As sure as the sun loses its warmth and the leaves on the trees change colour, driving conditions can become more challenging in the autumn.
From heavy rainfall causing floods on the roads… to mulch piling up under trees causing cars to slip and slide… unique hazards come at this time of year.
That’s why it pays to be prepared. With some simple checks, and a handful of basic accessories, drivers can ensure that their cars are fit for the road.
1. Preparing inside the car
If summer flew by in a blur and you can’t remember when you last cleaned the inside of your car, now’s the time to do it.
Damp autumn weather and low sun are a potentially dangerous combination, as they bring out the worst in a dirty windscreen.
So grab a bottle of window cleaner and a microfibre cloth, and clean the inside of the windscreen and other windows to help prevent them fogging. If they’re really dirty, you may need to go over them twice.
2. Preparing around the car
Be sure to check all the car’s bulbs are working. Have a friend walk around the car as you try the side and tail lights, headlamps, brake lights, indicators and fog lamps. And don’t forget the reversing light.
Before the worst of the dirty weather sets in, have any fresh chips in the car’s windscreen repaired. It helps prevent it filling with debris or expanding into a crack.
Examine the condition of your wipers carefully and replace them if necessary. The rubber that sits against the screen shouldn’t be frayed or split, and the wipers should clear the screen without smearing.
And finally, if you have a spare day, ask yourself when you last treated the paint to a wax and polish? Can’t remember? Then give the car a good wash, wax the paint then apply a polish. It will protect it from the worst of the weather.
Your tyres are vital to staying safe on the road
3. Preparing the tyres
Your tyres are vital to staying safe on the road. To ensure they perform as well as possible, the tread depth should be regularly inspected. If the tread drops below 3mm, you should consider replacing them. With tyres at the 1.6mm legal limit, independent tests show some cars can take another 44 metres to stop at motorway speeds in wet weather, compared with tyres at 3mm.
Roads are not only likely to be wet in the autumn, they’ll be covered with fallen leaves, which turn into a soggy mulch and can be extremely slippery. Again, it’s a good reason to examine tyre tread depths, and also ensure their air pressure is correct (don’t forget to check your spare).
4. Preparing under the bonnet
Grab your handbook, lift the bonnet (when the engine is cold) and roll up your sleeves: it’s time to check your car’s vital signs.
Start with the screen wash. Unless you're using ready mixed, this should be diluted with tap water to the correct mix according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and will help keep the windscreen and headlights clean during autumn weather.
Next, ensure the level of engine coolant is correct. The car’s handbook will point out the location of the reservoir, and the fluid should sit between the maximum and minimum marked points. If the car is serviced according to the manufacturer’s schedule, then the mix of anti-freeze and coolant should already be correct.
The last check under the bonnet is the engine oil. Do this at least 10 minutes after the engine is switched off, to allow oil to return to the sump. Grab two paper towels, one to grip and remove the dipstick (some cars may only have a digital readout; again, check the handbook) and the other to wipe the end of the dipstick clean. The oil should be between the minimum and maximum marks.
Other useful articles:
Understanding car dashboard warning lights
How to clean insects from the front of a car
Repair or replace your windscreen