by Paul Williams

Fifty years ago, many British cars were shipped to Canada with one
windshield wiper. A passenger wiper was optional, but at least the wipers
were electrically operated.

Domestic cars often ran their wipers from the engine vacuum. This saved on
the old 6-volt electrical systems, but every time you put your foot on the
gas, the wipers stopped. Really.

Nowadays some cars have three wipers, with multiple speeds and intermittent
operation. The basic principle is the same, though. A thin piece of rubber
is drawn across the windshield surface to displace water.

There have been surprisingly few improvements on this approach since wipers
were invented in the early part of the last century. And people are still

Wipers have certainly grown, though. The driver’s wiper on my Impreza wagon
is 21″. Some minivans use 28″ blades. They’re not cheap, either. A pair of
OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) wipers for a late-model Saab is close
to $50.00.

That’s why the majority of people choose an aftermarket wiper. They tend to
cost less than OEM, and there are several manufacturers of standard blades
from which to choose. Additionally, there are some variations on the theme,
like the Tripledge system. It uses three edges, like the multiple blades
found on some razors.

Heated wipers are available, too, which sound like a good idea. These are
hooked up to your car’s electrical system and are designed to melt snow and

Does anything work better than what you have? Maybe.

US-based Consumer Reports recently tested the full range of aftermarket
wipers and two OEM brands. According to the report, most of the wipers
performed well when new, except for the Tripledge brand that left streaks
“right out of the box.” Indeed, after four to six months, when most of the
wipers began to leave streaks, the Tripledge left the most.

The top performers were blades from Anco, Trico or Bosch. These also were
the easiest to install.

The OEM brands, from Chrysler and Toyota, also scored highly, although they
tended to cost more.

What about heated wipers? There are three types available: Northland Heated
Wipers from Massachusetts, Thermoblade from North Carolina, and Blizzard
Blades from Wisconsin. Each system connects to your car’s power supply.

Unfortunately, none of these companies has independent testing to compare
their product with unheated wipers. The Northland product, however, was
tested by the South Dakota Department of Transport. The wipers were used on
snowplows, and some improvement of visibility was experienced over standard
wipers 67% of the time. A considerable improvement was experienced 7% of the
time, with the greatest improvement recorded when the temperature was the
lowest, and conditions the worst.

Northland Heated Wipers are available online at They start at
over $200.00 a pair for the small sizes.

Thermoblades were introduced to the market last year. According to Gail
Fitzmorris, Thermoblade sales manager, “1500 sets of these wipers were
tested in all conditions over a one-year period. The wipers are especially
popular with school bus drivers and snow plow operators, but you can easily
put them on your car.” The system heats both the metal frame and the
silicone wiper blade. They come in sizes from 14″ – 24″, and you can switch
the heating element on and off, as required.

Thermoblades are $200.00 a pair, regardless of size. Order from
1-800-951-7867, or online at

Blizzard blades are similarly priced. They are available in Canada from A&M
Truck Parts in London, Ontario. Mike Croft, at 519 686-0662 is the
representative. They can also be ordered online at All
prices, by the way, are Canadian dollars.

A new product called Silblades, made by General Electric, will be introduced
to Canada in Spring, 2002. Canadian Tire is expected to carry them, and
their silicone blades are supposed to be superior to the rubber blades found
on standard wipers.

I’ll have more on those when they arrive.

In the meantime, if you’re not satisfied with your wipers, you could try one
of the wipe-on or spray-on windshield treatments like Rain-X. This is
inexpensive, easily applied, and will repel rain and snow, often
significantly improving the performance of your wipers.

Finally, if your wipers are in good condition, but they streak or make
noise, try cleaning the blades with a paper towel soaked in windshield
washer fluid. This can be surprisingly effective.

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