Windshield wiper blades play a crucial part in vehicle safety, but unless you live in a rainy climate, they're also easy to overlook. If you don't use them regularly you might not know they need to be replaced - until you really, really need them. Manufacturers typically recommend changing them every six months to once a year, but your own driving conditions might call for more frequent replacement. There's no hard-and-fast rule about when to change your wiper blades, but you can use a few criteria to decide when it's time.
When they visibly don't work well
For many drivers, the simplest answer is to replace the blades when they no longer work as they should. Your wipers might leave patches or streaks on your windshield, stutter their way across the glass, or clean one side of the windshield but not the other. Problems like these are a sign you should change your blades before your visibility gets any worse. This isn't necessarily the best strategy, because there's a chance your blades will reach an unsafe point before you notice they've deteriorated.
On a regular schedule
A better option is to check and replace your wiper blades on a regular schedule. Ideally you should inspect them at specific times, such as the beginning of each season. If necessary, use the calendar on your phone or computer to set a reminder. Anytime you see wear or damage to the blades, replace them immediately. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also recommends checking your blades, and replacing them if necessary, before taking road trips. Otherwise, follow the blade manufacturer's recommendation for replacement - typically every six to 12 months.
If you're in a harsh climate
Depending where you live, you might have to change your blades more frequently. In hot and sunny climates, dry heat and ultraviolet radiation can break down the rubber blades, causing them to crack or warp. At the other end of the climate spectrum, extremely cold and icy weather can also cause problems. Cold makes the blades brittle and icy conditions can cause them to stick to your windshield, making them easy to damage while loosening them from the glass. Year-round dirt such as road salt, dust and grit, or tar and other sticky debris from road work can also shorten their usable life. If any of these conditions apply to you, check your blades monthly or even weekly.
Getting the job done
When it's time to replace the wiper blades, you have plenty of options. Many parts stores will install them for you at the time of purchase, at little or no extra charge. They're quick and simple to replace by yourself, as well. Most modern vehicles have simple quick-release systems for their wiper blades, which allow you to remove and replace them in just moments. On classic or vintage vehicles, you might need to loosen a screw or tab to change them. Your replacement blades will usually have instructions printed on the packaging, and some manufacturers provide detailed diagrams or videos on their websites to demonstrate the process.