Windshield wipers are one of the most commonly replaced items on a car. Coincidentally, they're also one of the most neglected parts as many DIYers are unsure when to change windshield wiper blades. Wiper blades come in numerous shapes and sizes, and while most vehicles have at least two wipers, many have three or even four.
The general recommendation is that you should replace them every six months—and that's roughly how long windshield wipers last, but it's not a rule. In order to maximize the life of your wiper blades, here are some guiding principles on what causes them to fail and how to avoid installation mistakes when it comes time to change them.
Take care in extreme temperatures
If you looked at a graph of when things break or fail on a car, you'd see an upward trend in the bell curve during the times of year when the temperatures are really hot and when they're really cold.
In summer: Extended periods of extreme heat and exposure to the UV rays of the sun can cause the rubber in wiper blades to become brittle and crack. If you don't keep an eye on their condition and neglect to change them before the rains come, you'll get nothing but a blurry mess instead of that satisfying squeegee effect that leaves you with crisp and clear visibility.
In winter: Extreme cold often equals ice, which can really be tough on your blades, especially on those days when your car has been sitting out in the snow or freezing rain all day. If you don't take the time to scrape your windshield before letting your wipers do the work, the ice can take chunks out of the rubber, which will leave streaks when clearing your field of vision. You wouldn't be the only one to have had a blade long enough that the rubber part has actually separated from the frame and flaps in the wind like laundry on the line.
Use proper maintenance
The recommendation for changing blades may be every six months, but there are things you can do to get as much as a year or more of life out of your blade.
- If possible, park in the shade or under cover. If your car is garage kept, it's likely you'll get more than six months out of your blades.
- Clean your windshield regularly. Even if the weather in your area is moderate, a dirty windshield can take its toll on your blades. By keeping the surface clean, you spare the rubber blade from dirt, gravel, and other materials that can cause wear and tear.
- Don't use your wipers as ice scrapers. As we mentioned above, using your wipers to scrape your windshield clean is both ineffective and hard on your blades. Even when using de-icer, it will significantly reduce the lifespan of your blades. Keeping an ice scraper handy will help you maintain a clear field of vision and maximize the life of your wipers.
Tips for successful windshield-wiper installation
Installing wiper blades in the right way is just as important as keeping them in good wiping order. There are several types of windshield wipers out there, and some are so similar that you'd never know that you installed the wiper incorrectly until it flies off in the middle of a downpour. Oops.
- J hooks: The most common wiper blade arm is the J hook. Most people, however, don't realize that they come in two sizes. Wiper blades typically come with the J hook adapter already in place, but if you don't have it flipped the right way it won't stay on the hook for long. By taking the adapter of the blade itself, you can simply install it in reverse to match the other J hook size.
- Pinch tabs: Pinch tabs come in three different flavors and are found on newer vehicles. Pinch tab wiper blades are typically sold to fit a specific set of vehicles and come with only that right attachment system in places (unless it's a more universal wiper blade). These usually snap into place with a “heel to toe" motion.
- Bayonet arms: Most cars with bayonet-type arms are pre-'90s. The bayonet arm is straight, with a small hole for the wiper to secure itself to. Installation is very straightforward, but it can be tough to get off because it gets frozen in place when the plastic gets old and brittle. When this happens, a small flathead pocket screwdriver will be your best friend.
- Pin arms: Pin arms are similar to the bayonet arm, but instead of the arm having the hole, it's the wiper blade.
Sometimes it's nice to have hands-on help. If that's more your speed, the folks at your local Advance Auto Parts can help you find the right wiper blades and even install them for you.
Do you install your own windshield wipers? Share your tips.