Replacing Wiper Blades

Don't let the rain get you down.

What's one of the most often neglected but most important maintenance items on your car? It's wiper blades - but it shouldn't be.

Time takes its toll on wiper blades more than how much it rains or how much you use your wipers. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun causes the smooth, soft rubber edge of the wiper blades to quickly harden and become rough and brittle. Temperature extremes also reduce the life of blades.

With the wet season just ahead, if you can't remember how long it's been since you replaced your wiper blades, it's probably time for a new set. Installing fresh ones every six months will assure that rainy day vision isn't a dangerous struggle.

Repair shops might sometimes try to charge you a bundle to replace your wiper blades, but it's an easy procedure that can be done in less than ten minutes in most cases. Here's how to do it:

Find the right size.

If you go to a department store or auto parts store, you'll need to know the length of your wiper blades (given in inches). Check with your owner's manual for the recommended type and size of wiper blade. Sometimes the driver's side blade is larger than the passenger's side blade, so make sure you check if this is the case.

Refills or whole blades?

Some aftermarket brands will falsely say that their refills (the rubber only) are interchangeable with any blades of the same length. If you're unsure of the exact brand and model of the wiper blades installed on your car, if the blades themselves look old and rusty, or if the rubber doesn't appear to be contacting the glass evenly, it's best to just go ahead and buy new blades. But if you know the exact type of blade you have and your store has the proper refills (new rubber inserts of the same brand) for the blades, you'll be able to save money and do just as well with the refills.

Now that you know what you need, out with the old and in with the new!

For refills:

Most wipers are of the type where a hook-shaped clip near the end of the blade slides into a catch in the wiper arm. Remove the old blade by squeezing the clip with a pair of needle-nose pliers (or pressing the clip inward with the edge of a screwdriver) while sliding the blade outward. After the clip passes through, slide the blade the rest of the way out of the arm. Compare the old blade with your replacement, and then follow the reverse process by feeding the new blade's groove into the wiper arm (sometimes you'll need to save the clip from the old insert and use it for the new one). Squeeze the clip a bit as you slide it through the stop, making sure that the clip clicks through and that the blade is locked in position.

For whole blades:

There are two commonly used types of blades, and each employs a different method of keeping the rubber to the glass. One type has one or two tabs that need to be released; the whole blade simply slides out of one slot and then the other. To install the new blade, the procedure is simply reversed (usually you'll need to feed the blade in at an angle to get it to fit). With the second type, the blade slides sideways off a rounded-edged pin, after a lock tab is released. The new blade simply slides onto the pin until it clicks and is locked in place.

What about streaking and smearing?

Even after just a few weeks of use, a wiper blade might start to streak or smear. This is often due to the layer of road grime, grease, tree sap, bug remnants, and salt residue that can gather on the windshield. Carefully clean the outside of the windshield with window cleaner, then gently dab the wiper blade with either glass cleaner or isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to remove the film, being careful not to get either of the solutions on your vehicle's finish.

Single, double or triple?

So are the newer, gimmicky looking double and triple wiper blades any better than good ol' single blades? They might prove better in some snowy slushy conditions (we recommend the stronger single winter blades), but if you want to find the best wipers, look to the compound. While traditional natural rubber-based blades are effective and economical, more expensive synthetic-material wipers have proven more durable in extreme hot/cold weather conditions (if the package touts the compound, then they're probably the synthetic type).

Buy them fresh.

An important tip: wiper blades need to be fresh, so always buy them just before you install them at a place where there's a lot of customer turnover. That way, they aren't already getting hard and brittle upon installation.

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