Testing Wipers Isn’t Easy
There’s a problem with comparing different brands and models of windshield wipers—it’s almost impossible to test them accurately. And after 25 hours of research, I have found out that almost no one knows anything about them.
To really gauge a wiper’s performance, you’d need to test it over many months, or have the specialized testing equipment needed to simulate that kind of long-term wear. Multiply that by, say, two dozen models of wipers and it’s a very daunting test, even before you consider the numerous variables to take into account. It takes lot of resources and expertise to conduct a test like that.
Which is probably why only one organization has done it. In 2008, Consumer Reportstested 13 different models of wiper, putting them on 185 cars driven daily by Consumer Reports staff. The Rain-X Latitude wipers were ranked second in that test. I’ll explain why we picked the second-best wipers in a moment, but first I want to talk about how thorough and reliable Consumer Reports’ windshield wiper test was, and why no one else has even come close to replicating it.
I spoke with John Galeotafiore, associate director of Home Improvement, Auto Aftermarket, & Family at Consumer Reports. He explained in detail how their test was conducted: “The wiper blades were tested on 185 staffers’ cars over a 9 month period. Our statistical department set up a plan that allowed us to put a different wiper on each side of the car and conduct side-by-side comparisons. In coming up with a scoring system, such variables as miles driven, age of the car, where the car was parked, and the slope of the windshield were all taken into account.
A lab was set up that could produce repeatable levels of mist and heavy rain conditions. At the start of the test, the car would be brought into the lab, the blades put on the car and initial baseline measures of how well they removed the water without leaving lines, smears, missed areas, and chatter/squeaks. Each car was brought back into the lab after three months, six months, and nine months.”
That is what a thorough test and nearly unimpeachable data look like.
That is what a thorough test and nearly unimpeachable data look like. The bottom line here is that without Consumer Reports’ wiper test, we’d be adrift on the rain-spattered windshield of life with absolutely no idea which wipers were better or worse.
Why Second-Best is Actually Best
There are two minor issues with the Consumer Reports test, however. The first is that it was conducted in 2008, and due to the difficulty, Galeotafiore told me he’s not even sure if they’ll be tackling it again any time soon. Windshield wiper manufacturers change their designs and rubber formulations frequently—certainly more frequently than every five years. So things may have changed since 2008. That doesn’t change the fact that, again, no one else has done this test. It’s still the best information on windshield wiper performance available.
The other problem stems from Consumer Reports‘ assertion that bracket style wiper blades and beam style wiper blades perform equally well. We’ve found out that theoretically, beam blades do better in winter conditions. Bracket blades are the old kind, where a bracket of branching arms connects the wiper. Newer beam blades do away with the bracket, instead using a curved metal bar built into the wiper to spread tension and force across the entire blade.
The metal framework of a bracket wiper allows snow and ice to collect during winter driving. That buildup binds the wiper and causes smearing, streaking, or a complete failure to clear the windshield. If you drove cars before beam blades became popular, you probably remember opening your window while driving, reaching out to “snap” the wiper against the windshield to clear away that ice buildup. That’s why winter wipers exist—they’re basically a bracket blade with a big rubber boot covering the bracket to keep the ice out.
Beam blades avoid this problem because there’s nowhere for snow and ice to collect on the blade. In fact, there are only a few winter wiper models still on the market, because beam blades have pretty much solved that problem. (Winter wipers may also use a different rubber compound that works well in low temperatures, but we didn’t see enough evidence of effectiveness to suggest changing your beam blades out for special winter blades.)
I asked Galeotafiore if Consumer Reports‘ test would have shown the beam vs. bracket winter difference. “While the testing did happen in winter conditions, we didn’t have enough data in snow conditions to make any judgments on a particular model’s ability to perform in snow. We are aware of the claims that beam blades perform better in the snow and it makes sense since they don’t have the articulating points that could freeze, but our tests couldn’t confirm that.”
How much better are beam blades than bracket blades in winter conditions? Here’s some anecdotal evidence: I live in Buffalo, NY, and have had beam blades on my car for years. They definitely reduce snow and ice buildup—I don’t even remember the last time I’ve had to reach out the window the clean the blade off while driving.
Brian Lam, editor of The Wirecutter, spent four years straight in Tahoe using beam wipers and noticed they don’t clump up as much either, although in some epic sloppy, soggy snow storms he had to clear his blades manually.
Some of the manufacturers and experts we spoke to also indicated that the design of beam blades resulted in greater performance and durability over bracket blades because they spread force evenly along the length of the blade instead of the at the contact points where the brackets attach. I spoke with Luke Perkowski, product manager with windshield wiper manufacturer Bosch. He told me, “The pressure distribution is also better on a beam blade. With a bracket, the load path travels through the frame to the claws that connect to the blade. There’s more pressure at the claws, which accelerates wear. We can also engineer beams more precisely, to create the best curvature for the radius of the windshield, which allows for consistent wear and even pressure.
Before we made our final decision, we contacted a lab that does third party testing of windshield wipers for various manufacturers. They couldn’t tell us which wipers were better than others, both because they don’t keep comparative data sets, and because it’s proprietary data owned by the manufacturers. Then we thought, “Maybe we could have the lab run a test for us.” They sent over a price quote. While their testing is very thorough, it’s broken down into separate tests, and each test costs between $700 and $900. Any single test by itself doesn’t give you valuable data, because many factors affect a windshield wiper’s performance and durability. For instance, a durability test running a set of wipers through 500,000 cycles (roughly five years of use) costs $900. Testing under extreme cold conditions costs $750; so does the heat test. Ozone and UV resistance are separate tests, too. That’s per model of blade we want tested. So a comprehensive, meaningful test of several models would run the price into five figures. So for now, we’re going to trust Consumer Reports’ test, which, other than being slightly dated, is as thorough a test as we could hope for.
In the meantime, we’ve started our own test comparing a few different windshield wiper models. Because it’s a long-term test to determine durability, we won’t have any results for a few months, but we’ll update here when we do.
That leaves us with two main data points: 1. Consumer Reports’ test results are rock solid, except, 2. We know that beam blades are going to be better in winter conditions. As it happens, Consumer Reports’ top ranked wiper, the Valeo 600, is a bracket blade. That’s why we’re passing it over as our top pick, in favor of the Rain-X Latitude wipers. The Latitudes are the top ranked beam blades on the list, and our top pick.
Rain-X’s Latitude wipers have a beam design: a curved steel beam encased in rubber provides the tension that holds the blade to your windshield. It’s made of synthetic rubber, not natural rubber, and coated in a graphite layer that Rain-X claims reduces chatter (virtually every wiper manufacturer claims some kind of special formulation like this—Trico uses Teflon, for instance). The body of the blade has a spoiler on it intended to reduce wind lift and noise at high speeds, another feature common to most modern wipers.
What really sets the Rain-X wipers apart is their durability. In the Consumer Reports test, the Rain-X Latitude wipers were the only wipers to achieve a “Very Good” rating after six months of use. The next highest ranked beam blade, Anco’s Contour, suffered a drop-off to “Good” after six months.
Reinforcing that pick is a solid Amazon user rating of 3.6 stars out of five, based on 965 customer reviews. User Larry Cleaver wrote, “I was experiencing streaking with previous wiper blades, so I chose Rain-X to replace them. This wiper blade contours to your windshield and maintains consistent contact across the entire blade and is very easy to install. The packaging includes various brackets to fit any wiper blade arm. I would definitely recommend these wiper blades.” E. Bridges reported on their winter effectiveness: “I live in New Hampshire, but the cold and snow doesn’t seem to bother these bad boys.” Some buyers found the Rain-X Latitude wipers offered extra durability, like JB, who said, “These are the only wiper blades I will buy. The last set almost lasted 2 years. Streak free, great product.”
Rain-X doesn’t currently offer a warranty on their wipers. Some manufacturers do, but user reviews indicate that the cost of shipping blades to the manufacturer ends up costing as much or more than just buying new blades.
Budget picks for a snow-less environment: Valeo 600
The Valeo 600s do have one edge over the Latitudes—they cost about $6 less per wiper. If you live somewhere where winter driving is never an issue, you can save yourself a few bucks and use the Valeo 600s. They’re a cost-effective downgrade under those circumstances.
It’s possible to save a bit of money by replacing only the wiping element of the windshield wipers (known as a wiper refill), not the wiper itself. There are several problems with this, and they’re big enough problems that we don’t recommend it. First, it’s a huge pain because you need to remember the exact type of wiper you own so you can get the correct replacement element. But more importantly, it isn’t just the wiping element that wears out. The wiper’s framework and connections are also subject to wear, and can get bound up or loose, causing the wipers to rattle, skip, or not maintain contact with the windshield. Mike Allen wrote about wipers for Popular Mechanics in 2005, saying, “By the time you need [wiper refills], the articulated arm itself is probably in bad shape, too. If it’s sticking, the blade won’t conform to the shape of the glass, leaving you with streaks or unwiped areas. Spring for a complete wiper blade. Most are replaced with no more trouble than depressing a catch—or perhaps removing a pin—and pulling them off the wiper arm. There will be instructions in the package with the wiper blade.”
For dirty, muddy, wet environments — PIAA’s Silicone Wipers
If you want to step up and try a higher-end wiper blade, you might consider wipers made with a silicone formulation. Only a few specialty manufacturers offer silicone blades, and Consumer Reports tested one of them, PIAA’s Super Silicone. It was not one of the top ranked wipers, and it’s also a bracket blade, so we can’t recommend it.
In my search for information on wiper blades, I tried to find someone who uses windshield wipers in critical situations under the most extreme conditions. That lead me to Subaru’s Rally Team USA, and Chris Yandell, marketing manager at Vermont SportsCar (the company that manages the team). He told me that the wiper of choice for the rally cars is PIAA’s Forza Hybrid. “The PIAA Forza Hybrid uses what’s called a ‘side-spring’ frame design, which helps put more pressure on the blade and helps it make more even contact. According to PIAA this is an industry-first. They work great for us. These are silicone blades, and they…apply a silicone coating to the windshield which helps water bead up, like an application of Rain-X would do. We have used rubber blades in the past, years ago, but have switched to the silicone blades and are happy with the results.”
The conditions the rally team subjects their wipers to are pretty intense. “All conditions. Snow, ice, sleet, rain, mist, mud, dust, big splashes from water crossings, etc. All at high speeds, day and night,” Yandell said.
I also spoke with Justin MacLauchlan, brand manager/R&D with PIAA. “Our…standard rubber to silicone testing data does show the advantages of silicone rubber over standard rubber. The chemical resistance and compounds added to make them far more durable than standard rubber make them a perfect wiper blade for winter conditions. The silicone is impregnated in the rubber, not coated on the wiper re-fill so the silicone rubber outlasts normal rubber two to three times longer. It will not dry out and get frail as the silicone protects the rubber from heat, ozone, extreme cold, etc.”
Manufacturer claims have to be taken with a grain of salt, of course, but the fact that the Subaru rally team relies on PIAA’s blades speaks pretty loudly. Still, the Forza Hybrids are expensive, more than $30 per blade. So our recommended upgrade is the middle ground, PIAA’S SI-Tech. The SI-Tech is a silicone beam blade that runs about $25 per wiper. That gets you the benefits of the hydrophobic coating and possibly some extra durability and UV resistance (according to PIAA). Since Rain-X Latitude wipers are better supported by testing and user reviews, I’d probably just get those and a bottle of Rain-X hydrophobic windshield treatment for $5.
Competition that we passed over
In making our pick, we looked at more than two dozen models of wiper blade. We didn’t find many blades that were terrible; for the most part, wipers were passed over because they failed to distinguish themselves in the Consumer Reports test (Trico’s Teflon Blade, Rain-X Weatherbeater, Bosch Icon), had limited user reviews (Michelin RainForce), or were too expensive relative to their performance (PIAA Super Silicone).
Get the most out of the wipers you buy
Here are a few additional tips gleaned from all my windshield wiper research:
Before you buy, scan the Amazon reviews for mentions of your particular vehicle. A lot of negative wiper reviews stem from wipers that don’t seem to fit the curvature of the windshields on some models of car. There seem to be certain wiper/windshield combinations that just don’t work well together. You can actually get wiper pairs specially made for your specific vehicle from PIAA. They’ll set you back $100 for the set.
If your wipers start streaking after a few months, try cleaning the blades with alcohol.
Many users report good results from using Rain-X or another form of hydrophobic coating on the windshield. For example, Amazon user R. Fang said in a review of Bosch Evolution wipers, “In combination with applying Rain-X to the windshield, the result is very similar [to] a brand new car off the dealer’s lot. Rain-X helps the wiping during low speed, and it also has the added benefit of not needing the wipers much at high speeds.”
According to Consumer Reports, “Wiper blades have a finite service life, as they perform a hazardous duty in harsh conditions. Dirt, debris, and road grime abrade wipers, and sunlight breaks down their rubber edges. Beyond visibility, it is important not to wait too long to replace a blade, as a torn wiper blade can allow the wiper arm to rub against the glass, possibly ruining the windshield.”
Mike Austin at Popular Mechanics told me, “The other well-known wisdom I can corroborate is that scraping your wipers over a frozen windshield is definitely bad for the rubber and will result in streaking.” Clear the ice from your windshield with a scraper before you activate the wipers.
The windshield wiper industry has tried to co-opt Groundhog Day as national “replace your wipers day.” I’m not sure if that’s caught on. I usually replace mine when I take my car in for the annual state inspection.
Replace both wipers. Once one blade wears out, the other won’t be far behind.
Amazon has a little “Make Sure it Fits!” box on all windshield wiper pages. It ostensibly lets you determine if a given set of wipers are right for your car, but quite a few Amazon users have reported that it’s inaccurate. Check your owner’s manual for the correct size wipers and order based on that.