Donate |

Wiper blades

Wiper blade buying guide

Last updated: April 2013

Find Ratings blob logo

Getting started

Getting started

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.

How to choose

Windshield wiper blades come in many sizes, even on the same car. Look in your car's owner's manual, measure the blade, or ask at an auto-parts store for the proper fit.

It may be tempting to buy replacement inserts to save cost, but installing a new insert requires deft use of needle-nose pliers. It's often more convenient to replace the whole blade assembly--just pull the old wiper off the metal arm and push the new one on until it's tight. (You might need a small screwdriver or hammer to tap the old blade off.) Our research shows that most car owners replace the assembly, rather than just the blade.

All wiper blades are marketed with great promise, and it can be difficult to sort through the claims and hyperbole. In our testing, we have found that some of the best blades are among the least expensive.

When new, we see that all of the tested windshield wipers provided very good or excellent performance, but most quickly degrade after a few months of regular use. In fact, only one wiper performed consistently for six months. Depending on the model, deterioration showed up on the windshield as streaking (leaving lines of water behind), smearing of the water (instead of clearing it), or missed areas of wiping.

The best guide in choosing windshield wipers is to consult with our Ratings. Otherwise, it is hard to make assumptions, as some of the most promising blades based on manufacturer information don't live up to their hype.

How we tested

We conducted an exhaustive test of more than a dozen windshield wiper models on 185 staff members' cars. About half those cars had wipers that needed replacing, showing that drivers often don't notice the slow degradation and leave wipers on longer than they should.

All wipers were evaluated in the real world and in a special lab that simulates varying rain conditions. In addition to performance, we also evaluated the wipers on ease of installation and removal. All of the cars in our test had a common hook-type mount, in which the old wiper is simply pulled off of the metal wiper arm and the new one is snapped into place.

The tested windshield wipers included six beam-blade models. Beam blades usually cost more than conventional wipers, but overall we didn't see a notable advantage in regular use.

Types

Beam blade

Unlike conventional wipers, beam blades have no external frames. Instead, they have spring steel incorporated into the rubber. As a result, beam blades are promoted as providing more uniform pressure on today's curved windshields and therefore better wiping performance. Also known as bracketless, beam blades are becoming increasing popular.

Conventional wiper blades

The most common design, conventional wipers have a replaceable rubber blade that fits into a spring-tensioned frame assembly, or bridge. Most blades have a metal spline that supports the rubber element and runs through the ribs of the contact points.

   

Find Ratings blob logo

Wiper blades Ratings

Subscribers can view and compare all Wiper blades Ratings.

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters!
Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Cars News

Connect

and safety with
subscribers and fans

Follow us on:

Cars

Cars New Car Price Report
Find out what the dealers don't want you to know! Get dealer pricing information on a new car with the New Car Price Report.

Order Your Report

Mobile

Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more
left arrow right arrow
See also:
56 rated down arrow
See buying guide down arrow
19 rated down arrow
GPS
33 rated down arrow
See buying guide down arrow