A clean sweep

| December 12, 2008

With new materials and new designs, windshield wipers are providing better visibility in rain and snow.

Most owner-operators pick up a new set of wiper blades with little thought to anything but whether the set fits the truck and how cheap it is.

That’s easy to understand. On the surface, wipers have changed little since they were introduced in 1916. And the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which cover factory-installed windshield wipers, dictate only that every Class 8 vehicle must have two working blades.

But when it comes to replacements, new developments in blade form and function mean that picking the best blade for your operation requires more than a snap decision at the counter. Different blades do different things, and buying the cheapest, most generic brand is not always the way to go. Putting a little thought and a few extra pennies into a wiper blade purchase can save you hassle and money in the long run.

Most blades now are made with a rubber squeegee that wears down as it is used. Checking your blades to see whether they need replacing is difficult to remember, which is why drivers commonly find themselves hauling through rain with restricted vision before realizing the blades need replacing. A blade still in use after it needs replacing may begin to chatter across the windshield.

Valeo’s SmartBlade has a wear indicator that changes from black to yellow as the blades deteriorate. “Drivers are reminded to purchase and install a new set of blades at their first opportunity, instead of when they’re caught in a storm,” says Greg Palese of Valeo.

Rubber blades tend to wear through eventually, thanks to ozone, temperature extremes, ultraviolet light and sunlight, says Jeff Jasuta, a sales manager at Jamak Fabrication. Any of these factors can cause a rubber blade to take a permanent set, or bend. The wipe quality decreases because the squeegee doesn’t connect uniformly across the windshield as it moves.

The wiper industry therefore has begun to build blades out of untraditional materials, such as silicon. “Silicon is not affected by ozone or sunlight or climatic condition,” Jasuta says. “It has an operating temperature range of minus 100 degrees to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and will not take a permanent set.”

Jasuta says that as the silicon blade wipes the windshield it leaves behind a layer of silicon residue. The residue increases the ability of moisture to bead up. This increases the blade’s overall wiping power and allows clearer vision.

On average, silicon blades cost 25 percent more than traditional ones, Jasuta says. The Jamak Tripledge, a triple-edge silicon blade, for example, costs $6.88. But money is saved in the long run, Jasuta says, because a silicon blade lasts two to three times longer than the nine-month lifespan of an organic rubber blade.

“Silicon rubber is basically silicon that has been formulated in a rubberlike material,” so that the blade can glide more easily across the windshield, says Randy Putnam, president of Specialty Silicone Products. “Silicon rubber withstands the degrading effects of sunlight that basically kill the rubber.”

However, because windshield glass is made of silicon, this can cause problems with silicon blades, Putnam says. “The glass and the silicon want to stick together. It can chatter and scrape. It creates friction and burns out the wiper motor.”

One solution, Putnam says, is his company’s SilBlade, a silicon rubber blade coated with Teflon. SilBlade wipers cost $25 for the entire unit, which might be triple the price of a more pedestrian blade, but they come with a five-year warranty, so owners won’t have to buy new sets of blades every few months.

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