Many drivers don't realize how badly they need their windshield wipers to be fully effective until they're stuck in a blinding rainstorm, with frighteningly reduced visibility. According to the Car Care Council, "a survey of vehicles going through check lanes during National Car Care Month had shown that one in five vehicles had deficient windshield wipers or washing systems that could seriously impair the driver's vision." It's essential to look at your wipers as an important safety feature -- and plan regular check-ups, cleaning or replacement for them on a smartly regular basis.
Also important is the health of your car's windshield. If wiper blades are old, dried out and torn, the metal of the wiper arm can rub against the glass, causing etching and possibly damage to your windshield.
According to the car care experts at Consumer Reports, "dirt, debris, and road grime abrade wipers, and sunlight's UV rays and ozone break down their rubber edges." Other causes of wiper breakdown include car waxes, airborne debris such as dust, sand and dirt carried in the window, and acid rain and shoreline salt water. If your windshield wipers produce nonstop streaking, if they squeak upon each pass, if your wipers skip across the glass surface or if your wiper only clears at the top and bottom of its reach, you likely need new wipers.
Sometimes, though, your wipers are fine. Other things may be causing the streaking. For instance, tree sap, road tar and other materials collected on the glass or the blade may be the culprit, say the experts at Rain-X.
Here's what to look for as you inspect your windshield wiper blades at least twice a year:
--Lift each wiper arm off the glass and run your finger gently along its rubber edge. You're checking to see if the rubber is stiff, chipped or ridged, which are obvious signs that debris and sun have aged your wipers beyond optimal use.
--Look for cracks, tears and missing pieces in the rubber length of the wiper.
--Test your wiper's flexibility. Flex the rubber edge back and forth to see if it still has enough flexibility to conform to the curve of your windshield glass. Aged wipers don't flex and create streaks.
--Check the ends of wiper blades for rounded edges, which can lessen the blade's grip on glass surfaces.
--Tug gently on the wiper blade to be sure it fits securely on the wiper arm.
--Look for metal corrosion on the wiper arm, which will need a repair.
--Check the arch of the wiper arm, since one that has gotten bent will not adhere to the glass surface.
A good rule of thumb is replacing your windshield wipers every six months, and replace both wipers at the same time to keep them on the same schedule, at the same rate of wear. And even though you may not use your car's back windshield wipers as often, give them a switching-out at the same time, too, since they have been exposed to the weather.
It doesn't cost a lot of money to replace windshield wipers. Compare that price to what you might spend at the auto body repair shop when bad visibility causes you to damage your car. It's worth the investment, and it's also smart to teach young and beginning drivers about the importance of new, functioning wipers.
Once your have your new wipers in place, a job you can do yourself or have done at your dealership during your regular car maintenance appointments, practice caring for them. To optimize their performance for a long time:
--Never use your windshield wipers to clear ice and snow from your windshield. Use an ice scraper and your car's defroster to tackle that job.
--During snowy, icy months, pull your windshield wipers away from your car to prevent ice from building up on your wiper blades and aging them more quickly.
--Don't use your wipers to clean away bird droppings from your windshield. Many birds eat gravel to help them digest their food, so what looks like soft droppings may contain hard particles that can scratch your windshield.