We certainly take them for granted. They rarely get changed unless they are falling apart and there is precipitation to remind us that they have aged out of their useful life.
By the same token they can be a life saver when that bad weather enters our road trip and we owe it to ourselves and our passengers to pay respect to the lowly wiper.
You also need to understand that the wiper does not do its job alone. It is highly dependant on the windshield (or windscreen for those that drive on the left) for its effectiveness.
Over the years the technology of the windshield wiper systems has made modest gains. Early cars had none. Later there were ones operated by hand and then later by the vacuum produced by the engine. Those vacuum actuated wipers were almost comical in their operation as the vacuum generated by the engine would vary with engine speed and so would the wipers. I remember being in an old Jeep with those vacuum wipers and watching as snow hit the windshield and as the driver pressed on the accelerator that the wiper suddenly crawled across the glass and then, just as suddenly, picked up its regular speed. On my side was also a wiper, but I had to reach up and move it back and forth across the glass myself.
The electric motors that operate today’s wipers have been enhanced by electronic timers that the driver can adjust so that the speed of the wiping action is set to the volume of precipitation. Intermittent wipers.
Key to all this is the harmony between the windshield and the wipers. You can help this by doing a couple of things. First, don’t plan to use a set of blades for more than six months. In some weather conditions this will be shortened to half that time. If you are not able to store your car in a garage and live in hot sunny weather, you can expect that the blades will deteriorate quickly and require replacement sooner than six months.
Second, keep your windshield clean. I don’t mean that you should run your wipers and spray washer fluid every chance you get either. Take the time to lift the wiper arms away from the glass and clean the windshield inside and out. You will appreciate the improvement at night in good weather as well.
So what should you use to clean your windshield? In the “old” days newspapers was an excellent choice, but since inks are no longer kerosene-based you had better resort to a good quality spray on water-based cleaner and a low quality paper towel. What you say? A low quality paper towel? What I have found is that the high quality paper towels that do such a great job in the kitchen are not that effective on auto glass. They tend to leave lint and often times have additives for strength and absorption that result in smeary windshields.
The best towel (so far) that I have found is the cheaper Scott towels. They don’t leave anything objectionable behind and dry very well.
I happen to favor a glass cleaning product called “Perfect Glass”, but I’ve also found that with the right paper towel most cleaners perform very well.
Once that glass is clean and dry inside and out (it may take a couple of cleanings), it is time to replace the wiper blades. You have several choices here. You can replace just the rubber blades or you can replace the section that holds the blades. I tend to do the latter because of the mechanical spring tension that keeps the blades in contact with the glass is also affected by wear and corrosion.
When you replace the assembly you also have some choices. My current favorite is Exact Fit blade assemblies. They fit very well and use high quality materials in their construction. If I lived in snow country I would definitely purchase assemblies that were made for the winter precipitation and are covered in rubber to keep out freezing rain and snow. On my Mitsubishi Evolution I purchase factory blade assemblies as I find them superior to any aftermarket sets.
Be sure to fill your windshield washer reservoir with a good quality washer fluid and do your best never to let it get empty. If you let it get empty and leave it that way it can mean the end of the pump as most designs rely on the fluid to keep the diaphragms from drying out and cracking. A good quality washer fluid should also contain an antifreeze agent. It not only keeps the stuff from freezing, it can also act as an additional solvent helping your wipers to push away material from bugs, road grime, salt, and precipitation.
In between replacements take the time to clean the windshield and also clean off the blades edges. As it wipes the glass it accumulates a lot of dirt that scratches the glass and leads to early end of life.
As you windshield ages it will get pitted and scratched so keep in mind it may reach a point where it too should be replaced. Keep that comprehensive insurance covereage in force it might pay off.
Your windshield is there to protect your eyes and provide you with a less windy experience. Your wipers are there provide better visibility in bad weather. Give them a chance to do their best for you and spend a little time and money. it will pay you back.
The history of the windshield wiper can be found at: http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blanderson.htm