What the best windshield wipers have
- Outstanding performance when new. Expert tests find plenty of wiper blades -- including some cheap ones -- that do a stellar job cleaning the windshield, so there's no reason to settle for anything less than perfection at the outset.
- Contact with your full field of view. Overall, experts say that the best wiper blade is one that fits your vehicle well. Because many newer vehicles have greater curves in their windshields, not all wiper blades will make consistent contact with the windshield with each swipe, resulting in missed areas and poor visibility.
- Good performance for at least six months. Anecdotal reports from owners suggest that some brands last longer, but professional tests show that most wiper blades (regardless of price) wear out after after six months.
- Connectors to fit your vehicle. Hook-style connectors are the most common, but some vehicles use pins, pinch-tabs or bayonet mounts; most windshield wipers come with adapters for all of these, but double-check before buying.
Know before you go
What size do you need? Some vehicles use different-size wipers for the driver and passenger sides. Auto-parts stores can look up your wiper blade size for you, or you can check your owner's manual. If you're buying online from a site like Amazon.com, it's a good idea to double-check the size; we found plenty of complaints from frustrated owners who say Amazon.com's wiper blade size finder wasn't accurate.
What type of wiper blades came with your car? Many new cars come with newer beam-style wiper blades as original equipment. Experts say you should replace factory beam blades with replacement beam blades; a bulkier, traditional bracket-style wiper blade might not fit.
Which connectors do you have? Most new cars use easy, hook-style wiper blade connectors. Replacing this type of wiper blade is a pretty simple do-it-yourself job; Cars.com has a great step-by-step tutorial with photos on how to replace your wiper blades. However, the article admits that not all windshield wipers are that easy to replace. "A variety of arms and mounts have been used over the years," author Joe Bruzek explains. "The stubborn ones with pins and unique latches can churn up rage so deep that the new wipers may turn into boomerangs before they're ever installed." The good news? Some auto-parts stores will install your wiper blades for free if you buy them there (For example, Advance Auto Parts and Pep Boys both advertise this service).
Do you need silicone protection? Most wiper blades are made of rubber, and this old standby still works great; in one expert wiper blade test, most top performers are standard rubber blades. However, pricey silicone wiper blades are favored by off-roaders, who say they shrug off heavy mud and dirt. Also, many owners — particularly those who live in climates with scorching summers — praise the silicone blades' superior durability. So, if you've had trouble with traditional or beam-style wiper blades lasting more than a few months, silicone wiper blades might be worth a try.
Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it
At first blush, it might look like it's a better value to buy just the rubber inserts for your windshield wiper blades, rather than replacing the whole blade assembly. However, buying the inserts is only slightly cheaper, and experts say installing them can be a pain. The windshield wiper buying guide at ConsumerReports.org says that replacing the rubber inserts requires "deft use of needle-nose pliers," while the new blade assemblies simply snap into place. Besides, if you're having problems with chatter or the blades not making contact with your windshield, it's time to replace the entire assembly, The Family Handyman points out. It's also a good idea to replace both windshield wipers at the same time. "If one is worn out, its mate can't be far behind," ConsumerReports.org says. "Don't forget to check the rear wiper, if your vehicle has one."
Also, don't expect your new windshield wipers to come with a warranty. The only wipers we've seen that came with one were high-end silicone wipers, like the PIAA Super Silicone (Est. $23). A warranty on a standard rubber wiper wouldn't help you much anyway, since professional tests show that even good wipers — no matter what the price — don't typically perform well after six months of use.