Humans are visual beings. It’s a fact that the majority of the information we glean about our surroundings — and the decisions we make based on that information — comes from things we see.
That’s why it is vitally important that we do everything possible to keep our vision clear inside our vehicles. After all, you really want to see that gray 18-wheeler hurtling toward you in a rainstorm. And the best way to do that is to make sure your wiper blades are in perfect working order.
The majority of wiper blades are constructed with a rubber wiping element, which provides optimum friction to clear glass of water. Because rubber is a natural compound, it breaks down for a variety of reasons:
• Ozone in the atmosphere (especially prominent in high-traffic urban and suburban areas) can oxidize the rubber and create cracks in its surface; as these cracks propagate and grow, they will allow water to pass through, creating streaks on the windshield. The more streaks that occur, the less visual clarity a driver will have through the windshield.
• Heat is a killer. On a hot summer day, the windshield of a vehicle can reach temperatures up to 145° F, which slowly “cooks” the rubber wiper blades until they lose their flexibility and crack. This too will cause streaking or “chattering.”
• Cold temperatures also contribute to a wiper’s demise; as the rubber gets harder in cold temps and loses its flexibility, it allows water to leak under the rubber surface, “smearing” the surface of the windshield instead of wiping it cleanly away.
While there’s no set industry standard, most wiper manufacturers recommend replacing blades every six to nine months based on how the wipers are performing and local conditions. Even a tiny streak during a test can become a major impairment to your vision during a rainstorm.
Most drivers are familiar with the traditional frame-style wipers. These use a metal frame to stretch a piece of rubber across the windshield, a design largely unchanged since the early 1900s. The last decade, however, has seen the advent of “beam” or “flat” wipers, the first revolutionary change in wiper blade design in more than a century.
Flat blades are made from a single piece of curved plastic that suspends the rubber wiping element. The benefit?
“Flat blades were designed to provide almost uniform pressure distribution across a windshield,” said Shawn Subramaniam, technical manager with Shell Oil. “Instead of the ‘hill and valley’ pressure points you get with a traditional wiper, points that can allow water to streak or smear, flat blades provide a more uniform wipe.”
In addition to providing superior wiping, flat blades are also smaller and more streamlined than traditional wipers, making them more aesthetically pleasing to many drivers and generating less wind noise. Many models are also designed with a built-in “spoiler” that keeps the blade in close contact with the windshield even at highway speeds.
The best part about flat blades? Thanks to adapters found in many blade sets, even vehicles not factory-equipped with these new blades can be retrofitted with them, giving all drivers the opportunity to experience the maximum in windshield wiping performance—and allowing them to see better in rainy or wet conditions.