper replacement in their garage on a nice leisurely day, it is likely that a lot of wipers get replaced outside, perhaps in the rain or in darkness, by drivers who have had it with their worn blades. Combine that with likelihood that they don't have tools, the awkwardness of leaning over the car to reach at least one of the wiper arms, and the trepidation of working over a breakable windshield or scratch-prone paint, it becomes obvious that convenient installation and removal is important.

There are several different mounting methods for wiper blades with a hook mount being the most popular by far. Hook mount wiper arms are generally simple to remove and install. You insert the arm through the slot in the wiper blade bridge, line up the adapter with the hook, and press it into place. Some blades emit a confidence-inspiring "click" when they lock into place.

Most wiper designs allow you to install and remove the blades without tools, although to remove some blades you might need to press or pry a tab or lever with a screwdriver. In those cases, it might be better to use a hammer (of course being careful not to contact the windshield) to tap off the wiper blade. We found a hammer to be easier and safer than prying with a screw driver; it removes the risk of stabbed hands and the wiper came right off with a light tap. 

 

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