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Does Wiper Blade Size Matter?

A windshield viewed from the inside of a car driving down a highway.

Your car’s windshield wipers are your first line of defense when you’re driving in nasty weather. Luckily wipers blades themselves are affordable and easy to replace on most vehicles. Walking down the aisle at your local NAPA Auto Parts store you probably noticed that replacement wiper blades come in many different sizes, which means you have countless options to consider as you shop for replacements. What impact does windshield wiper blade size have on your wipers’ ability to safely and effectively get the job done? Let’s take a closer look at these factors when it comes time to replace your wiper blades.

Wiper Blade Size Requirements

Your car’s wiper blades (also called windscreen wiper blades in some parts of the world) are designed to give the driver and front passenger a clear view out of the windshield when rain or snow is falling. The wipers accomplish this by quickly clearing precipitation off wide areas of the glass.

To a certain extent, the size of the windshield wiper blades will affect their ability to keep the glass free of precipitation. Wiper blades that are too small will leave large areas of the glass uncleared, and wiper blades that are too large may hit the top windshield trim, causing premature wear. They might also become entangled with each other, which could cause damage to the windshield blades and arms.

The size of the windscreen wiper blades themselves comes down to how the windshield glass was designed by the automaker’s engineers. A big windshield glass area is going to need a big windshield wiper or several smaller wipers. Older classic cars with more upright windshields typically used shorter wipers, but modern cars with laid back aerodynamic glass need longer blades to reach farther. For example classic first generation Mustangs and Camaros only needed  15″ long wiper blades, but their modern versions need blades 22″ or longer in some cases.

The most common windshield wiper mechanism design uses two wiper blades moving in an arc across the windshield glass choreographed to not hit each other. Mercedes-Benz threw the industry for a curveball in the 1980s by using a single 24″ long wiper blade coupled to a highly complex windshield wiper mechanism that could swipe nearly the whole area at once (but the idea was abandoned a few years later). It is also common for the two wiper blades to be different sizes as they are designed to clear different areas of the windshield.

For all these reasons, it’s essential to know what size of wiper blades is required for your particular vehicle. You can find this information in your car’s owner’s manual. If the manual isn’t available, you can also do an online search to figure out your automaker’s recommendations around blade size. If you are confident that the current wiper blades are the correct size (or even the original ones) you can simply grab a measuring tape and measure them yourself.

Can I Deviate From the Automaker’s Recommended Blade Size?

What if you come across a pair of blades you like that isn’t an exact match for your car based on the automaker’s recommendations?

It is possible to deviate from the automaker’s recommended windshield wiper blade size without compromising the safety and efficiency of your blades in some cases. However, for this to work, you need to choose blades that don’t differ too much in size from those recommended by your carmaker. It’s generally recommended that you choose blades that are no more than one inch larger or smaller than what the manufacturer recommends. Just be prepared to go back to your original wiper blade size if things don’t work right or if your visibility is compromised.

Tips for Choosing Safe Wiper Blades

Size isn’t the only thing to consider when you’re choosing wiper blades. They’ve changed a lot over the years, and some modern blades come with design elements that can improve performance.

Here are a couple more tips for choosing wiper blades:

  • Consider beam blades. Traditional wiper blades are essentially straight, and they use hinges to conform to your car’s curved windshield. Beam blades are built to curve naturally, so they do a better job of hugging the windshield than traditional wiper blades do. Their unique design makes beam blades quieter and more efficient than traditional wiper blades.
  • Look for a blade with a performance spoiler. A performance spoiler is a piece of rubber that spans the wiper blade. It helps the blade perform more effectively by reducing drag and increasing downward pressure on the windshield.
  • Some wiper blade manufacturers have found a way to impregnate the blade material itself with a water repellent coating that helps your windshield glass shed rain and snow. Windshield glass treatment has been around for years, but by adding the water repellent compound to the wipers themselves it has never been easier to use.

Wiper blades are a vital safety feature in rain and snow. For the best results, select blades that are sized and designed to provide reliable performance for your particular vehicle, and remember to change your windscreen wiper blades regularly to keep them at their best.

Check out all the windshield wipers and wiper accessories available on NAPAOnline, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on what size of wiper blades you need, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.

Photos courtesy of Unsplash.


Warren Clarke View All

I'm a writer and editor who's a regular contributor with the New York Daily News and Carfax, and my content has appeared in over 20 publications. I've written content that covers industries such as automotive, medical, insurance, healthcare, real estate, plumbing, pest control, dental and hospitality.

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