By Tracy Junker

Subaru rain-sensing wipers, windshield in rain

We’ve all been there. It is raining just enough to make a mess of the windshield, but not enough to really clean it. And the wiper blades just make the situation worse!

It is easy to forget about wiper blades until we need them. However, it’s best to evaluate wiper blades at least once every six months. Lift the wiper arm off the glass and feel the edge with your finger. If it is split, chipped, or rigid, replace it. If the blades still seem fine but the windshield streaks when you use the wipers, clean them with windshield washer fluid or mild dishwashing soap and a paper towel, sponge or clean cloth. Gently clean the wiper blade and the glass where the blade rests. Don’t forget to check them again in a couple of months. Check ChiltonDIY for technical service bulletins from the carmaker for your vehicle, such as this one: Windshield Wiper Performance, Cleaning Instructions & Maintenance.

How often should I change the blades?
In areas with winter weather, typically change the wiper blades about every six months. It is usually best to replace both the front windshield wipers and any rear blade(s) at the same time as they have all been exposed to the same elements and debris. Check headlight wipers more frequently as they are subjected to more road debris than the windshield. Better visibility isn’t the only reason to maintain your wipers, if the rubber edge that contacts the glass tears off the wiper assembly, the metal parts of the blade can scratch the glass causing permanent damage.

Types of wiper blades
Rubber and silicone are two types of composite usually used for the blade itself.

  • Rubber blades – This is the most common type of wiper blade. The price can range widely. Most drivers will replace their wiper blades at least twice a year, so it is not necessary to get expensive ones in most cases.
  • Silicone blades – There are not many silicone wiper blades available. They are more expensive than typical rubber blades, but some people claim they last longer.

Two different styles of wiper blades, conventional and beam, are available. They both typically use the universal mounting system.

conventional wiper bladeConventional blades – Conventional wipers have a rubber blade that fits into a spring-tensioned frame assembly or bridge. This is the most common styles of wiper blade.

automotive beam-type wiper bladeBeam blades – Unlike conventional wipers, beam blades have no external frames. Instead, spring steel is incorporated into the rubber. Beam blades are advertised as providing more uniform pressure on curved windshields. Beam blades usually have a lower profile than conventional blades and are becoming more widely available.

Automotive winter wiper bladeWinter wiper blades -- a conventional wiper style, but with a boot that covers the entire wiper assembly to prevent snow buildup. Clearing snow and ice takes more effort than rain, while temperature changes and more use wear down wiper blades faster. Snow freezing in a car’s wiper blades, slowly clogging them until they are almost useless can quickly become a safety issue.

automotive windshield wiper insertWindshield wiper inserts -- a less expensive option, but are usually difficult to install.

How a defroster helps you see clearly
Modern vehicle defrost systems often use the air conditioning compressor to help dry the windshield and improve visibility. If a vehicle’s air conditioning system is not working properly, the defrost system will not keep the windshield clear efficiently.

sedan driving in snow with windshield wipers and headlights on

Using settings that direct air at the floor can cause condensation to develop on the inside of the windows. If the air is directed across the wet shoes or boots in the vehicle, that moisture will circulate throughout the vehicle and fog the windows, making it difficult to see out of the side and rear windows.

Rear window defrosters help clear the frost and fog from the rear window. These do typically time out after a factory designated amount of time, but the driver can usually re-activate them again almost immediately in order to ensure safe driving visibility.

Chrysler AWD driving in snowy conditions

Windshield washer fluid
While the wipers and defrosters are important, it is also important to remember to keep fluid in the windshield washer fluid reservoir. Some of the different types of fluid that can be purchased are All Season, Bug Remover, and De-icer. This fluid contains solvents and detergents designed to help keep the windshield clean and allow the wipers to work more efficiently. De-icer fluid usually contains chemicals that lower the freezing temperature of the washer fluid. A study in the United Kingdom links the use of plain water as washer fluid to Legionnaires’ disease. The study found the bacteria in one out of five cars using only water in the washer fluid reservoir, but no bacteria was found in the vehicles with commercial windshield washer fluid in the reservoir.

Rain repellents

Rain repellent glass treatment products force water to bead and roll off the glass. Apply these products using a clean, soft towel after thoroughly cleaning and drying the glass. After applying it, buff the glass with a different clean cloth, making sure to buff out all the haze. If the product is not buffed off the glass completely, it will make it harder to see out the glass. Buffing the glass again to finish removing the haze will restore clarity. These products will also help prevent ice and frost from sticking to the windows. When the beads of water become irregular in shape, the product is wearing off.

Toyota Prius V exemplifies how the windshields are key structural components

Windshields are Essential to the Vehicle's Integrity Since the 1970s, the windshield and rear window are integral to the vehicle structure. They are not just there to keep us safe from debris, bugs and weather, but also to help support the vehicle’s rigidity. A cracked windshield presents a safety risk. If the adhesive bond fails, it can reduce the effectiveness of the air bag system as well as compromise the roof’s structural integrity. If your vehicle sustains damage to the windshield or rear window, it is best to have it checked by a professional.

For more than 100 years, Chilton has been a trusted source of automotive information. Check out ChiltonDIY.com and ChiltonPRO.com to access repair procedures, specifications, technical service bulletins, and more.

Tracy Junker portrait, Chilton

An automotive editor with more than 15 years automotive industry experience, Tracy Junker's father owned and operated a garage for about 30 years. Though too young at the time to work in the garage, she worked with him later at home on the family’s vehicles and those of former customers that would not trust anyone but her Dad to fix their cars correctly. Tracy says, “My interest in cars began because I loved working with Dad on whatever project he had going.”