I bring to you a public service announcement aimed at fighting waste: If your wipers are bad, you do not have to replace the whole arm. In fact, doing so could be a silly way to throw away money and precious natural resources. Instead—as I recently learned wrenching on Project Krassler—you might consider replacing only the rubber strip, called the “refill.”
I fully expect old-timers in our audience to email me about how silly it is that I’m writing about windshield wiper refills. “Who doesn’t know this?” they’ll quip, not realizing that, actually, many folks don’t. When most people arrive at the store to replace their chewed-up windshield wipers, they’re often greeted by an enormous selection of wiper blades. You know, these things:
Have you ever wondered to yourself why it is that you replace the entire blade? It’s not like the metal wears out. I mean, sometimes it warps a bit, and the paint comes off, but for the most part, people replace their wipers because the rubber strip has become a bit tattered. So why not just replace just what failed?
This, as I understand, used to be more common years ago, but nowadays, people tend to just buy new blades, metal housing and all (though some folks prefer beam-style blades like the one below).
The flat/beam blades shown above, which have become quite common in the past decade, aren’t made to have just their rubber bits swapped out, but the old-school, standard wiper blades are.
These are the ones that are usually metal, and—as auto parts supplier Champion writes—connect a single “central bridge” to the rubber strip via “articulating links” that create four to eight pressure points to help the spring in the wiper arm create a uniform pressure on the windshield. You’re probably quite well acquainted with this style of wiper blade, shown on the left below:
I had to replace the rear beam-style blade on my 1994 Chrysler Voyager (shown at the top of this post), but upon initially seeing how my arm is set up, I was a bit concerned. The issue is that my blade has integrated washer nozzles, meaning I knew I couldn’t just walk to the local store here in Germany and snag a new blade. “Crap, I’m gonna have to order one from eBay and wait a week,” I said aloud.
“Uh, just replace the rubber,” my mechanic friend Tim told me. “What?” I asked. For some reason, that thought had never occurred to me, possibly because wiper assemblies are so cheap these days. “Yeah, I’ll order a new strip,” and you’ll have at least that ready for inspection by tomorrow,” Tim continued. He called the store and ordered the part.
He didn’t just choose a standard piece to be cut to size, though he could have. Instead, I measured my wiper at around 45 centimeters, and the store ordered the closest size.
The next day was one of enlightenment. Tim showed me that all I had to do was use pliers to pull out the two long strips of metal that held the wiper in place. You can see in the image below how the metal strips fill in the gaps in the rubber, pressing the rubber tight against the metal wiper “claws,” holding everything in place.
Slide the two strips out, and the floppy, now-backboneless rubber piece will just pull right out of the claws.
Slide a new wiper “refill” into the claws, and shove the two strips until they reach the “stop” in the refill (shown below), and you’re all done. It takes two minutes max if you have a good set of thin-nose vice grips.
Per wiper blade company Trico, replacing just the refill can be only half the price of swapping a full blade. It should be no surprise that I, as a certified Cheap Bastard™, fully endorse this kind of cost-saving:
I have to say that, in addition to the cost savings and the environmental benefits, swapping wiper refills is just satisfying. I’m not sure why. But it just is. Try it sometime!
Updated 3/3/22 with new details.