Choosing the right wiper blade can be a stressful task. First, why are there so many to choose from? Second, why do prices vary so much? Am I really benefiting more from the $26 blade than I am the $5 blade? Aren’t they all the same? Let’s first look at the types of wiper blades available. Brands and specialty blades aside, there are two definitive styles of wiper blade: the traditional blade, and the beam blade.

The primary feature of the traditional blade is the replaceable rubber element. As we can see from the graphic above, (fig.1) there are metal “claws” which hold the strip of rubber to the frame of the wiper blade. Another notable feature of the traditional blade is the levels – or spring elements – which apply pressure to the rubber at eight key points. The traditional style blade is your more economical blade. It’s popular with many consumers because the rubber wiping element is replaceable – Westbay/Napa Auto parts sells wiper refills – which means less expensive wiper replacements. This does not, however, make the traditional blade the obvious choice. The traditional blade features spring pressure points which hold the rubber element to your windshield. When these springs begin to deteriorate, it causes streaking with each wipe. Nothing is more annoying than that.

With the introduction of the beam blade, we now have wiper blades that completely eliminate any metal fixtures. The design relies on a single pressure point – in the middle of the blade – to disperse pressure evenly across the length of the wiper blade. The beam blade is a single, solid piece of rubber. This means that there are no replaceable parts. When the beam blade wears out, the entire piece must be replaced.

How can we determine which blade will better suit your needs? Let’s start with the windshield. What does yours look like?

Most older vehicles – and many trucks and Jeeps – feature very flat windshields. (fig.2) Traditional blades work wonderfully on these types of vehicles. The spring pressure points ensure equal pressure along the length of the blade to maintain constant rubber-glass contact. Again, the rubber pieces on these traditional blades can be replaced, making them popular with savings conscious customers. It’s important to note that not all manufacturers design their blades the same way. So when asking your auto parts professional for wiper blade refills, make sure you know who makes your blades!

Does your windshield look more like the one on this Volkswagen? (fig.3) The traditional blades cannot hug the curves of this windshield thanks to that durable, metal frame. It’s recommended to upgrade to the beam blade for vehicles like this one. Since the beam blade is a single piece of rubber, there are no metal parts to keep it rigid. The single pressure point in the middle of the blade disperses pressure evenly along the length of the blade. This allows the rubber to curve as your windshield curves. Another impressive feature of the beam blade is the aerodynamic spoiler that keeps your wiper blade pressed firmly against your windshield, even at high speeds.

Next time you go shopping for wiper blades, just take a quick peek at your vehicle and the shape of the windshield.