Windshield Wiper Blades

“I’m a man, and I can change, if I have to … I guess.” — Man’s Prayer, from The Red Green Show

I already knew it was high time for me to replace those wiper blades. Desert heat and road dust are murderous on the soft rubber parts, as you know. When it rained, which has not been often, my wiper blades would squeal and chatter. They’d just smear the rain and dirt in a wide arc across my line of sight, which is probably more dangerous than no wipers at all. I have a road trip to the North Bay coming up on Thanksgiving Day, and they’re predicting heavy rain.

The first thing I did is bundle up in a jacket and hat because it’s cold outside. I grabbed my keys and wallet just in case.

I had some Toyota wiper blade inserts, brand new, though they’d been in the car trunk for years. I never threw them out, even though I’d had previous problems trying to get them to attach to the wiper arms, some years back. This time I was determined there should be a way to make them work!

Now, there are some problems nowadays I didn’t have a long time ago. My close-up eyesight isn’t what it used to be, so I’ve learned I need strong light for detail work. Second, they’ve changed everything!

For the life of me I just could not see how the old wiper rubber blade inserts could be removed. I was able to figure out how to remove the whole wiper arm assembly and take it out of the carport into strong sunlight. I’d been using Rainex brand wiper system. Nope, either there’s no way to remove the insert, or there is but it’s incompatible with my old inserts. It looked like the old inserts are machine-crimped permanently into place. The only good news was that I was able to figure out how to put the wiper arm assembly back on the car.

That’s how my wallet and car keys play a part in my story. I drove to our local auto parts house on the Boulevard. I saw some Rainex blade assembles on display behind the counter, so I waited my turn for some help. The gentleman who helped me looked up the size for a 1999 Solara. They are actually different sizes for left and right wipers: 22″ and 21″, respectively.

My clerk took me over to the aisle with their main shelf stock of wiper blades. Thank goodness! They had about ten lineal feet of shelving devoted to just this one product line, tiered three rows high. They manufacture more different brands and models of wiper blades than Campbell sells in soups.

“Do you want Rainex, Anco, Bosch or one of these other brands?”

I shrugged and gave him that same look you’d give your waiter if he asked if you’d like to try the pate foi gras. “I don’t know … what do you recommend?”

Though pleasant enough, he was having none of my slipperiness. The customer has the inalienable obligation to choose! “Any of them are good: Rainex, Anco, Bosch or one of these other brands …”

I picked Bosch because it’s an old brand I recognize. Rainex is a good product but I was a little peeved with Rainex at the moment.

Surely you’re beginning to realize we can’t buy just the $1.29 rubber blade inserts any more, aren’t you? The system is rigged so we end up buying the whole assembly. Left and right Bosch blade assemblies cost me $30 (about the same as the other brands). And we’re supposed to replace them about every six months. This means you and I are in the wrong business.

Back in the dark shade of the apartment carport it’d taken me 15 minutes to figure out how to get the Rainex assemblies on and off. Here, in the sunshine in the shopping center parking lot, it became apparent the Bosch system was somewhat different. A stamped metal keeper cage swivels in and out to supposedly grip the wiper assembly firmly. I thought I had gotten the left-hand assembly installed OK, though I didn’t hear any clicking to suggest it had locked into place.

But after ten minutes of me diddling and futzing with the right-hand assembly, the Bosch retainer keeper popped out of the assemble completely, leaving me with two parts in my hand where there was only supposed to be one.

Figuring I’d just ruined one-half of my $30 investment, I swallowed my pride and went back into the store clutching my failure like a Bronze Medal. My sales clerk looked at the parts and saw what I’d done. He popped the keeper piece back into place, and volunteered that maybe he better come out to the parking lot and give me a hand. I gratefully led him to my car.

He had the Bosch on in thirty seconds, explaining the sequence of attachment as he went. But his hand was in the way, and my eyes are not so quick as they used to be.

He said “There! You’re all set!”

I said “Should we maybe – could we just check my work on the left side?”

Sure enough, it would have popped off the first time I turned on the wipers. He fixed that side too. I thanked him and shook his hand. Now safely back in my car, I turned on the windshield washer to test my new blades. They squeegeed a clean clear path of vision on the first pass over the glass.

So what I learned for sure is that next time I want to leave all this to an expert. Times have changed, and we must change with them … I guess.

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Michelin Tires Saved My Bacon

I’d just bought a brand-new set of four Michelin Energy 205/60/16 tires for my ’99 Camry Solara on October 4.  This isn’t a review of the tires – see a typical review here – but if you wanted to know what brand tires I’d recommend, more than ever, my answer would be “Michelin.”

On October 19 I set off on the return leg of my monthly road trip from Phoenix to the Bay Area. There was a freeway-speed road incident on Interstate 5 — yes, yes, I and the car are fine. As far as I’m concerned, Michelin saved my bacon. As I wrote a friend,

“Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”

A pickup swerved violently into my lane. I swerved to avoid collision. Hit the sand and gravel highway shoulder, started to spin out, careened across the other lane and into the median strip trying to recover, did a slow horizontal 180 without rolling (like a high-speed dodgem car), tires screaming and howling, and ended up stopped on the right shoulder – facing backwards. Not a scratch, dent, not hurt, glad to be alive. Brand new Michelins just paid for themselves.

Michelin Energy (after)

Inspecting For Damage

A big-rig pulled over to see if he could help, as did several passenger cars. Cal-Trans joined us. Witnesses said the black pick-up pulled over but then left the scene. I saw nothing else outside my own immediate situation; I was busy at the time. :-)

On closer inspection of the tires, the left-front had trapped roadside shoulder “straw” between the tire bead and the rim, but the bead didn’t break loose and I was able to drive the rest of the way home. The tread near the sidewall is well-scrubbed. See below for a detail photo. I have an appointment for a tire check.

Straw still stuck between bead and rim after 200 freeway miles

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CostCo Fixes a Flat

Back in September 2006, we posted a note called Boy Mechanic Changes A Flat, and CostCo’s excellent service when we replaced the tires all around.

This week we found the left front radial had gone almost flat, and so put some air in the tire and made our way to the local CostCo tire center to see what they would do for us.

I couldn’t find my receipt for the tires, but CostCo found the original transaction on their computer in about five seconds. My car’s turn for service came just as I had finished shopping inside. The mechanic pulled a nail out of the center of the tread and had it plugged and patched, with me on my way home, in less than half an hour more. No charge.

This kind of no-hassle service buys a lot of loyalty in my book. Think about CostCo next time you shop for tires.

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