If you notice streaks, squeaks or chatter when you use your windshield wipers, it's time to shop for replacement blades. While auto experts recommend replacing your wiper blades at least once a year, you don't need to spend a lot to get a quality set. In fact, reviews show that some of the top performers are among the least expensive available.
Side-by-side testing by one reputable consumer organization shows that inexpensive rubber wipers can perform just as well as the premium brands, so unless you want your wiper blades to look nicer or better stand up to the elements, there's little reason to splash out for pricey models. Tests also show that many wipers (regardless of price) begin to show decreased performance after three months, and almost all brands drop to average performance after six months. Note that the driver's-side blade is often a different length than the passenger-side wiper, which is why replacements are sold individually rather than in pairs.
Among basic rubber replacement wipers, we found the best reviews for the Valeo 600 Windshield Wiper Blade (*Est. $10), which has an excellent performance record for about half of what you'd pay for a set of premium blades. The Valeo 600 is made of a combination of synthetic and natural rubber, and the majority of users at Amazon.com praise its price and performance. "I wanted something inexpensive, reliable and durable. I got exactly what I was looking for in this product," says one owner. Many comments report a year of use from Valeo 600s, even in winter climates.
One common downfall to standard wiper blades is snow and ice buildup between the metal frame and the wiper blade, causing the wiper to freeze and miss parts of the windshield. We saw few complaints of this with the Valeo 600, and one Amazon.com user from Denver notes that all wipers wear out under these conditions. "Usually once the weather gets down to 40F to 45F, the rubber on the wiper blades will start cracking… so paying more than I should for wipers that will wear out a couple of times a year no matter the brand or quality is dumb," he says.
Some auto enthusiasts claim that silicone wiper blades last longer and wipe better than basic rubber blades. In general, silicone wipers provide excellent performance when new, says ConsumerReports.org, but the advantages diminish after six months as with regular rubber blades.
Still, some drivers prefer the look and performance of a silicone wiper blade, and consumers and professional testers alike call the PIAA Super Silicone Wiper Blade (*Est. $20) the best of its type. Owners posting reviews at AutoAnything.com like the Super Silicone's sleeker style and say it performs just fine. However, the PIAA blades cost almost twice as much as the rubber Valeo 600s, and some users complain about the extra steps required to install them (the Super Silicone blades come with silicone wipes with which you treat your windshield before installation, a process that some call "annoying").
Beam blades -- also called bracketless wipers, six-beam blades or flat blades -- don't have the traditional metal superstructure on the outside. Instead, the support is moved inside the blade itself, giving the wipers a slimmer look. Their low profile not only looks nice but also keeps most of the moving parts protected from the elements.
According to consumers and a reputable testing organization, the Rain-X Latitude (*Est. $16) is the highest-rated beam wiper blade. When new, the Rain-X doesn't perform quite as well as some competing brands, but based on tests and customer observations, owners can expect them to last longer.
Good user feedback is readily available. "These are the best wipers I've found; they also last a long time here in SoCal where rain is infrequent and the sunshine can wear out blades faster," says a user at Amazon.com. Others report a life span of 18 months and longer for Rain-X Latitude wiper blades.
Regarding performance, feedback from Amazon.com users runs the gamut. "These wipers work extremely well for many months without streaking or deteriorating," comments one owner. Another says, "These seem to work just like any other wiper…they work fine for rain but don't help much with heavy snow or an icy windshield."
Winter weather is hard on your windshield wipers. Clearing snow and ice takes more effort, while temperature fluctuations and more frequent use wear down wiper blades faster. Anyone who has ever traveled in a winter storm is likely familiar with the problem of snow freezing in a car's wiper blades, slowly clogging them until their effectiveness is greatly diminished. That can quickly become a safety issue.
A true winter wiper blade has one main feature that sets it apart from a regular all-season blade: a boot that covers the entire wiper assembly to prevent snow buildup. Some winter wipers also utilize sturdier steel frames and stiffer blades. The result is a more expensive, bulkier wiper, which is why Anthony Jackson of Autoblog Canada recommends installing them in the winter and removing them in the spring, following the same cycle as your snow tires.
Consumers posting reviews at Amazon.com say good things overall about the Anco 30 Winter Wiper Blade (*Est. $8). "These are the blades to have if you live where there is snow or ice," says one, while another adds, "for the quality and price you will find no better." At about $8 per blade, they cost less than even the Valeo 600 standard rubber all-season blade, making them an easy choice if you know you'll face winter driving conditions where you live.
ConsumerReports.org (available to subscribers) tests 13 different windshield wiper models in a rain simulator, comparing their performance when new and after six months of wear. Hundreds of users at Amazon.com and AutoAnything.com rate and review dozens of wiper blades. CarBibles.com installs two beam-style wiper blades on a variety of vehicles and analyzes their performance in rain and snow. Photos clearly illustrate the results.