There are many parts to a motor vehicle, and in general, as drivers, we are acutely aware of a good number of them, because we know that without proper care, our cars would fall apart or stop running, and we need our vehicles to live our busy lives! Ironically, despite their important job, many of us tend to completely forget about our windshield wiper blades until we need them.
Driving in rain, snow, sleet, or even fog is no fun with wipers that aren’t working properly. So read ahead to find out all you need to know about your wiper blades – how long they should last, how to know when they are damaged, and when to replace them.
So How Long Do Windshield Wipers Last?
This question has several answers, none of them right or wrong in all circumstances. Most manufacturers will say you should replace your wipers every 6 to 12 months, and some wipers could even last you up to 4 years in ideal conditions.
The reason for this broad range of answers is that, firstly, there are a number of different types of wipers, made from various materials, and secondly, the lifespan of your wipers is heavily affected by your climate, parking location, and usage of your wipers.
Types of Windshield Wipers
Windshield wipers come in 3 designs:
1. The squeegee on a metal frame
This was the original design of windshield wipers and is still called “conventional”, even though they are the least used on newer cars. They are less durable, and cause numerous issues in high snow areas, as the metal frames can become clogged up very easily, and are susceptible to rust. However, they are still the cheapest option, and therefore a good choice for people who are strapped for cash.
2. The beam design
This is the most expensive, and the most successful wiper blade option. There is no metal frame and no chance of clogging in heavy snow. The blade curves perfectly to the shape of the windshield, ensuring a smooth, clean wipe, every time. You get what you pay for, and these wipers are worth the money. They can last up to twice as long as conventional blades, and offer far better performance.
3. The hybrid design
This title refers to a hybrid between the previous 2 types of wiper blades and has nothing to do with hybrid cars. The hybrid design offers the best of both worlds, making it the perfect middle ground for someone who may not want to spend a huge amount of money, but still wants to keep themselves and their family safe through the wet or snowy season. This design consists of the conventional metal frame, covered with an aerodynamic rubber shell, which prevents clogging. The price is middling, and the performance is a nice medium.
Windshield wiper blades are made from one of 3 materials:
- Basic rubber – low durability, very susceptible to weather, cheap.
- Halogen-hardened rubber – higher durability, slower to crack and tear, higher price.
- Silicon – most durable, can last up to 4 years in ideal conditions, expensive.
Things That Wear Down Your Wiper Blades
There are a number of things that wear your wiper blades down faster, and most of them can be prevented or slowed with a little care.
- UV Light – leaving your car in the hot sun is a surefire way to wear your wipers down quickly. The sun will harden the rubber, making it brittle, and causing it to crack and tear. Park your car out of direct sunlight to prevent this.
- Heat and Cold – like UV light, both extreme heat and cold can cause the material of your wiper blades to become brittle. If you cannot park your car fully out of the weather, try to at least cover it, or in the heat, park it under a nice, shady tree.
- Pollution – sadly, the one thing we cannot protect our wipers from is the very pollution caused by our cars themselves. Add to this factory smog, and the general pollution of city living, and you have a recipe for damaged wiper blades. To slow the wear and tear caused by this, regularly clean your wiper blades with rubbing alcohol to remove the grime stuck to them.
- Grit and Grime – this includes things like dust, dirt, road salts, tree sap, dead bugs, and bird poop. Parking your car in a clean, safe space will help greatly with this, but not all of us have this option, and it won’t protect your wipers if you do a lot of driving, or spend a lot of time parked in different places. Your best option is to make sure that your wiper fluid well is always full of a proper wiper fluid. Do not put dish soap in your wiper fluid well, as this may corrode the rubber, and possibly even the coating on the metal frame of your wipers. Before you drive your car, clean your windshield of all dirt, debris, and grime, so that your wipers don’t have to do that job for you.
How to Know When Your Wiper Blades Need Replacing
As a rule of thumb, unless you have expensive silicon wipers, you should change your wipers every 6 to 12 months. If you are caring for your wipers, and are not subject to too many of the things listed above that damage wiper blades, once a year should be sufficient. The best option, in this case, is to time your wiper change with the onset of the rainy season each year. That way, you will have perfect wipers when the weather hits.
If you are unsure or don’t want to make the decision yourself, ask your mechanic to check your wiper blades at every oil change. Some will do this as a part of their service, but if not, no mechanic should have a problem with adding this small job to his or her day.
If you prefer to hang onto your wipers until they are truly done, there are a few things to look out for that will tell you when it is time to make the change. Look and listen for these telltale signs that you have hung onto your current set of windshield wipers as long as you safely can.
- A decrease in visibility during rain, sleet, or snow.
- Signs of wear and tear – check your wipers monthly for cracks, tears, rounded edges, and signs that the rubber is splitting away from the metal frame.
- Corroded metal – If you see any rust or corrosion on the wiper arm, it is definitely time to replace your wipers. A rusted wiper arm could break during use, leaving you on the road during bad weather with no wipers. It could also fly off your car at a high speed, and cause damage to nearby vehicles.
- If you are not doing regular checks, these signs will tell you that you need to change your wipers, as soon as you try to use them – squeaking, vibrating, or jumping, excessive streaking, large wet spots on the windshield. Some of these could be due to a buildup of dirt or grime, so you can try to clean your wiper blades first, but if they persist, it is time for a new set of wipers.
How to Make Your Wipers Last Longer
- Clean your wiper blades regularly with rubbing alcohol, or vinegar and water.
- Never use your wipers on a dry windshield. This can damage your wipers and scratch your windshield.
- Before driving, clean off bird droppings, tree sap, and other hardened substances without using your wipers.
- Melt off any ice and snow before driving. Don’t use your wipers to clean it off.
- If you are expecting a snowstorm, and your car will be outside when it hits, raise your wipers into the service position, up and away from the windshield, before the storm. This will prevent your wiper blades from freezing to the windshield.
- If you live or drive in extreme conditions very often, try getting custom wiper blades that are made for your specific circumstances. For example, look for blades made for snow and ice if you live somewhere very cold. Or get a pair of dirt and gravel wipers if you spend a lot of time on dirt roads or off-roading.
Windshield wipers are a very important and underrated part of every motor vehicle. It is easy to forget about them until we need them. To avoid the nasty surprise of getting in your car on a rainy or snowy day, only to find that your windshield wipers are past their prime, and are unable to do their job of keeping you safe, make it a priority to know the state and health of your wiper blades, and create a routine for yourself around cleaning, checking, and replacing these essential tools.