How to Extend The Life of Your Car Lights and Wipers

Holiday/Seasonal - Rainy Headlights

This is really mostly about being able to see properly, and be seen, when it’s raining or dark or both, isn’t it? We generally manage just fine on nice sunny days, but when it’s wet or dark out, there’s that instinctive reaction to squeeze the steering wheel a little tighter, lean a little forward, squint, and clench the upholstery.  And to make your day even more interesting, it gets dark, making you rely on your car lights and wipers to keep from running into things, and the tail lights to keep other people from running into you. Geez, it’s enough to make you stay home and watch reality TV instead of driving anywhere. Meh, maybe not.

Here are some simple things that will let you keep your car lights and wipers healthy and working properly. 

1. Park In The Shade

Or indoors. Those rubber wiper blades will eventually soak up their limit of UV radiation, get hard, crack and stop wiping the water from the glass. Side benefit: all the vinyl plastic in your interior will last longer, and you’ll be able to get into the car on sunny days without burning your…fingers. Your plastic headlamp lenses won’t haze up nearly as quickly, to boot.

2. Keep The Car Lights And Wipers Clean

Dirt and dust are mostly silicates (beach sand, only smaller), which means they are harder than the window glass and can scratch it. Abrasive dirt will also wear out your rubber wiper blades. If you must run the wiper blades to actually clean off the windshield, at least give it a generous shot of windshield wiper fluid, which will help sweep the dirt free, and at least provide some lubrication. Do Not just swipe the dry windshield with the wipers.

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3. Clean The Wiper Blades Every Couple Of Weeks

Take a soft cloth and dampen it with some rubbing alcohol. Pull the wiper blades clear of the glass, and clean them by rubbing the alcohol cloth along their length. This will remove contaminants and oxidized rubber from the blades. They’ll work better and last longer.

4. Clean The Windshield With 0000 Steel Wool

No, I’m not kidding. Clean the glass with window cleaner and a rag, then wet some 0000 (Extra-fine) steel wool and polish the glass to get the final vestiges of film, oily residue, pollen and tree sap off. Follow up with some Rain-X (follow the instructions on the bottle for this). Your windshield will be amazingly clean, and the Rain-X will keep the raindrops so agitated you won’t need the wipers at all if you’re going more than 30 mph or so.

5. Polish Your Headlights

Modern polycarbonate headlights are great: they’re lightweight, can be molded into exotic shapes to complement your car’s styling, and are just about impossible to break. Unfortunately, a steady diet of acid rain and UV light will make them haze out. And that will substantially reduce the amount of light they throw down the road. Odds are, the  trouble you think you’ve been having with your night vision isn’t a carrot deficiency, it’s hazy headlights. Hit the auto parts store for a headlight-polishing kit, and follow the instructions. Having tried virtually every kit on the market, I’ve settled on two: the 3M kit that uses a drill for really badly hazed lenses, and Sylvania’s because it has a vial of clear coating to keep the lenses clear longer. Otherwise, they’re all basically just fine wet-or-dry sandpaper and some rubbing compound.  (Do Not skip the step in the instructions where you mask off the surrounding paint with tape. Don’t ask how I know this…)

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Don’t feel like trashing your manicure? No problem. Any detailing shop, full-service car wash or auto-body shop can polish your car lights and wipers at modest cost.And when you’re done, get some car wax that touts its SPF qualities on the label and wax the headlights to keep the UV at bay. Come to think of it, wax the whole car—your paint will last longer too.

Mike Allen- is a guest writer for the Openbay blog. He’s an ASE-certified mechanic, longtime former editor of Popular Mechanics, and world-record-holding race-car driver. For more on Mike, check out his bio here, and find him on his own site, Saturday Mechanic.