Get Your Vehicle Ready for Autumn

Visit the experts at for timely tips on your car.

By Peter D. duPre

Shorter fall days and cooler weather may have brought relief from summer heat but they are also a signal that it is time for some extra driving caution. As we go through fall and head into winter, the days will get shorter yet, and many of us will start and end our commutes in total darkness. Visibility in the dark is never all that good, and when you throw in an autumn rain, sleet or snow storm, it can drop to almost nothing.

All of which means that autumn requires a change in your driving habits. Follow these tips for safer driving this fall:

  • School’s in session — With the fall semester in full swing, children are out on the streets earlier than during the summer. Some almost never look for traffic and have a bad habit of bolting out from between parked cars. Keep your eyes peeled and slow down. School zones have reduced speed limits and most police won’t allow any speed leeway in these areas.
  • Allow more travel time — You should always drive slower when it is dark and visibility is reduced. That means your traveling time is increased, especially during inclement weather. Leave a few minutes earlier in the morning and increase your following distance by about a second.
  • Inclement weather — Indian summers, clear skies and cooler weather may lull you into a false sense of security but fall weather conditions can change abruptly. Thunder storms, sleet, hail and even snow are not that unusual. Roads covered with a summer’s worth of grease become slick when wet or covered with early morning frost, so anticipate those conditions.
  • Check the lights — In Sweden, Norway and Canada, where fall driving conditions are similar to much of the U.S., there are mandatory-lights laws — and not coincidentally, a lower accident rate. See and be seen. Drive with your headlamps on, even if it’s not dark. Before starting out on any trip, walk around the car and make sure your taillights, parking lights, stop lights, directionals, emergency flashers and headlights are all working properly. Have your mechanic aim and adjust your headlights. New cars are equipped with bright-burning halogen headlights that increase visibility. If you own an older vehicle with standard sealed-beam headlamps, consider converting to halogen lamps. The cost is more than offset by improved visibility and safety.
  • Change the wiper blades — Safety experts say wiper blades should be changed every 5,000 to 6,000 miles, or twice a year. Most of us don’t change the blades even once a year. Check front and rear wipers. Examine the rubber; it should be flexible, without any missing chunks and should clear the glass without leaving any streaks. If the blades aren’t performing perfectly, replace them.
  • Check the brakes and tires — If tires and brakes aren’t in good condition, you won’t be able to stop on slick roadways. Tires should have plenty of tread on them; if the wear bars are showing, it’s time for new rubber. Most tire and brake shops will inspect your tires and brakes for free.
  • Heater and defroster check — Fogged-up windows limit visibility and are a safety hazard. Make sure both front and rear defrosters are working properly. Front blower hoses sometimes get knocked off the defroster vents and the electric wire in the rear defogger can break. Most auto parts stores sell special kits to repair these breaks. While you are at it, have your heating system inspected. A cold car is uncomfortable, and a distraction to safe driving.
  • Look under the hood — Don’t get stranded in the dark. Have your mechanic check the condition of the coolant, belts and hoses. Get the chassis lubed, air filter replaced, oil and filter changed and battery inspected. A little work now can save a big towing bill later. You can make an appointment for a fall vehicle inspection right now with iCARumba’s Find a Shop tool.
  • Wash and wax — A vehicle’s first line of defense against the elements is a good wash and wax job to protect the metal surfaces from pitting and corroding, and keeps your car looking its best. Get rid of that summer grime and apply a thick coat of protective wax.
  • Relax — This may seem like a lot to get done before the Monday morning commute, but it really adds up to just a few minutes for the self-inspection, and to make an appointment with your shop if needed. For safety sake, check lights first, then do the tires, brakes, and wiper blades. And in general, simply begin your day 10 minutes earlier, have that second cup of coffee (decaf, please!) and start your commute in a relaxed a state as possible — good advice at any time of year.
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