Fall is just around the corner—are you ready to trade your Bermuda shorts in for a pair of thermals? Maybe not. But even if you’re not prepared for the change in weather, your car should be.
Because seasonal changes affect your vehicle in a multitude of ways, it’s important to prepare for the transition from summer to fall. You’ll want to keep up on regular vehicle maintenance, while also paying close attention to season-specific car care tasks.
Essential Fall Vehicle Maintenance Tips
In many places, schools and businesses are starting to reopen in spite of the pandemic. That means you might be driving your car more this fall than you did during the summer.
Make sure your vehicle is ready with the following car care tips.
Check the Fluids
Checking your vehicle’s fluids is one of the most critical car care routines. The various fluids lubricate, cool, and perform other vital functions that help keep your car running and driving.
Take a few minutes to check the underhood fluids, including the engine oil, coolant, and brake fluid. You’ll also want to check the automatic transmission fluid (if your car has a dipstick) and the power steering fluid (if your car has hydraulic power steering).
Warning: Never remove the cooling system cap when the engine is hot. Severe injury may result. Only check the coolant level and condition when the engine is cool.
Many vehicles also have assemblies, such as the differential and transfer case, that are located underneath the vehicle. You should check the fluids in these units regularly. If you have the know-how, you can safely raise and support the vehicle, then check the fluids yourself. You can also choose to have a professional do the job for you.
Inspect the Tires
We get it—tires are about as exciting as an afternoon at the DMV. However, that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Tires are super important because they affect the braking ability, handling performance, and overall safety of your vehicle.
Take a few moments to inspect your car’s tires to ensure they’re in good condition. First, you’ll want to check tread depth using a dedicated gauge. Take the measurement at three points across the tire: the outer tread, the center tread, and the inner tread.
If there’s 4/32” of tread remaining at any point, most professionals recommend replacing the tires. A tread depth reading of 2/32” or less indicates the tires are a safety hazard and should be replaced immediately.
You should also check the tire pressure with a dedicated gauge. When checking the pressure, ensure that the tires are inflated to the specification listed on the placard inside the door jamb. Do NOT set the pressure to the reading on the tire’s sidewall—that’s the maximum pressure.
Tip: High-quality digital tire pressure gauges and dial-type gauges are far more accurate than cheap, pencil-style gauges.
If the pressure is too low, use an air compressor (or an air pump at the gas station) to add air. In the case that the pressure is too high, you can let air out of the tire by pressing down on the tip of the valve stem core with a pocket screwdriver.
You can learn more by reading our article on how to check tire tread and how to check tire pressure.
Make Sure All of the Lights Work
Sadly, the long summer days will soon be coming to an end. Because nighttime comes earlier during the fall, you’re more likely to be driving when it’s dark out. Before that happens, get a friend to help you make sure all of your car’s exterior lights (including the brake lights and reverse lights) are working correctly.
A non-functional light usually indicates a burnt-out bulb. While replacing a bulb is usually a simple task, there are instances where the job can be difficult. For example, on some vehicles, the front fascia must be removed to access the headlight bulb.
Bulb replacement instructions can usually be found in your car’s owner’s manual. By reviewing the instructions, you’ll get an idea of whether the job is something you can handle on your own.
You can always have a professional change the bulb if the task seems too difficult.
Tip: Many owner’s manuals are available for free digitally through the automaker’s website (e.g., Toyota.com).
Check the Wiper Blades
The fall season often brings rain and sometimes even snow. You’ll want to make sure your car’s wiper blades are in good shape to deal with these conditions.
To check the wiper blades, turn on both the wipers and windshield washers. A good set of blades should produce a streak-free sweep and leave the windshield clear.
Replace the wiper blades if they do not perform well.
You’ll also want to consider the washer fluid. There are winter blends, which are designed to resist freezing, and summer blends for warmer weather. When the temperatures start to drop, you’ll want to make sure you have a winter blend in your car’s washer fluid reservoir.
Inspect the Brakes
We don’t need to remind you of the importance of your car’s brakes, do we? You (or your mechanic) should check the brakes a least twice a year to ensure they’re in good condition. Right now, before the snow starts to fly, is the perfect time to take a peek.
How do you know when your brake pads are worn out? When there’s 4mm of friction material remaining, most professionals recommend replacing the brake pads (and usually replacing or resurfacing the brake discs). A reading of 3mm or less indicates the brake pads are a safety hazard and should be replaced immediately.
Make Sure the Heater is Working
If you’re like most drivers, you didn’t turn your car’s heater on at all during the summer. But soon, the weather will get cold and you’ll be pining for a warm cabin once again.
It’s a good idea to test your vehicle’s heater before the temperatures start to drop. Automotive heating systems rely on hot engine coolant, so if the heater is blowing cold air, you likely have a problem somewhere within the cooling system. For example, the thermostat may be stuck open, the water pump may be faulty, or the heater core could be clogged.
If you have the know-how, you can troubleshoot the problem yourself. Otherwise, you may want to have a professional diagnose and repair the issue.
Take Care of Any Outstanding Maintenance
Remember that booklet, called the owner’s manual, that’s buried in your glovebox? Dust it off and turn to the section that covers the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule—you’ll find the suggested intervals for the routine services the automaker recommends.
Is your car due (or overdue) for service? Then take care of it now. Lack of maintenance is one of the most common—if not the most common—reasons for mechanical breakdowns.
Address Any Known Problems
Car problems left ignored often snowball into big-time concerns. For example, a leaking radiator hose can lead to a low coolant level, overheating, and catastrophic engine damage.
Ignoring issues can also leave you stranded on a chilly fall morning. Address any known problems now to prevent further headaches.
Store Classic Cars and Other Toys
Most people put their classic cars and other toys into storage once summer is over. Of course, the best place to store your ride is in the garage. But if you don’t have access to covered parking, a car cover is the next best option.
Be sure to select the correct type of cover; some are designed for outdoor use, while others are for indoor use. Also, park the vehicle in a safe location that’s protected from the elements as much as possible.
Then, follow the product instructions to install and secure the cover.
To learn more about proper vehicle storage methods, check out our article on tips for storing your vehicle.
Accessorize for the Season
You might start accessorizing for the fall season by picking up, say, a fluffy scarf or warm beanie. While you’re at it, don’t forget that you can also accessorize your car with practical upgrades, such as floor mats and seat covers.
Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic.