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Advice & More December 2015

Are Your Windshield Wipers Ready For Wet Weather?

By Bill Siuru

If you make it a habit to inspect and replace wiper blades on a nice day or in your garage, you won't wind up doing it outside, on a cold, rainy night.

It's beginning to rain or snow. You switch on the windshield wipers. They streak, smear, chatter, squeal or scratch and definitely don't help you see the road ahead.

The sun's ultraviolet rays, ozone and airborne chemicals degrade the rubber compounds used in windshield wiper blades. This reduces their ability to retain their shape and flexibility, and dirt can decrease flexibility and scratch the windshield.

Wipers can actually benefit from lot of use. Wipers in locations with lots of wet weather can last longer than in Arizona or Southern California where they can become dried out, dirty and stiff due to infrequent use.

Wipers need exercise, so operate then every couple of weeks but don’t use wipers on a dry windshield. First use the windshield washers to wet the windshield. Better yet spray with a garden hose.

Periodically, inspect the condition of wiper blades. A good time is when washing the vehicle. Make sure the edges of the rubber edges are sharp, smooth, straight and clean. The rubber must be flexible even in freezing weather so the blade flips over as the wipers change direction.

Inspect the entire wiper assembly including the frame and arm. A loose wiper blade can severely scratch the windshield. Weak spring tension means aerodynamic forces can lift the blade off the windshield slightly at high speeds causing chattering, skipping or smearing. If you make it a habit to inspect and replace wiper blades on a nice day or in your garage, you won't wind up doing it outside, on a cold, rainy night.

When buying replacements, measure blade length and observe how the blade attaches to the wiper arm. Better yet, take the whole assembly with you to the parts store to make sure you get the correct replacements. Don't rely on catalog listings – automakers sometimes use different styles on the same year and model vehicle.

Buy high quality replacements. Some cheap ones may not flex precisely to conform to windshield contours, leaving uncleared areas. Likewise, cheap arms and frames may lift at higher speeds because they lack sufficient spring tension. Replace blades in pairs. If one is worn out, the other is too, or soon will be.

Many auto parts store will install the blades you buy from them. However, replacing blades is quite easy, often done without any tools needed. At most you can do the job with only a screwdriver and pliers.

If your winters are particularly severe, consider heavy-duty winter blades. These have larger profiles to better remove snow, rubber compounds that keep them flexible at sub-zero temperatures, and prevent snow and ice from accumulating on the blade. In any case, be sure to clear snow and ice from the windshield before dragging the wipers across the uneven surface and damaging the blades.

By cleaning blades, you might get a couple of more months of use. 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.

While replacement inserts – where only the rubber is replaced using the existing frame – can save money, replacement can be a frustrating task. It is often more convenient to replace the whole blade assembly. Indeed, this is required for more and more vehicles.


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