Not all wiper blades are created equal. There are several things to consider when selecting a new windshield wiper.
- The design of the blade body
- The quality of the latch mechanism
- The quality of the rubber wiper insert
The windshield wiper body
Metal wiper blades are still the best. You might think plastic would be a better choice because it seems like it would be lighter. Light is good when you think about what a blade does; it slides across the windshield in one direction and then suddenly reverses. A body in motion tends to stay in motion and all that. However, plastic wiper blades weigh about the same as metal blades and the metal blade designs are more durable and allow for better articulation. When the wiper body allows for the blade to hug the shape of the windshield, the wipers work better.
The latch mechanism
The latch mechanism holds the blade to the wiper arm. It’s the part that causes people to wonder, “How do I remove this wiper blade! It’s stuck on there!” However, some blades are a little too easy to remove. This is only a problem with very low quality blades, but it’s important consideration for a couple of reasons. First, if the wiper comes off, you may not be able to see well, which isn’t safe. Second, if the blade comes off the wiper arm may damage the windshield, which is fairly expensive to replace. How do you avoid a bad latch? Don’t buy the cheapest wiper blade you can find. If you’re not in the market for the best wiper blade available, at least get something in the middle.
The rubber wiper insert
I’ve saved the most important for last. The quality of the rubber is the difference between a wiper blade that lasts for a long time and one that only works well for 3 months before starting to make a streaky mess on the windshield. How can you tell good rubber from bad rubber? Experience. There’s no way to tell if rubber will last a long time without putting it on a car and waiting a long time.
Drum roll please…. The best wiper blades are…. NWB!
Writing reviews has become an internet industry. People actually make a living writing reviews and collecting money through affiliate links. So I’ll lead with this: if you buy the wipers I recommend I’ll make nothing. Unless of course you’re in Berkeley and come to our shop to buy them from us. I’m writing this for two reasons: 1) My opinion may help guide someone to making a good choice, and 2) The blades we sell are considerably more expensive than other brands (although I’d argue that they are a better value), and I want to leave this here as an explanation for anyone who thinks our wiper blades are overpriced.
NWB is Nippon Wiper Blade. If you look at the blades that came with your Japanese car, you’ll likely find NWB stamped into the blade. NWB was the largest windshield wiper manufacturer in Japan and is now part of Denso (formerly Nippon Denso), which is a giant in Japanese automotive parts manufacturing. We’ve used NWB blades for as long as I’ve been at Art’s (25 years as of today), and they work very well and never cause us embarrassment. Blades branded “Denso” are now appearing, but not all of the models are the same quality as the NWB. Maybe the NWB branding will eventually disappear. I don’t know.
Are there other good brands?
Over the years, we’ve tried other brands, but it has never worked out well. Bosch? Trash. Michelin? Junk. Trico? Nope. Goodyear? Good luck! A while back a friend and fellow shop owner suggested picking one profit center and focusing on it for a while. It’s some new shop management philosophy or something. Anyway, he suggested wiper blades. I snorted and said we barely break even on wiper blades so I certainly don’t want to sell any more.
Want to make a good living? Don’t install wiper blades.
Our margin is way too low on windshield wipers, and the only reason is customer perception. I see the Michelin wipers in Costco, just like our customers do. Sometimes they’re retailing for 1/2 of our wholesale cost for a NWB. One rainy day I bought a set for my truck while shopping because I didn’t want to drive to work, and we’d never tried that brand, so who knew. Maybe they were good? Nope. They lasted about 3 months before they started to make more mess than they cleaned.
We can’t sell a poor quality product and keep our reputation, but we also can’t alter our prices to compete with a $6 wiper blade. While it’s tempting to do what most people do, and sell a cheap blade at a great profit, we’ve settled on a great blade at a low profit. As far as our pricing for NWB, go ahead an compare on the internet. You’ll be able to find other brands way cheaper, but you won’t be able to find NWB much cheaper. Every time I’ve checked, our prices are in line with the going rate.
What about installing wiper inserts?
For most of our history we’ve been proponents of installing wiper inserts. An insert is just the rubber portion of the wiper blade. We’d disassemble the blade and slide a new piece of high-quality rubber in. Since NWB made the blades for Toyota and Honda, we’d just order the inserts from a dealer and when we replaced a customers wiper blade, we’d tell him, “When the wiper wears out, don’t throw away the blade. We stock the rubber insert and it will cost about 1/3 as much as a new blade.” We could order from Toyota or Honda. It didn’t matter. They were all NWB blades and interchangeable.
The end of a good thing
Then, for whatever reason, manufacturers started to mess things up. Different styles of blades and rubber inserts appeared. It was like the razor blade wars. Four blades and two lubrication strips for a “closer shave”. Different designs sprung up at an alarming pace, and of course none of them worked any better than the original design.
At the height of it we were stocking 73 different rubber inserts, priced between $6-$10. Stocking 4 of each meant an inventory of about $2500, in wiper inserts! But that wasn’t the main issue. Figuring out what kind of insert a car took was a big challenge, and ate up a lot of the mechanics time. Not to mention the time spent with putting wiper inserts away and entering inventory into the computer. We currently have whittled our wiper insert inventory down to about 40 part numbers, and will continue to reduce what we stock. Meantime, the number of designs are still increasing.
What does this mean for customers? Well, chances that we’ll have the right insert on hand are getting slimmer and slimmer. We’re still stocking inserts for cars with odd and expensive types of blades, but if a standard u-hook style blade fits on a car, that’s what we’ll use.