The windscreen wiper is an important feature of traffic safety. In certain weather conditions, functional wiper blades are indispensable. Meanwhile, they are permanently exposed to serious strain and wear.
This raises the question, how to ensure the longest possible life span for the windscreen wipers, when replacement is due and how to do this.
Functional overview of windscreen wipers
When driving in the rain, sleet and snow, windscreen wipers are in constant operation. Especially in the cold season they are under heavy duty, becoming increasingly difficult for them to perform as a result of wear. In addition to these obvious strains, heat and UV-radiation constitute a danger to the wiper blades. These influences cause the rubber mix to become porous. As a result of wiper damage, using them could cause more than just streaks. Some wipers are so seriously damaged, that they cause damage to the windscreen too.
To prevent this, periodical inspection of the wiper blades and their possible replacement is necessary, avoiding further damage or even accidents due to impaired sight. Intact wiper blades are legally relevant, as the Highway Code stipulates a clear sight. Wiper blade quality varies with respect to cleaning performance and wear.
Safety standards and legal provisions
Legal basis for safety regulation regarding car windscreens, windscreen wipers and the connected systems for defrosting and demisting is provided by Regulation 34 of The Road Vehicles (Construction & Use) by the Department of Transport (UK). This mentions the requirements for the use of safety glass which should be clear, translucent and distortion-free. The windscreen wiper is part of this, as it provides a clear sight in case of applicable weather conditions. The heater for removing frost and sleet belongs to this system as well.
The safety features are checked on occasion of MOT inspection. Your inspection certificate can be denied if your windscreen wipers are malfunctioning.
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Windscreen wipers: Check and replacement time
Generally, high-quality windscreen wipers should be replaced every two years. Their life span depends on use and strain and can therefore vary. Regularly checking the cleaning performance and wear is essential. If you notice that wiping does not cause clear sight and streaks occur instead, this is an indication of brittle rubber. Few or short streaks do not yet pose a problem. In case of longer streaks preventing a clear sight you can assume wipers to have become unusable. In this case you need to replace the wiper blades as soon as possible. In praxis, a half-yearly inspection of the windscreen wipers is sufficient. It makes sense to have this done on account of a spring or winter check by a garage.
Choice of the right windscreen wiper
Windscreen wipers and their accessories are offered in plenty of different shapes, materials, qualities and prices. The most important materials are natural rubber and synthetic rubber.
Traffic experts consider a combination of both materials to be the best solution. The wiping part of the blade should be made of natural rubber and at its mounting, synthetic rubber can be used. A recent development added on new cars is the so-called flat-blades. These flat-blade windscreen wipers adapt to the shape of the windscreen exerting equal pressure, ensuring a more even cleaning result. These wipers can be used for older cars as well. As most wiper-blade holders are suitable for the new wipers. Their compatibility for specific brands and models is often mentioned on the packaging. In all cases, the manufacturer can provide the right information. In case of replacement, the rear windscreen wiper should not be forgotten, and should be replaced simultaneously with the front wipers.
There is a strong correlation between price and quality of wiper blades, and therefore a high investment in safety and durability is worthwhile. The AA provides regular information on quality differences on basis of comparative testing.
Installing new windscreen wipers
The installation of the wiper blades is not the same for all car and wiper models. In many cases there is a standard wiper-blade holder. Nevertheless is it necessary to consult the windscreen wiper manual. Adapters for different wiper systems are often available in the assortment. Prior to installation, clean the front and rear windscreen with glass cleaner, ensuring an optimal wiping performance of the new wiper blades.
Please make sure that wiper blades do not snap back when installing, as this can damage to the linkage system and possibly to the windscreen as well. The wiper blade replacement generally poses no problem and garage fees can be avoided. Only the material costs apply, which can vary according to construction and model. When replacing the wiper blades, always check the washer tank level. This especially applies to the winter months, when antifreeze should be added.
Common mistakes and tips for a longer life span
A proper use and periodical maintenance of the wipers extends their life span. When they are not being used for a longer period of time, for example in periods without rain, wiper blades become dirty. Residue of dust, dead insects can deposit between wiper and windscreen or on the rubber. The wipers can be cleaned with a brush or household sponge and clean water. On no account, cleaning detergent with a solvent or lubricating agent should be used as they affect the graphite layer of the rubber. Further maintenance and purchase tips are provided by the AA.
One of the most frequent mistakes many drivers make is the use of a windscreen wiper as an ice scraper, which can damage the wiper and tear the rubber. In the worst case this causes serious mechanical damage. The wiper motor might fail, its repair causing high costs. Wipers moving over the frozen glass can cause deep scratches on the windscreen. In case of ice on the windscreen, the ice layer needs to be removed prior to moving the windscreen wipers over the ice-free windscreen.