Most of us think of fall as a picturesque and cozy season. But if your car starts acting up due to the change in weather, it can quickly turn into a season you’d rather forget. Even if you live somewhere with a milder fall, the dropping temperatures can expose and amplify any problems your car may have. We’ve prepared this fall car maintenance guide to show how a little preparation can prevent a costly repair bill and ensure your car is ready for whatever fall throws at it.
Driving with a light out is a sure-fire way to get into an accident. Not only does it reduce your ability to see clearly at night, but it also reduces your car’s visibility to others on the road. It’s easy to check all your lights are operating correctly. Checking your lights can greatly reduce your risk of an accident – particularly during fall when the daylight hours become shorter. Grabbing a friend to help you check your lights will make the job much easier and quicker too.
You’ll need to check the following lights:
- Headlights (high and low beam) – Check that both left and right headlights are operating properly and are equally as bright. Also, check that your front lights are aiming in the right spot to give you optimal visibility from the driver’s seat.
- Fog lights – Fog lights are ideal in situations of reduced visibility, so although they’re not used often, they must work when you need them. They should be dimmer than your vehicle’s headlights are a slightly different color.
- Daytime running lights (if applicable) – Not all cars have daytime running lights, and if they’re not working correctly the driver may not even notice. If your car has daytime running lights, they should illuminate when you switch your car on and off.
- Taillights – Similar to your headlights, check all bulbs are lighting up and are equally bright. Even one broken taillight makes it difficult for drivers behind you to see you and gauge their stopping distance.
- Brake lights – This is where a friend can come in handy. Get them to stand behind the vehicle while you apply the brakes to ensure both brake lights are work properly.
- Turn signals – Apply both left and right turn signals while a friend checks both front and rear are working. Don’t forget to check your hazard lights as well.
- Registration plate bulbs (front and rear) – You might be tempted to ignore a broken registration plate light. However, be aware that you could be stopped for a fix-it ticket if your rear registration plate is out.
- Reverse lights – If a reverse light goes out, the driver has no way of knowing. To check this, have a friend stand a safe distance away at the rear of the vehicle while you shift your vehicle into reverse.
- Interior light – If you mostly drive during the day, you may not even use your interior light. But if you brake down on a dimly lit day (or at night), you’ll be glad that it works.
If any of your vehicle’s lights don’t work, a light bulb probably just needs to be replaced. If both lights (left and right) don’t light up, a blown fuse could be the culprit. Both are inexpensive items to replace, so there is no excuse to avoid fixing your lights.
Windshield Wiper Blades
It’s easy to forget about the condition of your wiper blades. But if they’re not performing as they should, it can severely limit your visibility in wet driving conditions. You’ll know if your wiper blades need replacing as they won’t clear your windshield as well as they should. Another sign your wiper blades need replacing is if they make excessive noise as they drag across the windshield or the wiper action isn’t as smooth as usual. You should also run your finger along the edge of the rubber wiper blade, checking for damage, cracks, or splits. If the rubber is worn or showing any sign of defect they will need to be replaced.
The battery in your vehicle has the responsibility of providing your vehicle with the energy needed to start. It forms one part of a vehicle’s electrical system, but it is the part that is most likely to fail.
As the weather becomes colder, a vehicle requires more energy to start. This puts a bigger drain on the battery. If a battery is old or worn out, it may not provide the extra voltage your vehicle needs.
We always recommend having a professional inspect your battery for any corrosion, loose connector cables, leakage, and overall battery life. If you’re in a bind, you can get a rough idea of your battery’s health by turning on your lights before you start your car.
- If the lights dim as the car is cranking over, the alternator is likely not producing enough charge.
- If the lights get brighter when the engine is revved, the alternator is producing current, but not enough at idle to keep the battery charged.
- If the lights remain at normal brightness as the engine is started and revved, your electrical system is likely fine.
Tires are the only contact between your car and the road. How well your car accelerates, turns, and stops are relative to the condition of your tire. When it rains, it diminishes a tire’s performance, and doubly so, if the tread is worn. It’s easy to check the health of your tires yourself, and it’s a good habit to get into.
A visual inspection of the tire tread will give you some clues as to how your tire is performing and how it’s wearing. Signs of uneven tread wear such as the center of the tread being worn, but not the edges, or the other way around, will give you an indication that your tire pressure is incorrect. Bald patches or unusual wear patterns can indicate tires that are out of alignment, balance, or a problem with the vehicle’s suspension. It’s a good time to also check for cuts, bulges, and cracks on the tire.
Temperature changes can affect tire pressure by as much as 2 psi for every 10 degrees. A tire that has lower than optimal operating pressure will be less responsive to steering and braking, wear quicker, and be at greater risk of a blowout. The optimal tire pressure for a vehicle is usually found on a sticker in a vehicle’s door jamb or the owner’s manual.
Finally, the tread depth should also be inspected. Tires have built-in tread wear indicators in between the grooves on the tread. When two or three of these are flush or level with the rest of the tread on the tire, it’s due to be replaced.
The worst time to find out your brakes need to be repaired is when you need to stop in a hurry. During fall, standing water on the road and driving through puddles increase the distance a car needs to stop. If your brake pads are due for replacement, the effectiveness of your brakes can be dramatically reduced, increasing the risk of an accident.
On most vehicles, it’s possible to inspect the brake pads between the holes in the wheel. If the pads are less than ¼ of an inch thick they will need to be replaced. If it’s difficult to tell, or the brake pads aren’t visible, the wheel will need to be removed.
It’s preferable to get your brakes inspected by a mechanic if possible, as they will also check if the brake fluid needs changing, how your brake pads are wearing, if the rotors are worn or warped and wearing evenly, and inspect the calipers. This will ensure you have optimal stopping power on wet roads heading into fall.
It might seem strange to get your air conditioner inspected as the weather starts to cool, but if your AC system isn’t up to par, your car’s heater and windshield defroster will struggle. Heater issues can be caused by a lot of different parts failing such as a malfunctioning blower motor, clogged heater core, or a blown fuse. Get it checked before the temperature starts to drop, and enjoy peace of mind knowing it will work perfectly when you need it.
Preparing Your Car For The Fall
The sections we’ve listed make up a pretty comprehensive car maintenance checklist, but we’ve been deliberately thorough to minimize the risk of breakdown before the temperature starts to drop. Having a mechanic give your car a thorough inspection can prevent most mechanical issues before they start, and allow you to make it through fall worry-free.