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Seeing Clearly

Created by dave. Last edited by dave, 13 years and 305 days ago. Viewed 2,528 times. #1
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(Originally posted 2 March 2006)

One of the delights of owning a car is dealing with the inevitable wearing-out of components. When a large, complicated component like a radiator wears out, the car goes back to the shop; however when something small and simple wears out, I deal with it myself.

The delight comes from entering that bastion of self-reliance, Canadian Tire, and looking at the vast array of options available for replacing that worn-out part. One gazes upon the row on row of identical-looking yet differentially priced components and realizes that despite being a man one really doesn't have the first idea what any of this means or is good for.

This year's adventure was two-fold.

At the beginning of the year we decided we needed new winter windshield wiper blades. Now this should not be anywhere near the rocket-science complexity that it is. One should be able to peruse a list of part numbers and automobile types, select the blade that is sized and shaped for your automobile, and then go on your merry way.

(Actually replacing the summer blades with the new winter ones, a process which always seems to take place one evening when the temperature has dropped to minus 10 with a wind chill and you can't do this with your gloves on can you -- this is left as an exercise for the reader.)

The problem -- that is, the challenge -- is that winter wiper blades have obviously failed to keep up with the technological challenge presented by wind, snow, ice, and automotive safety glass.

With my first winter car the process was easy. I went to Petro Canada and purchased the appropriate $3 blades, took them home, stuck them on and drove away. The blades didn't do as good a job in the winter as the summer ones did in the summer, but we were young and didn't know any better. Most of the time one could see through the windshield and that was enough.

I even repeated this process with the Subaru when it was new.

However at some point Petro Canada stopped being a viable option for me, mostly because I moved out someplace where the closest Petro Canada was 20 minutes away, a drive which required me to pass two Shells, two Essos, and a Sunoco. I gave up on Petro Canada, and my chosen replacement Esso did not provide me with any blade options at all, so I resorted to Canadian Tire.

At the time, Canadian Tire had their own version of the $3 wiper blades. They cost $5, and didn't do as good a job at clearing the windshield. They were not as well engineered or made, with the result that the joints tended to stick, requiring one to flex the blades before their use was anticipated. They also didn't last as long, requiring replacement every second winter. But most of the time we could see through the windshield, even if we did have to stop occasionally to flex them.

When we acquired the Mazda, we also put this type of blades on it during the winter. Neither Jenn nor I were happy with them, but at the time I had completely forgotten about the Petro Canada blades and figured we were stuck with these.

Three or four years ago Canadian Tire started innovating with wiper technology. The one I really remember is their "Teflon" series of wiper blades, so named because the blade was coated with a Teflon compound which allegedly made it more likely clear the windshield. They also had re-engineered joints and rubber boots to cover the joints.

And they cost $13 each.

Now inflation had been at work on the $5 blades and I believe today they are $8 blades, but however you look at it the price difference between the two types was rather sharp. And I remember wondering how on earth these new blades could possibly be better than the cheap ones. However, it being the first winter snowfall and me having put on the now-two-years-old set and I was already tired with having to constantly flex the joints on them. I think it was also Christmas shopping time, which didn't do much for either my good mood or my inclination to spend twice what I had previously on blades, and for two cars to boot. But believing in the inevitable march forward in technology, I bought them.

And unbelievably, they were even worse than the cheap ones.

Where the cheap ones smeared grime across the windshield, the new ones wouldn't even move it. Where the cheap ones would require flexing before you drove off, the new ones would make just _two_ back-and-forth passes across the windshield before a joint froze. Where the cheap ones would lift off the windshield at high speed, these new ones chattered at any speed faster than 55 km/h. Where the cheap ones madean annoying noise, the new ones made an incredibly loud noise on my car.

We even used them for a second year, just because we'd paid so much for them. We roundly despised the damn things, but we used them.

Last year, Canadian Tire started advertising these Reflex blades. They had a thinner profile so they didn't chatter in the wind. They had a joint-free, flexed curve to them so the blades stayed in constant contact with the windshield. And the scrubbing blade itself was the result of all this engineering.

At the time I ignored them because I was going to get my $13 (no sorry, four blades is $52) worth out of the existing ones. I snickered a bit, wondering if suckers were really going to fall for this wiper-blade-of-the-year that seemed to be happening. But this year they were done and we were not going to suffer with them any more, so back to Canadian Tire I went, to gaze upon this addition to the windshield wiper family.

At, I kid you not, $19 each. ($24< for each of the longer ones.) The cost of wiper blades had gone from $10 to outfit my stupid little Honda to almost $100 for the family's cars.

Anyways, I decided I was a sucker (and I could always go back to the now-comparatively-cheap $13 blades in a year or two if I hated these ones) so I bought them for both cars.

And surprisingly, these blades actually work. And they actually work well. The engineered curve to the blade's metal backbone keeps it against the windshield. The blade removes snow, slush, and dirt. Itdoesn't make a bad noise against the windshield when it moves. And it doesn't chatter, even at 120 km/h.

They work almost as well in the winter as the summer blades do in the summer. I was stunned, fully expecting these visibly distinct blades to be this year's I am a sucker! badge to be displayed to the world.

Sometimes technology really can make things better. It's clearly improved the visibility from both cars, and the higher price definitely does something for Canadian Tire's bottom line.

Anyways, this long story came to mind because of yesterday's trip to Canadian Tire. You see, one of my low beams wasn't working.

This trip has been anticipated for quite some time. On the Mazda we have replaced both bulbs ourselves, and the last time in the shop the garage did one there. The Subaru, on the other hand, is still tooling around with the bulbs that were in the car when I got it new 10 and a half years ago. So when a low beam started to misbehave, I didn't complain -- I figured I was due.

So what, lightbulbs be lightbulbs, right?

No sir. You have your cheap bulbs at $8, your Cool Blue bulbs at $17, your XtraVision High Output bulbs at $12, your Sylvania bulbs at $18, and your Silverstar bulbs at $26. This is a dizzying array of options.

Now I've always been interested in the amount and quality of light the front of my car could put out. I put high-quality Sylvania sealed-beams in my Honda and also added a set of 55-watt Bosch driving lights wired into the high beams. When I turned the high-beams on, it was a wall of light coming out the front of that car. I even purchased 110-watt bulbs for the driving lights but never worked up the nerve to install them. The 110s were definitely illegal for the street, and I was pleased enough with the 55s that it never became an issue.

Having that amount of light on the front of the car means that you have to be careful where you leave your high-beams on. Normal cars are annoying-to-dazzling when their drivers leave the high-beams on; the Honda was described by some people as like looking into the rising sun.

When the Subaru came along I was displeased with the comparatively low amount of light it projected, however there is a big difference between drilling holes in a $2K Honda and drilling holes in a $30K Subaru, so I never actually worked up the nerve to buy and install extra lights.

When the Mazda bulbs died we just got the stock cheap bulbs and they worked fine. They (apparently) didn't last as long as whatever it is Subaru puts in; but they worked. So when the issue of the Subaru came up and me being cheap broke practical cheap, I figured that the basic bulbs would do the trick.

Except: Canadian Tire didn't have any of the type that the Subaru needed. And since I needed to drive last night, I needed the bulbs right then.

Oh dear what to do now? This is a perfect opportunity to spend a ton of money making a mistake.

After peering at the offerings and reading the hype-driven backs of the packages, I eventually decided to go for the top of the line Silverstar bulbs, to the tune of about $60 total. Well I had to buy two,right? Otherwise I would have one bright shiny bulb and one cheap yellowy bulb, and we can't have that.

So that evening after Alex had finished his supper, I ducked out to the garage to install my new premium headlamps. This being the first time I had replaced these bulbs, I needed to review the owner's manual to figure out how to take the required parts of the car apart. Eventually with a little prying and a bit of blood spilled, I got the connector off the back of the bulb and the rubber boot off the headlight bracket.

One of the first things I noticed was some corrosion on one of the connectors. No, strike that, a lot of corrosion on one of the connectors, with matching corrosion on the bulb's contact. I cleaned the connector up the best I could, and then extracted the old bulb and replaced it with the new one. Then I carefully reassembled everything.

Now as part of my job I occasionally write small scripts to do certain tasks. I don't have to do it very often, which means that when I do I lack confidence in my ability to write error-free code. I end up writing small pieces of the script and then test the heck out of it before proceeding with the next small bit. It isn't a fast process, but generally speaking when I'm done with something it works.

Applying this lack of confidence to my current task meant that I immediately turned the car on to make sure that my newly-assembled headlight would project light correctly. And to my dismay, the new bulb wouldn't project the low-beam either.

This annoyed me because it meant that I had just spent $65 that I didn't have to spend in order to find out that there was an electrical problem with the car. Not that the total amount had much to do with my annoyance; had it been $20 with two cheap bulbs I would likely have been just as annoyed.

And being the bright sort, I figured that it might have something to do with the corrosion I cleaned off of the connector earlier.

So I took the connector of the back of the bulb again so I could spend the next five minutes cleaning it up and reshaping the connector to optimise the contact between the connector and the bulb. Testing it after reassembly showed that this time it worked, and that the next time I have a misbehaving lowbeam I should take the connectors off of the back of the offending bulb and see if there was an electrical fault.

Replacing the partner bulb went much more quickly since I A) now knew what I was doing and B) wasn't dealing with a misbehaving and corroded connector plug. And now I had bright shiny new premium Silverstar lightbulbs.

The completely unscientific test of shining them on the junk at the back of the garage (after one bulb replacement was complete but before starting the other one) shows that the Silverstar light is whiter and appears to be brighter, even when projected through grimy light lenses.

Driving around with them last night and early this morning revealed that they were a vast improvement over having just a single original bulb in the car. Whether they are worth the 3x price paid for the cheap bulbs are yet to be seen.

The Internet is depressingly predicting that these bulbs could require replacement in as little as a year; if that is the case I will definitely go back to the adequate-yet-cheaper standard bulbs. I no longer spend as much time in the car as I did when I had the Honda, and I don't spend as great a percentage of that time driving at night as I used to, so the cheap bulbs will be perfectly adequate for my needs.

I still somehow feel a bit suckered by the advertising and the technology; I really wonder if the premium stuff is really worth the extra money paid. Getting taken by the "Teflon" blades just reinforces the perception of being a sucker, and keeps me wondering about the wisdom of whatever the result of my next little adventure to Canadian Tire is.

(I'd also really like to know what brand of bulb Subaru put in the car originally since they really lasted well. If I knew the bulbs would last 10 more years, I'd immediately pay $30 each.)

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