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. An unclean or obscured windshield is a true hazard. Just as you don't know the washer fluid tank is empty until it no longer squirts cleaner, drivers typically don't realize that the wipers are shot until the visibility is truly limited. And 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 ruining the windshield.
The good news is, based on our testing, that 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 mild dish liquid 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.
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.