Article > Operations

Spring Cleaning

By Brian Cruickshank

Preventive maintenance can be a tough sell, but with Spring right around the corner, safety items such as wiper blades are more important than ever.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's not very sage advice when it comes to vehicle preventive maintenance, but that's often the exact attitude many of your walk-in customers have. Preventive maintenance can be a tough sell, but with Spring right around the corner, safety items such as wiper blades are more important than ever.

Driving will never be a passive endeavor. Even with modern safety measures in place, the majority of accident avoidance skills rests with the driver. Simply stated, drivers can't avoid what they can't see. Add in the weird weather Spring can throw at us and you can see how important a clean, dry windshield is to driver safety.

But unfortunately (and not surprisingly), visibility-enhancing products such as wipers are one of the most neglected of automotive maintenance items. Most consumers will wait until their blades are falling apart, chattering or streaking horribly before it dawns on them that the blades need to be replaced. However, for optimum performance and driving visibility, blades should be replaced every six months.

Even if consumers live in a place where it never rains, environmental elements alone are the major reason behind a blade's short life span. Ozone, airborne contaminates, oil, sunlight and road film all help to weaken the wiper's functionality. Exposure to sunlight and ozone cause the wipers to age, even if the wipers aren't used much.

Wiper installation is not a simple process on all vehicles, and even "easy" installations can be vexing for some DIY customers. Because of this, store personnel should make themselves familiar with some of the more common installation problems. In fact, many people delay replacing their wiper blades because of the difficulty in using the adapters most blades come with (which are needed to fit an assortment of wiper arms.) Need that extra edge to close the sale? Many stores offer to install the wipers for customers right in the parking lot.

Unlike the many automotive parts that a jobber sells, replacement wiper blades aren't expensive, provide a nice margin, offer a relatively high replacement rate and are (usually) easy to install. With extra sales and a little marketing push in this area, the typical jobber can achieve higher profit margins and greater DIYer exposure in today's windshield wiper replacement market.

On vehicles with steeply-raked windshields, wind lift at high speed can be a problem if the correct replacement blades are not installed. For these applications, recommend anti-lift blades that incorporate aerodynamic features to keep blades in firm contact with the glass at all speeds.

By offering a wiper blade line guaranteed to fit a vast majority of vehicles, without the need to assemble adapters, jobbers are sure to increase their sales. Still, customers have to be careful when it comes to matching blade length. Refills won't fit unless they're the same length as the old ones. Replacement blades that are too long may create interference problems, while ones that are too short may not do an adequate job of clearing the windshield.

How well a particular set of blades performs is also important. The blades are part of the windshield wiper system, which includes the wiper arms and holders. The blade's ability to clean the glass depends on the slope and area of the windshield, the amount of spring tension on the wiper arm, the number of pressure points or claws that hold the blade and the material used in the blade itself. Today's windshields are more sloped than ever before for improved aerodynamics. But a sleek "cab-forward" windshield with a lot of glass directs more wind against the wipers, which can force the blades away from the glass at high speeds; that is, unless the wiper system and blades are designed to resist lift. So replacement blades and other wiper system components should be properly designed to equal or exceed the anti-lift performance of the original parts.

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