Windshield Wipers' Biggest Secret

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What’s the most popular windshield wiper blade found on new cars and light-duty vehicles today? We know the standard frame wiper has declined in popularity over recent years, so the answer must be the newer beam, flat or aero style, right? Wrong. The most popular style wiper blade on windshields of light duty vehicles since 2013 is the hybrid blade. This style wiper is currently found on more than 40 percent of new vehicles, totaling more than 70 million wiper blades installed to date.

The hybrid wiper blade is our industry’s biggest secret even though it has been original equipment on popular models like Camry, Accord, Altima the CR-V — and many others — for more than seven years.

How is the Hybrid Blade Different?

In the past, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) wiper blade frames have been manufactured with an all-steel frame, a polymer (plastic) frame or thermoplastic/rubber with a steel spline. Each material possesses different qualities that provide an advantage for top wiper performance. Steel offers greater strength, while molded components provide aerodynamics for maximum wiping performance — especially during highway driving.

The hybrid blade combines steel components for strength with a molded polymer frame incorporating aerodynamic design to provide optimum wiping performance. Why do I refer to it as polymer instead of plastic? Because the polymer compound contains fiberglass reinforcement and the word plastic gives the impression as being a cheap, low-end material. The polymer compound used in OEM-quality hybrid blades is durable, not cheap.

They Don’t Make Wiper Blades Like They Used To

How many times have you heard this from your customers? Back in the old days — before 1990 — vehicles were boxier with upright windshields and smaller wiper blades — usually 20 inches or less. Now, aerodynamic designs have increased the size of the windshield and wiper blade length.

At highway speeds, the wind blasting across a 26- or 30-inch wiper can cause a wind-lift effect. This can result in smearing and streaking. The molded frame of the hybrid blade has a spoiler designed into the frame. This is a curved surface that faces toward the front of the vehicle. So when a blast of wind hits the wiper blade, the frame uses the force of the wind to hold the wiper to the windshield. The faster the vehicle moves, the more wind force is used to provide clear vision at highway speeds.

Most steel frame blades combat wind-lift by utilizing open vents in the top of the frame. These vents reduce pressure of the oncoming wind but do not use the wind to improve wiper performance. The hybrid blade design provides aerodynamic performance coupled with the strength of steel components for maximum wiping performance.

How is a Hybrid Different from a Beam, Flat or Aero Blade?

Besides possessing a connector, squeegee and possibly a spoiler, every other component is different. The biggest difference lies in the steel beam that gives the beam, flat or aero style blades their curvature — let’s call this blade beam-style. If you take a beam-style blade and attempt to flatten it out, it takes a noticeable amount of pressure. Try the same with a standard frame or hybrid blade and you’ll notice it takes little to no pressure. OEMs design beam-style wiper systems with greater arm pressure to assure full contact with the windshield, while standard frame and hybrid blades need far less arm pressure.

When an OEM hybrid wiper blade is replaced with a beam-style blade, the installer increases their chances of wiping problems. There may not be enough arm pressure to make the beam blade lay flat against the glass, and smearing can occur right in the driver’s line of vision. We have seen the same results when replacing a standard frame blade with a beam-style blade. The safest way to minimize wiper problems is to always replace wipers with the same style blade that the OEM designed for the wiping system.

Any Other Advantages to the Hybrid Blade?

The hybrid blade sports a sleek, aerodynamic design even as it sits on the windshield. The beam-style blade looks similar, but we just noted that replacing hybrid blades with beam-style blades may cause wiping problems. Also, the hybrid blade cannot rust. During winter months, the protective design of the polymer frame helps prevent snow and ice build-up within the frame. It won’t eliminate ice build-up, but the cover gives a layer of protection in harsh winter weather climates.

Do Hybrid Blades Have Unique Connectors?

The introduction of beam-style blades delivered a host of unique connectors to the wiper replacement industry. Not so with hybrid blades, but there is a twist that I will explain in a moment. Today, all OEM hybrid blades use the most popular wiper connector in the marketplace — the small hook arm, sometimes known as the 9x3 hook arm. But leave it to the OEM engineers to complicate the most simple wiper connector design.

The hybrid wiper blade is considered a low-profile design, a design that minimizes the height of the blade to also minimize wind resistance. Some wiper systems further lower the profile by placing the hook connector to the side of the blade, instead of connecting through an opening in the center of the frame. This new design is commonly known as an offset hook arm.

Some think the solution to fitting the offset hook arm is to simply attach any blade with a center-frame connector to the arm. This works sometimes, but not always. We found that not only is the hybrid blade a low-profile design, but the offset hook arm is engineered to be low profile, as well. The arm is designed to position as close to the windshield as possible. When a blade without an offset connector is attached to the arm, many times the wiper blade frame hits the arm during operation and the new blade just does not work. We experienced this with various models — especially Nissan, Infiniti, and Honda. The bottom line is, if you do replace the offset hybrid blade, it must be replaced with an offset type connector or you’re inviting problems and possibly damaging windshields.

Do I Really Need to Add Hybrid Blades to My Inventory?

Let’s examine what will happen if you do not stock hybrid wiper blades:

·           Since some hybrid blades have an offset hook attachment, your wiper offering will be limited without this connector.

·           Different wiper blade styles may require correct wiper arm pressure to work properly. Changing from the vehicle’s original style wiper to a different style increases the chances of wiper performance problems. OEM engineers spend millions of dollars designing the best wiper system and blade style for each vehicle. Utilize their investment to minimize your wiper problems.

·           If the original blade featured a molded spoiler in the frame design, replacing with a wiper blade without a spoiler could affect wiping performance, especially at highway speeds.

 

Simplicity is a Thing of the Past

As we have experienced with other automotive parts, the once simple windshield wiper category has exploded because of OEM design. Only a few years ago, 14 part numbers provided more than 95 percent coverage. Today, an installer must offer standard frame blades, beam-style blades rear plastic blades, and now hybrid wiper blades to cover the most popular wiper applications.

Installers know they cannot use 10W-30 grade oil in every engine or the motor will likely experience performance problems. It’s the same concept with windshield wipers. The secret is out — for optimum windshield wiper performance, replace with the same style blade that the OEM designed for the system.

TIM CRAIG is a 38-year veteran of the automotive aftermarket, a special consultant to Mighty and a partner in RT Performance Marketing. Craig can be reached at: timcraig@comcast.net

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