Most car owners think wiper blades last several years. They don’t. In fact, in a rainy or snowy climate, they barely last a full year before they start to streak. And once they streak, they’re toast. Wiper blades are easy to replace—it’s the shopping part that can be a bit confusing. Here’s a quick wiper blade primer to help you sort through the different varieties.
Wiper blades come in three styles: the traditional “frame” style, “winter blades” and the newest, “beam” style. A frame blade has multiple tension arms that (theoretically) spread the wiper arm pressure equally across the rubber squeegee. However, in reality, the arms actually put the most stress on the rubber areas directly under them, causing those areas to wear first.
Frame-style blades (shown at the bottom of the photo) perform well in rain but poorly in snow and ice conditions. That’s because the tension arms are exposed to the elements, and ice and snow can pack in between the arms. So some areas of the blade never make contact with the windshield.
To combat that problem, manufacturers sell winter blades (middle of the photo). A winter blade is simply a frame-style blade encased in a rubber boot. The boot eliminates the snow-pack problem. Even if ice accumulates on the outside of the rubber boot, it breaks off as soon as the boot flexes. But winter blades do have one drawback: They tend to lift off the windshield at highway speeds or in high-wind conditions.
Since neither style is trouble-free, wiper blade manufacturers recently developed an all-season “beam”-style blade (top of the photo). The beam blade eliminates all the problems associated with multiple tension arms. Instead of individual arms, the beam blade uses a single flat strip of spring steel. The steel strip exerts even pressure across the entire rubber squeegee, and the blade conforms to the shape of the windshield across the entire wiping path. So you get a more even wiping pattern and longer blade life. It’s a huge improvement in wiper technology. Beam blades cost more than the traditional frame design, but they’re worth it.
— Rick Muscoplat, Automotive Editor
Learn how to change wiper blades: