Windscreen wipers are one of the simpler elements of a car and one of its most important safety features. But drivers rarely give them a moment’s thought.
Even the most conscientious drivers only check their car’s engine oil level or the air pressure of its tyres every once in a while. As for windscreen wipers, getting hands-on usually only ever happens when the black rubber blades disintegrate, and end up being dragged across a windscreen like a three-month old discarded banana skin.
That’s not good enough. In poor weather, effective wipers ensure drivers have a clear view of the road – and any hazards – ahead. If the wipers are worn out, and aren’t performing as they should, drivers are a danger to themselves and other road users. And like tyres or engine oil, windscreen wipers degrade over time, which means it pays to check them before they let you down.
How to tell when windscreen wipers need replacing
Let’s face it; you’ll probably know when your car’s wiper blades are past their best by the state of the windscreen in wet weather, or when you try to operate the wash-wipe system. They will leave a streaky finish on the glass, restricting visibility. Or they may judder as they sweep.
But it shouldn’t get to this point, because any lack of visibility means every time it rains, or wet roads throw up spray from traffic, the risk of an accident is increased. So, spare just a couple of minutes to check them over.
The easiest way to do this is to lift the arms that the wiper blades are mounted on clear of the screen. Then run your fingers along the rubber blade of the wiper.
Rubber hardens over time, and can break up. So if the leading edge of the blade feels brittle or, worse still, is starting to break up and is missing chunks in places or even peeling away from the main body of rubber, they need changing as soon as possible.
Always check wipers before an MOT
Worn out wiper blades can result in a car failing its MOT. So checking them before submitting a car to the testing centre can save drivers from the aggravation of being failed, then having to replace them and resubmit their car for its MOT.
Find out which windscreen wipers fit your car
If wipers are on their way out, drivers will need to check the type that their car requires. The vehicle handbook should explain, in plain English, how to remove and refit the windscreen wipers. They may also detail the part type required for replacement.
If it doesn’t, you could turn to the Internet. There are numerous retailers, many of whom do the homework for you. They do this by asking for the car registration, or the make, model and year. They then identify a range of wipers that are compatible with your car.
Alternatively, any local garage will be able to lend a hand. They’ll check the wipers and can order in the required items – if not already in stock – and fit them for you. Many garages now fit wiper blades for free.
Buying replacement wipers
Wipers are made by suppliers, so there’s no shortage of garages, car spares stores or online retailers that can provide a wide selection for your car. Try wiperblades.co.uk, Halfords, or your local garage, which can all serve up a selection of the correct spares.
These typically range in price, from less than £10 per blade to more than £30. There will be budget brands and better-known names, such as Bosch, Lucas or Valeo. However, don’t assume that the more you spend, the better the wiper.
Auto Express has a good reputation for putting all manner of car spares and accessories through thorough tests. Often the recommended windscreen wiper is one of the cheaper available.
How to fit the replacement parts
If fitting replacement windscreen wipers yourself, before starting read your car’s handbook. Some cars’ wiper arms are positioned beneath the trailing edge of the bonnet. They then can’t be raised, as they foul the bonnet. The handbook should explain how to set the arms to their vertical position on the windscreen, so you can then fold out the arm and remove the wiper blade.
Top tip: match old and new wipers blades
The driver and passenger side wiper blades are usually of a different size, but will use the same fitting mechanism, so there’s the potential to muddle things up when attaching the new parts. After removing the old items, carefully lay each one at the base of the windscreen; that way, you can ensure the replacement parts are the same size and fitted to the correct arm.
James is a motoring journalist and former magazine editor at BBC Top Gear and Auto Express. He has scooped, reported on and reviewed most new cars of the past 20 years, and currently contributes to the Driving section of The Sunday Times.