Time to say good-bye to summer and get ready for shorter days, cooler nights and falling leaves. Autumn, which officially occurs Tuesday, September 23 this year, has its own set of challenges for drivers in all parts of the country. With these tips for routine fall car care and safe driving, you can weather the autumn roads.
Get your ride ready for fall
Picture yourself stranded on the side of a country road with a flat tire, a dead battery or failed brakes that caused you to slam your car into that charming stone wall. Throw in an autumn rain storm to add to the misery. Bet you’re wishing you’d taken time for a little routine fall maintenance. October is Fall Car Care Month, but why wait? Take your car to your favorite mechanic for these proactive steps, recommended by the Car Care Council:
- Check the battery and charging system. If your battery is more than three years old, think about replacing it before it fails on a dark, lonely road. At minimum, make sure the connections are clean, tight and free of corrosion.
- Check your tires for uneven or excessive wear and tread depth. Have your wheels aligned and rotate the tires to prevent early wear.
- Check your brake linings, rotors and drums for wear. Make sure the fluid levels are up.
- Check the HVAC system to make sure your heater and ventilation is working properly. Change the air filters while you’re at it.
- Check the windshield wiper blades. These should be replaced every six months, anyway, so might as well do it now. Fill up the windshield washer reservoir, too.
Fall road hazards
- The autumn leaves drift by your window. They also pile up on the roadway. Rain falls. The leaves turn to slimy slick patches that are as dangerous as ice. They obscure potholes, curbs and street markings. Watch for them. On the other hand, if you live in areas of the country that are drought-stricken, avoid parking your car over piles of dry fallen leaves (or any dry foliage). Your catalytic converter could spark a fire.
- Frost and ice. While September frosts are unusual in most parts of the country, they do happen, particularly in shady spots on roadways. Be especially careful when driving over bridges, which can freeze up faster than the rest of the road because they are exposed from the top and bottom.
- Fall is deer mating season, so the danger of a deer darting onto a road, especially between dusk and dawn, increases now. Running into a deer will definitely ruin your day and your car. They tend to run in small herds, so if you see one, be alert for more. Allow more distance between you and the car ahead and always buckle up. If you do hit a deer, pull to the side of the road, turn on your hazard lights, call the police or highway patrol and stay in your car. Do not attempt to approach the animal. If it isn’t dead, it could injure you. Document the incident, ideally with photos, for insurance purposes.
Fall weather hazards
- Sudden, often severe rain storms are a major fall weather hazard. They often come after long, dry summers have allowed oil to build up on the roads. Oil and water don’t mix. Add in somebody driving fast or foolishly and you’ve got a recipe for a wreck. Slow down when it’s raining, use your windshield wipers, turn on your headlamps, avoid hard braking and give yourself extra time to stop.
- Fog is another weather-related driving hazard. Temperature conditions in fall increase its likelihood in autumn, especially in low-lying areas, or places surrounded by trees, hills or mountains. Fog not only impairs your vision, it also muffles sound and alters perceptions of distance. If you have to drive in it, drive slowly, taking care not to overdrive your headlamps (never use high beams).
Sun and lack of it
- Although we won’t officially go off Daylight Savings Time until the end of October, the sun is setting sooner. That means you may be encountering glare earlier than usual on your afternoon commute. Adjust your route, if possible. Invest in good, anti-glare sunglasses. Keep your windshield clean. Drive slower and leave extra room between you and the driver ahead.
- As the days get shorter, you’ll be doing more dusk and after-dark driving. Keep your headlights clean and properly aligned. Turn them on as soon as sunlight fades.
- The kids are back in school. Keep an eye out for them and drive slowly in school zones and along routes to schools where kids walk or ride bikes.
- Lots of people like to jog or walk along the roadways, especially at dawn and dusk when visibility is at its lowest. You’ll need to watch for them and be prepared to stop quickly. Drive a little slower, keep your headlights on and be prepared to use your horn (a gentle beep beep) to alert them to your presence.
Safe driving any time of year is a good way to keep your car insurance premiums down and qualify for safe-driving discounts. Compare rates and get competitive quotes for car insurance here.
 “Five Tips for Fall Car Care Month,” http://www.carcare.org/2013/five-tips-for-fall-car-care-month