Wiper blades are typically sold by the inch, literally. Replacement wiper blades usually have to match the length of the original blades to fit properly. On some applications, there’s a bit of wiggle room (give or take an inch or so) if the replacement blades on the display rack doesn’t match the original blades exactly. But on most applications, blade length must be a close match otherwise the driver and passenger blades may interfere with each other or hit the edges of the windshield.
The wipers on many vehicles are asymmetric, with the driver side blade being longer than the passenger side blade. This is done to give the drive a wider field of view and to offset the streak line where the wipers overlap toward the passenger side.
Pricing also is by the inch. The least expensive economy replacement blades typically sell for around 35 to 40 cents an inch while the top-of-the-line premium blades sell for around a dollar an inch.
Do less-expensive blades wipe as well as the premium blades? Economy blades may perform adequately when first installed, but with time and usage their performance usually deteriorates much more rapidly than standard blades or premium blades. Also, if the blade material is not good quality, it may not wipe cleanly or smoothly right out of the package. Blades that are too hard, too stiff, old stock or have been in hanging on the rack too long may chatter and streak. That’s why quality materials and construction along with a fresh wiper inventory are essential for customer satisfaction.
Natural rubber is a good material for the surface of a wiper blade because it flexes and wipes cleanly. But over time, natural rubber does not stand up well to heat, ozone, direct sunlight or abrasives. Natural rubber can lose its flexibility and become hard and brittle, causing the blades to chatter, streak, crack and tear.
Synthetic materials are much more durable and can last two to four times longer than plain natural rubber blades. Some synthetic blades use a thin layer of natural rubber for the wiping surface while others are all synthetic. Long-lasting blades usually provide the best value, but it’s often hard to convince some customers that premium blades will actually save them money in the long run because they don’t have to be replaced as often.
Both blades should be replaced at the same time because chances are both blades are the same age and condition. And don’t forget the rear wiper blades on minivans, SUVs and hatchbacks. Premium replacement blades are available in frame, frameless or “hybrid” styles. The frameless beam style blades that come factory installed on many late-model cars can be retrofitted to many older vehicles to give them an updated appearance and updated performance. So too can hybrid blades that have a flexible cover and similar appearance to a beam style blade, but are actually a frame type blade underneath.
Low-profile blades as well as those with aero slots or spoilers help reduce wind lift at highway speeds. Beam and hybrid style blades also resist snow clogging similar to a covered “winter” blade.