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17th Annual Technical Forum: Wiper blades

By Larry Carley

Counterman magazine presents 15 technical and sales topics in an easy-to-read question-and-answer format for the magazine's annual Technical Forum. This article appeared in the August 2009 issue
Q. Are the new “frameless” style wiper blades going to replace all regular wiper blades?
A. On most new cars, the answer is probably, yes. They are also available for upgrading the wiper blades on many older vehicles, too. But conventional frame style wiper blades are not going away anytime soon, primarily because of their price advantage.

  The new frameless or beam-style blades are more complex to manufacture, so they typically cost two to three times as much as the older-style blades. But they also offer a number of important advantages:

 • They conform better to curved windshields. An internal spring molded inside the blade allows it to follow the curvature of the glass as the wiper sweeps across the windshield. By spreading the spring force across the entire length of the blade, the wiper exerts pressure more evenly across the entire length of the blade from end to end. Older-style blades typically exert the most pressure at the points where the frame supports the blade. This can lead to uneven wiping and streaking when the blade flexes.

  • They won’t clog with ice during cold weather. If there’s no frame, there’s no place for ice, snow and sleet to build up. Older-style blades can often become clogged with ice, causing them to skip and smear instead of wiping cleanly. Winter blades that have a thin, flexible rubber coating over the frame can prevent ice buildup, but that means an extra blade change when the weather turns cold, then replacing the blades again when warm weather returns in the spring. The new frameless blades are good for year-round driving.

  • Less wind lift. The frame on a traditional wiper creates a lot of turbulence as the speed of the vehicle increases. On a steeply sloped windshield, wind can build up under the frame and lift it away from the glass, causing the blade to skip or streak. To counter wind lift, the frame may have slots to reduce drag and/or spoilers to exert downforce so the blade will remain in firm contact with the glass at higher vehicle speeds. Frameless wipers incorporate a built-in airfoil that exerts just the right amount of pressure to prevent wind lift.

  • Longer service life. The painted metal frame on older style blades can chip or discolor over time, exposing the metal underneath to corrosion. Nobody wants ugly, rusty wipers on their vehicle, so frameless blades are totally sealed against the elements. The synthetic rubbers used in many frameless blades is also more resistant to ultraviolet degradation and age hardening, allowing the blade to remain flexible and wipe cleanly for a longer period of time.

Q. How often should wiper blades be replaced?
A. It depends on the type of blade material, how often the wipers are used, and how much time the vehicle spends parked in direct sunlight. Most wiper suppliers recommend changing the blades at least once a year to maintain safe driving visibility. But blades should be replaced regardless of age if they are not wiping cleanly, are streaking or chattering, or are damaged.

  If worn-out wipers are not replaced, it’s a potential safety hazard because the driver may not be able to see clearly.

  With metal frame blades, there is also a danger of permanently scratching the windshield if the rubber blade tears away from the frame (which is not a risk if the wipers have plastic frames).

  Replacing the blades can be rather tricky on some vehicles as the latching mechanism that locks the wiper to the wiper arm may be difficult to release. Most have a tab that can be depressed with a small screwdriver to unlock the blade.

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