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19th Annual Technical Forum: Wipers

By Larry Carley

Why has there been such a proliferation of wiper blades in recent years?

A. In 2001, a new type of “flat” windshield wiper blade that has no external metal or plastic frame made its appearance on certain European luxury cars. In 2005, these new beam-style bracketless wiper blades began appearing on domestic vehicles. Today, these wiper blades are original equipment on many late model cars and light trucks.

To keep pace with the changes in technology, aftermarket wiper blade suppliers developed their own replacement blades for the new late model applications that are similar or identical to the original equipment bracketless blades. What’s more, they developed mounting systems and adapters that allow the new style blades to be retrofitted to many older vehicles (which increases the potential replacement market).

The proliferation of wiper styles, therefore, has been a direct response to changes introduced by the vehicle manufacturers. The new blades essentially doubled the number of blades needed to cover the market: the new frameless style blades in various lengths for the newer car replacement applications (and retrofits), plus the usual assortment of traditional style wiper blades in various lengths and grades for the older vehicles.

Aftermarket wiper blade suppliers have been very clever in consolidating the different wiper blade mounting systems with “universal” mounts or adapters that allow one blade to fit a much wider variety of applications. But even with these consolidations, wipers are still marketed in “good, better and best” grades with different price points and features that appeal to different customers. The higher the price, the better the grade of materials used in the blade, the better the wiping performance, and the longer it lasts. Some premium-quality wiper blades are capable of lasting up to two to three times longer than an economy replacement blade.

Q. What are the advantages of the beam-style bracketless wiper blades?

A. For decades, wiper blades all used a similar construction: a flexible rubber blade supported by a metal or plastic frame. Some wipers were more sophisticated than others with more points of support, hinge points that provided increased flexibility, aerodynamic features such as slots in the frame or airfoils to reduce wind lift at highway speeds, and different grades of rubber or synthetic materials in the wiper blade to improve wiping performance and durability.

The main problem with frame-style blades is that the frame can become clogged with ice and snow during the winter, causing the blade to skip and streak. The frame above the blade also increases wind resistance, which increases noise and lift as the speed of the vehicle goes up. The frame also allows the blade to “flop” when it reverses direction. With frameless, beam-style blades, the rubber wiping element is molded around an internal flat metal spring (or pair of springs). The spring provides the necessary support and stiffness to keep the blade straight while also allowing it to flex downward so it can follow the curvature of the windshield. The continuous spring inside the blade provides more even pressure along the length of the blade, which reduces the tendency to streak and smear.

The low-profile design of frameless wiper blades also improves aerodynamics. Best of all, getting rid of the external frame eliminates the nooks and crevices where ice and snow can build up on the blade. The life of the wipers is also extended because frameless blades have no exposed metal parts to rust or discolor. Finally, the new frameless blades are more profitable to sell. Most of these blades cost 2X to 3X as much as conventional frame-style blades. Some consumers balk at the higher price, but when they realize the advantages the blades offer over traditional style blades, they see the price is worth it. After all, it’s hard to put a price on safety.



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