Beam blades -- also called bracketless wipers or flat blades -- don't have the traditional metal framework on the outside. Instead, the support is moved inside the blade itself, giving the wipers a sleeker look. This design has two practical advantages: first, it allows the blade to flex, making better contact with today's curved windshields; and second, it keeps most of the moving parts protected from the elements. This makes beam blades the best choice for driving in heavy winter weather, since they don't get clogged with ice and snow that impedes their performance.
The beam blade that gets the most recommendations overall is the Rain-X Latitude (Est. $19). This low-profile, beam-style windshield wiper has a synthetic rubber blade with a graphite coating to give it a smoother sweep across the windshield without "chattering." It comes with a pre-installed J-hook adapter, as well as a multi-adapter that can be used with five other common types of wiper-arm connectors. On top of that, the Rain-X Latitude has a fairly modest price tag for a beam blade: just a few dollars more per wiper than the traditional-style Valeo 600 (Est. $12).
The Rain-X Latitude is one of the top performers in a laboratory comparison test. However, in real-world testing at CarBibles.com, its wet-weather performance is somewhat less impressive. Reviewer Chris Longhurst tries the blades out on five different vehicles and complains that on every one, the Rain-X wiper blades leave significant sections of the windshield unwiped. However, Longhurst is a lot more impressed with how the wiper blades function in winter weather, saying they "conform to the shape of the windscreen even in sub--zero temperatures" and clear not only snow but solid ice with ease.
Users at Amazon.com are just as divided as the experts. In roughly 1,800 reviews, owners award the Rain-X Latitude wipers 4 stars out of 5 overall. About half award it a perfect 5 stars, saying it makes good contact with the windshield for an even, quiet wipe with no streaking or smearing. However, a significant number of reviewers complain that the Rain-X does just the opposite: it misses spots, leaves streaks, or chatters across the windshield. Some reviewers suggest that these problems may be due to faulty installation, as getting the blades to sit flat against the windshield can be a tricky process.
One strong point of the Rain-X Latitude is its durability. In a long-term, real-world usage test at TheWirecutter.com, owners typically found that the Rain-X Latitude wiper blades lasted between 9 and 12 months, though a few said they developed problems with streaking toward the end of that time. Users at AdvanceAutoParts.com, where the windshield wipers earn a 4.4-star rating, also cite durability as one of its best features.
Durable as the Rain-X wipers are, however, they pale in comparison to the Bosch Icon (Est. $20). More than 1,800 users at Amazon.com give these wiper blades 4.5 stars overall, and the benefit they mention most often is their long life. While most windshield wipers poop out after six months to a year, numerous users say the Bosch Icon blades are still going strong after a year or longer, and a few report getting three years or more out of them. Multiple reviews compare them specifically to the Rain-X Latitudes, saying the Bosch Icons justify their higher price tag by lasting more than twice as long.
Professional testers, however, are less impressed with the Bosch Icon's performance. In one comparison test, it lagged behind not only the Rain-X Latitude, but several cheaper traditional wipers as well. Longhurst says the Bosch wipers have the same problems as the Rain-X ones in wet weather — though, like the Rain-X ones, they perform very well in snow. And while most owners at Amazon.com and AutoAdvanceParts.com say the Bosch Icon delivers a clean, streak-free wipe, some complain that its curved shape doesn't conform well to the windshield, leaving gaps in coverage.
Some beam blades use silicone inserts in place of the traditional rubber ones. Manufacturers allege that these silicone blades coat the windshield with silicone as they wipe, causing it to shed water more easily. Silicone blades also last longer on average, which is why they're the only windshield wipers we've seen that come with any sort of warranty.
Silicone wipers are favorites of drivers who often deal with extreme conditions, such as the members of Subaru's rally racing team. At TheWirecutter.com, the team's marketing manager tells Ed Grabianowski that they rely on the PIAA Forza Hybrid (Est. $40) silicone wiper to keep views clear in the most intense conditions: "Snow, ice, sleet, rain, mist, mud, dust, big splashes from water crossings, etc. All at high speeds, day and night."
Most people, however, don't deal with that sort of extreme dirt — and at $40 or so a pop, these wiper blades are probably overkill for most drivers. For people who want the benefits of silicone without the extreme price tag, Grabianowski recommends the PIAA Si-Tech (Est. $30) as a "middle ground." This silicone beam blade gets high ratings from owners at both Amazon.com and AutoAnything.com. Owners say it's quiet and cleans well without streaking, and the hydrophobic silicone coating really works.
What impresses owners most, however, is these wiper blades' lifespan. PIAA claims that its silicone blades last twice as long as rubber because they stand up better to heat and ozone, and the reviews bear out this claim. Owners say the Si-Tech lasts much longer than a traditional rubber wiper blade — in a few cases, as long as seven or eight years. The biggest complaint we saw about the PIAA Si-Tech is that it's difficult to install. The blade comes with multiple adapters, but some users say it's tough to figure out how to use them — and with some types of blade arm connectors, they don't work at all.