Windshield wipers must be some of the most confusing and occasionally even frustrating car parts to buy. As soon as you begin shopping for replacements for your car’s wipers and looking at the specifications on the packages, you’re likely to be left with one question on your mind – how can something that seems so simple be so unbelievably complicated?
Here’s the good news. As long as you buy the correct wiper lengths for your car and install them correctly, you’re probably going to be happy with whatever wipers you buy because the vast majority of the windshield wipers on the market are very good. In 2016, Consumer Reports had 185 staff members test more than a dozen different wipers and found that they all performed reasonably well when they were new. So, even if you’re not crazy about the brand that you ultimately end up choosing, chances are that you’re going to be happy enough with the wipers for the six months or so that they’ll last before you need to replace them.
With all of the different choices on the market today, though, it’s likely that some brands or types of wipers are better for your personal needs than others – and in this guide, we’re going to help you identify the wipers that are right for you by explaining some of the most common terms and jargon that you’re likely to see on the packages.
Wiper Blades vs. Refills
If you’re a price-conscious buyer, you’ve probably noticed that your local auto parts store carries products called wiper refills or inserts and that these parts cost significantly less than full windshield wiper blade assemblies. So, what’s the difference?
When you buy a wiper blade refill, you’re not getting the full bracket that connects to your car’s wiper arms – you’re just getting the strip of rubber or silicone that connects to the bottom of the bracket.
As you might expect, you can save a lot of money if you buy wiper blade refills instead of full wipers. However, you can only use refills if you have traditional wipers with external brackets. If you’re using low-profile wipers – which we’ll be discussing next – you can’t use refills and will need to replace the full wipers. Even if your car does have traditional bracketed wipers, though, it’s worth noting that most people find the process of installing the rubber inserts much too frustrating to be worthwhile because even inexpensive wiper blades do the job well when they’re new.
Low-Profile Wipers (Beam Wipers)
A traditional windshield wiper blade has a large, curved metal frame that attaches to your car’s wiper arm. The frame holds the wiper’s silicone or rubber insert and uses springs to push the insert against your car’s windshield. Recently, though, low-profile wipers from brands like Ezywiper have become more popular. A low-profile or beam wiper has no external bracket; the rubber or silicone is permanently attached to a single pre-tensioned metal beam.
The only drawback of beam-style wipers is that they don’t have replaceable inserts as traditional bracketed wipers do – so if you like to save money by installing your own inserts, you’ll need to stick with traditional wipers.
Generally, people who try the beam-style wipers tend to prefer them. They look much nicer than conventional wipers, and they also provide for better visibility during use since they don’t have large brackets moving through your field of vision.
If you decide to try a set of low-profile wipers, you should strongly consider avoiding the inexpensive off-brand wipers commonly found on online marketplaces like eBay. The metal beams inside cheaper wipers often don’t have sufficient tension to provide consistent contact with the windshield.
Beam-style wipers are probably the most popular wipers on the market at the moment, so there’s a good chance that your next set of wipers will have this design. When you examine the different brands and models that are available, you’re likely to see a lot of jargon and hyperbole on the packaging because every maker of windshield wipers wants to convince you that theirs is the only product worth buying. There is one feature, though, that you should absolutely look for every time you buy a set of low-profile wipers – you want to buy wipers with built-in spoilers.
Because a low-profile wiper doesn’t have a heavy bracket holding it to the windshield, there’s a possibility of your wipers actually losing contact with the glass when you’re driving at highway speeds. A windshield wiper spoiler deflects the wind away from the wiper, helping to pin the blade to the glass when you’re driving at high speeds. You can buy aftermarket spoilers for your windshield wipers, but they tend to be made from low-quality plastic and will sometimes even fly off during highway driving. Built-in spoilers don’t have those issues and are absolutely essential for beam-style wipers.
Rubber vs. Silicone Wipers
Along with beam-style wipers, the use of silicone rather than rubber for the blades has been one of the biggest trends in the world of windshield wipers over the past several years. Unlike low-profile wipers, though – which have met with universal acclaim – the reaction to silicone has been much more mixed.
Some people have reported that silicone wipers seem to be a bit more resistant to ultraviolet radiation than rubber wipers, so that’s a benefit in their favor. When they’re new, many people also find that silicone wipers offer excellent performance as long as you follow the instructions carefully when installing them. Silicone wipers are often impregnated with hydrophobic coatings, and you need to run the wipers on a clean, dry windshield for a while to apply the coating to the glass. If you don’t do this correctly, the wipers will leave a haze on your windshield when you use them for the first time.
Although silicone wipers have their benefits, silicone tends to tear and abrade much more easily than rubber. If you don’t park your car in a garage – or you aren’t fastidious about cleaning your wipers to remove dirt and road grime – the tiny abrasions in the silicone will cause the wipers to skip and squeak.
Even if they’re well cared for, silicone wipers tend to last around the same length of time as rubber wipers while costing about twice as much. With that in mind, most people will find that rubber wipers offer a better value.