This story was part of Counterman's annual Technical Sales Seminars, which was published in the April 2009 issue.
The biggest news in wiper technology in recent years has been the growth of frameless or beam-style wiper blades on new cars. More and more late model vehicles are being factory-equipped with these blades. What’s more, the blades can be retrofitted to many older vehicles to upgrade wiper performance.
The new blades have quite a few advantages over traditional wiper blades:
*Frameless wiper blades have an internal spring that allows the blade to conform to the curvature of the windshield as the blade sweeps back and forth. This provides even pressure across the entire length of the blade for better wiping action and less streaking. Traditional wiper blades exert pressure unevenly along the length of the blade, which may prevent the blade from wiping cleanly under high-wind loads or when there is sleet or snow on the glass. With traditional blades, the most pressure is exerted at the points where the frame holds the blade. Most wiper blades only have six to eight of these pressure points, but the new frameless blades have essentially an infinite number of pressure points.
*No ice jamming. During cold weather, sleet, snow and ice can build up on wiper frames. This can prevent the frame from flexing causing the blade to skip and streak. Frameless blades don’t have any exposed hinge points to trap ice and snow, so the blade can’t freeze up. It’s like having winter blades all year round.
*Better aerodynamics. The frame on a traditional wiper creates a lot of turbulence as the speed of the vehicle increases. On a steeply sloped windshield, the blade may actually lift off the glass if the frame is not equipped with slots to reduce drag and/or spoilers to exert downforce against the blade. Frameless wipers are contoured like an airfoil to cut wind resistance and to exert just the right amount of pressure against the glass. The result is no wind lift and no streaking. And, they are quieter, too, thanks to the improved aerodynamics that produces less wind whistle at high speed.
*More durable. Frameless blades have no exposed metal parts to rust or discolor. Some use one type of rubber for the body of the blade, and another type for the wiping surface. Others use silicone or a Teflon coating to enhance durability and reduce friction.
*Cool factor. Many people want the latest and the greatest, and frameless wiper blades are no exception. Older vehicles can be upgraded to the latest in wiper technology easily by simply replacing the old traditional blades with the new style blades. The universal mounting system fits a wide range of vehicle applications.
There is a cost to this new wiper blade. The blades typically cost about twice as much or more than traditional blades. That’s because they are more difficult to make, and because they are new technology. Prices have already come down a bit for the new style blades, and may come down more as time goes on. But a higher-priced blade means more profit per sale for your store. Regardless of what type of blades are on a vehicle, they all need to be changed eventually. Vehicles that are parked in direct sunlight in hot climates can go through several sets of blades a year due to sun rot. By comparison, the wiper blades on vehicles that are parked indoors and shielded from the elements may last up to several years.
Other factors that influence wiper life include how often the wipers are used, how much dirt is on the windshield (dirt is abrasive and wears off the square cut wiping edge on the blades), extremes of temperature (hot or cold), and exposure to chemicals that may be harmful to the blades (like some windshield solvents and cleaners). The wiper blades should be replaced if they are streaking, smearing, chattering or skipping, or if the wiping element is torn or damaged. Ideally, the wipers should be replaced BEFORE they reach this point. For many motorists, that would mean changing BOTH blades at least once a year. When worn out wiper blades are not replaced, it creates a safety hazard during wet weather. If the blades don’t clear the glass effectively, how can you see the road ahead? Bad wipers can be especially dangerous when passing large trucks that kick up a lot of wheel mist.
Even during dry weather, good wipers are essential for clearing clear dust, dirt and bug splatter from the windshield. With traditional blades that have metal frames, there is also a risk of permanently scratching the windshield if the blade tears away and allows the metal frame to rub against the glass.
The rear wipers on minivans, SUVs and hatchback cars are also important for good rear visibility when backing up, when driving in heavy traffic (so you can see people coming up behind you), and when driving on gravel roads (to clear the rear glass).