Ah, windshield wipers. Like so many indispensable things in life, we tend not to appreciate them until they’re gone. But what if all drivers had a basic understanding of the wonderful world of wipers, enabling them to identify problems early and choose replacements wisely? We like that idea. Accordingly, we’ve put together a crash course that should bring your knowledge up to speed. Your automotive windows to the world require dependable wipers, so let’s learn more about these unsung heroes.
The most important thing you can do for your current wipers is check their performance on a regular basis. Are they skipping or squeaking and leaving streaks on the windshield? Do you consistently notice rivulets that evade their sweep? Do they leave a film of moisture on the glass instead of wiping it clean and clear? If so, try cleaning the blades with a shop towel or sponge, and see if that helps. Remember, all it takes is one rainstorm or blizzard to turn worn-down wipers into serious safety hazards. You need to be able to depend on your wipers in the worst conditions, and that starts with being mindful of how they’re working every time you switch them on. By the way, don’t forget about your rear wiper, if you have one; it’s there for a reason, and it can be just as important as the ones in front.
Now, suppose you live in a temperate climate with little precipitation—or perhaps there are lingering signs of the dry season. You should still perform periodic inspections of your wiper blades, regardless of the weather. Is the rubber deteriorating? Can you see spidery cracks forming on the surface? If so, test your wipers immediately by spraying windshield-washer fluid and wiping it off, following the guidelines above for evaluating their performance. Even if your blades look great, it’s not a bad idea to do the spray-and-wipe test every week or two. You don’t want to wait for your wipers to go to pot before replacing them, so stay ahead of the curve and monitor their status year-round.
Buying New Wipers
Fortunately, wipers generally aren’t very expensive, so the “Better safe than sorry” approach won’t hurt your wallet here. As such, we recommend replacing your wipers if you have any reason to believe that they’re not up to snuff. Here are some general guidelines for the wiper-shopping process.
The first rule is to buy the entire assemblies, not just the blades themselves. Yes, it’s typically possible to keep your old assemblies, yank out the old blades, and shoehorn in new ones—and you don’t want to do that. Like we said, wipers are pretty affordable, so do your car a favor and start with a fresh set. We should add that there’s a new one-piece wiper design called “beam blade” that seamlessly integrates assembly and blade, so if you’ve got that kind, blade-only replacement isn’t even an option.
Second, make sure you’re getting the correct wiper specification for your car. Like most auto parts, wipers come in different shapes and sizes. It may sound trivial, but we’ve heard stories of mismatched wipers flying off their mounts at the worst possible time. Although your mechanic or auto-parts advisor should know what your car needs, it’s always a good idea to consult your owner’s manual as well, just to be safe.
Finally, don’t skimp on quality. Generic-brand wipers are cheaper, of course, but they can wear out in as little as a month or two of consistent use. If your manufacturer recommends a particular brand—German automakers often prefer Bosch wipers, for example—we say go for it. Otherwise, ask your trusted mechanic who knows your make and model inside and out. Don’t pay later to replace cheap wipers; pay now for a high-quality set, and you’ll reap the benefits down the road.