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Replace Windshield Wiper Blades: When, Why & How

by Larry Carley copyright AA1Car.com

New windshield wiper blades are a must for safe driving. If you can't see the road ahead clearly, you're risking an accident.

Wiper blades don't last forever. The average life of a new natural rubber wiper blade is only about 12 to 18 months. The wipers might have to be replaced sooner if you live in a hot climate and park your vehicle outdoors in direct sunlight, or they might last up to several years if you park your vehicle in a garage or don't use them much.

The life of the wiper blades depends on sun exposure, ozone, temperature, airborne abrasives, road grime and grease, as well as how often the blades are used. Age is also a factor because new blades that have been sitting on a store shelf too long can become age hardened and chatter when they are installed.

A natural rubber edge on the blade usually provides the best wiping performance. Other materials that may be used include synthetic rubbers and silicone. Synthetic rubber and silicone are more durable and can provide much longer service life, but don't wipe as cleanly as natural rubber. Teflon and graphite are other materials that may be used in the wiping edge to reduce friction and extend blade life. Some blade manufacturers use composite blades that combine various materials, such as a natural rubber wiping edge bonded to a synthetic rubber or silicone blade.


It's time to replace your wiper blades if you are experiencing any of the following:

* Chattering

* Streaking

* Rubber cracked, brittle, torn, split or deformed

* Edge of blade nicked, torn or worn


Replacement windshield wiper blades must be the length as your original wiper blades. Installing wiper blades that are too long may allow the ends of the blades to hit the edge of the windshield, or the other blade depending on how they are positioned. Installing wiper blades that are too short will clear a smaller area, reducing visibility.

To find out what size wiper blades you need, measure the length of your old blades end to end. Round off to the nearest inch. Or, look up the blade length on a reference chart when you go to the auto parts store or retailer that sells wiper blades.

traditional style windshield wiper blade . new frameless beam style windshield wiper blade
Older traditional style wiper blades can be upgraded to the new frameless beam style wiper blades.


Replacement wiper blades are available in various styles, grades (economy, standard or premium), and price ranges. My advice is to avoid the cheapest blades (economy grade) as these may not provide the best life or wiping performance. Mid-grade or standard replacement blades should be similar to the original equipment wiper blades on your vehicle, and should provide good life and wiping performance. Premium grade wiper blades generally provide the best wiping performance and/or service life.

In recent years, a new type of wiper blade construction has appeared. First used on high end luxury cars in Europe in 2001, the solid beam or "bracketless" style blades are now used on many new cars and trucks, and are also available as a retrofit upgrade option for older vehicles, too.

A traditional wiper blade has a metal or plastic frame that holds a flexible rubber blade. The frame usually has several hinge points so the whole structure can bend and follow the curvature of the windshield. The blade itself is may be held in place by six to eight or more attachment points. The more support points the blade has, the better, because it evens out the loading on the blade so it will wipe more evenly and cleanly.

The new beam style wiper blades are a solid molded construction with an internal spring. Unlike traditional wiper blades, there is no frame or hinge points to clog with ice and snow in the winter, so the beam style blades are great for year round use. They also exert pressure more evenly across the entire surface of the blade (no pressure points) so they deliver excellent wiping performance.

Another feature of the new beam style blades is that they have a molded in airfoil that helps press the blade against the glass at highway speeds to prevent wind lift. This, combined with a lower profile, reduces turbulence and wind noise. Traditional style blades, by comparison, may use slots in the frame to prevent air pressure from building up under the blade. This can increase wind noise. Others use small airfoils mounted on top of the frame to help push it down against the glass for better high speed wiping performance.

The new solid beam style wiper blades are available from most wiper manufacturers:

ANCO Contour and Profile

Bosch ICON and Evolution

Michelin Radius

Rain-X Latitude

Trico Innovision and Neoform (also sold under NAPA brand name)

Valeo Ultimate

Common Windshield Wiper Problems

If you have installed new wiper blades but they are not wiping cleanly, the problem may be weak wiper arms. Wiper arms can lose spring tension over time. Weak springs may not hold the wipers firmly against the windshield, allowing them to streak or lift away from the glass at highway speeds. Wiper arm spring tension can be checked with a pull gauge (like a fish scale). New arms with conventional frame style blades typically have a spring tension of around 14 Newton-meters (10.3 lbs.) while the tension on newer vehicles with flat frameless blades is typically around 17 N.m (12.5 lbs.). Tension will vary somewhat by application, the length of the arms and the size of the blades.

Noisy wiper blades can be caused by wear and play in the wiper arm drive mechanism. The pivot points and bushings in the wiper arm linkage may be worn and loose. This can be checked by turning on the wipers, then turning off the ignition with the wipers in mid-stroke. Exert light pressure sideways against each of the wiper arms to see how much movement is in the linkage. More than a few millimeters of play probably indicates worn linkage components that need to be replaced.

Wipers not working? A common cause for this condition is a blown fuse. If ice or snow momentarily jam the wipers when the wipers are turned on, or while the wipers are running, it can overload the wiper motor causing the fuse to blow. Locate the fuse for the wipers and check the fuse. If the fuse has failed, replace it with one that has the SAME amp rating as the original. NEVER install a fuse with a higher amp rating as this may allow dangerous overloads that could damage the wiring or wiper motor. If the fuse blows as soon as the wipers are turned on, there is a short in the wiper electrical circuit or the wiper linkage is jammed preventing the motor from turning. If the fuse holds but the wipers don't work, there is an open in the wiper electrical circuit or the wiper motor has failed.

replace wiper blades Related Articles:

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Car Care Tips for Hot Weather Driving

Recommended Service Intervals from the Car Care Council

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