Does Windshield Wiper Quality Really Matter In Oklahoma?
While rain is often a rarity in Southwest Oklahoma, we've had an unprecedented dry spell for the last six months or so. Sure, there's a little moisture in the air each morning, as if Mother Nature is trying her best but more often than not, it's more nuisance than what we need.
You know the drill... Wake up, get dressed, fire up your vehicle, and hit the wipers to clear the windshield... your weather-shocked wipers probably end up singing you a song. Sometimes it's high-pitched, other times is choppy enough to be considered trap-house music or dubstep if you remember that trend... It's not good. It's a reminder that it's time to replace those aging safety devices before you'll actually need them.
Full disclosure, when wipers do get dry and skippy on your glass, a good amount of rain will usually smooth things out a bit in a moment of need.
Will it do a perfect job? No... but it will be passable enough to get you to the place you buy your wipers.
So when you're ready to buy new wipers, we all go through the same process... We weigh the cheap "just need it now" wipers against the expensive fancy name-brands half-convinced they'll last a lot longer. Seriously, I think every driver has had the thought of "Maybe these will be the last ones I ever have to buy," but deep down we all know it doesn't work like that.
Windshield wipers are sort of like motor-oil, gas or diesel, transmission, and blinker fluids... They're a consumable product you must replace as necessary for the proper use of the car.
So which ones should you pick?
Luckily, much like my almost-obsessive maintenance note-taking, I've kept track of my windshield wipers all the same for the last fifteen years. Different brands, price points, rubber vs silicone, different frames, etc... and I feel pretty confident sharing what I've learned along the way with you.
Rubber vs Silicone Blades
This is one of the most contentious and argued topics in windshield wiper lore around the internet. You know as well as I do, people will argue about anything, even the obvious. The materials that wiper blades are made of are no different. That being said, silicone wiper blades are far superior to rubber.
What silicone has going for it is this, they stay soft and supple longer. Meaning they will contour to your windshield for a longer period of time. You know how sometimes you'll hit the wipers and they'll leave a whole streak of un-wiped water across the arc? That's what happens when wipers are very worn out. They don't have the flex necessary to do the job any longer due to weathering in our extreme climate.
That being said, while silicone blades will often last twice as long, they also come with a price tag three to six times the price of the regular old rubber ones... Meaning you could replace your regular old boring rubber wipers more often for the same price. I'd much rather have new wipers more often than pay more for the same eventual result.
While silicone is king, good old rubber wins.
More Wipers = More Wiping
Here's another trend that happens to almost every new driver out there... They'll stand in the wiper aisle and naturally get the idea that putting on those fancy-looking fake-chrome or carbon fiber dual-wipers will not only make girls bite their lips in curious desire, but you'll get twice the amount of rain protection using twice the amount of wiper.
Wrong.... Sooooo wrong.
There's probably a study out there detailing just this topic. The double wiper vs singles. In logic, it all makes sense. If I have twice the wipers, each one only has to do half the work. It'll be more efficient meaning my windshield will be super-clear when the rains do come.
Sure, I'll give you the efficiency thing, but there's something you're not thinking of here...
While you may get double the wipes with double wipers, you're also putting double the strain on your windshield wiper motors. You really have to remember that manufacturers are building their vehicles to a strict design. Your windshield is X big, wipers are Y, motor needs a minimum Z amount of power to reliably work.
You add double the wipers, you'll kill your wiper motors prematurely... I was 16 and lost in an Autozone once, ask me how I know.
Wiper Frame vs Solid Beam
Here's where the debate really heats up. On one hand, we've got the infinite cantilever ages-old design that hasn't failed us yet in 130 years of automotive history... One frame with six to twelve "feet" holds a wiper blade securely to your windshield and it just works until it doesn't.
Technically, it's the rubber/silicone wiper that loses structural integrity leading back to the streaking problem these wiper frames produce over time. After all, the frame is rigid and made of some sort of really cheap metal, but unless something strikes it, it's good to go for life, right? Can you really beat the classics?
I don't have an exact date as to when the modern one-piece "beam" wiper frame came into existence, but I do know they've hit ultra-popularity in my time behind the wheel. The idea is the beam frame puts pressure on your blade the entire length of the blade. As there is no frame-feet to create pressure points, shouldn't a wiper should have a longer usable life?
It's been my experience that it does... but I don't think it's the pressure point aspect of it.
If you look at the beam frame, you'll see that it's wide. Like, really wide. Most are made in a way that would be aerodynamic in order to make the wind "force" it into the windshield. This makes for better wiping, but it's a design feature that works two-fold...
Because the beam frame is designed extra wide to capture more force through aerodynamics, it also provides shade to the wiper blade mounted underneath. Whether this was intentional or just a curious mistake of design, it works in your favor as the person responsible for your own safety.
We can argue about how the cold and heat effects the various materials wiper blades are made out of, but the absolute killer in Southwest Oklahoma is the sun.
Just about everything is affected by sun exposure, even us. Those UV rays beat down on this part of the country like we owe it money. The cold and heat don't rob wiper blades of their elasticity, sun exposure does. As the one-piece beam frame offers even the slightest amount of shade to your wipers, they have a tendency to last longer.
Does this mean you need to fork over $30-$60 every time you need a new set of wipers?
No. Absolutely not. As often as you're supposed to change your wipers in the region, it would cost you a small fortune... but there is a way to cheat the system.
Having grown tired of the regular old frame wipers constantly falling apart in the most needed times of weather events, I begrudgingly bought a pair of beam wipers. It wasn't my first choice, I'm a frugal man. That's just what the gas station in that one-horse town had in stock at that moment in time.
My complaint about the experience and the fact a set of wipers cost me nearly seventy bucks pops up in my facebook memories every year... but they were the best wipers I'd ever had. To tell you the truth, seven years later, they're technically the best wipers I still have.
"You have had the same wipers for seven years?!?"
One curious thing about all wiper frames is until they've taken a hit to damage their structural integrity, there's not a single reason the frames should fail. In seven years, my wipers cling to my windshield the same as they did on day one. This is why almost every wiper blade manufacturer sells just the rubber wiper refills.
I still buy the cheapest regular old rubber wiper blades the store has in stock the day I shop for them. Pull a cap off the frame, pull the old worn-out blades out, push the new ones in, spend the savings on bullet-hole stickers because they're still cool.
This does mean you'll want to invest in a set of beam frames, so your next windshield wiper purchase is going to hurt a little... They range anywhere from $30-$60 for a set, but paying $4-$6 for the refills thereafter won't hurt a bit, and because of that sun-protection a beam offers a blade, you'll be buying them less often. It's so cheap, I always keep an extra refill in the truck just so I can't get Shang Hai'd on price again in Alvin, Oklahoma.
Spring is coming. Prepare now. You'll thank me later.