How autumn affects typical driving conditions

Autumn has arrived and the clocks will be soon going back to mark the start of the winter season.  This time of year brings many changes for road users, from dazzlingly blinding sunlight to the first icy windscreen of the season.

Autumn is particularly bad for dazzle from low sun.  However, drivers can improve their vision by making sure that the windscreen is clean – inside and out – as a hazy film builds up on the inside surface over time.

At the same time, make sure you check the condition of the screen as scratches, abrasions and chips on the outside can intensify the sun’s dazzle too, and may require remedial treatment, such as a smart repair.

Driving at sunrise and sunset

There are a number of rules to follow to reduce the risk and possible consequence of being dazzled at either end of the day.

  • Keep your windscreen clean inside and out
  • Renew wiper blades if worn
  • Keep a pair of sunglasses in the car, but make use of the sun visor too
  • Slow down immediately if dazzled
  • Bear in mind:
    • if the sun is behind you, it’s in the eyes of those approaching you
    • if the sun is in your eyes it’s probably affecting those following you too
  • Use dipped headlights to help others see you.

However, there are other things that drivers should check at this time of year to ensure their vehicles perform at their optimum.

Windscreen wipers

Wiper blades will last for two years at the most. New blades clear the screen more effectively and so help reduce dazzle from the sun.

Windscreen washer fluid

Top up the windscreen washer reservoir with a good quality, purpose-made additive to reduce the chance of freezing and to help improve vision by removing dirt etc. Don’t use ordinary engine anti-freeze and remember to check the handbook to make sure you fill the right reservoir.

Battery

According to the breakdown and recovery organisations, this is one of the most common causes of breakdown at any time of year, but particularly in the autumn and winter periods when electrical loads are higher.

If there’s any sign of the battery struggling, get it checked out.

Bulbs

Drivers should check all bulbs at least once a week, including brake lights and number plate lights. The driver’s handbook will show you how to change bulbs, although some headlight bulbs may require a visit to the garage. It’s always a good idea – and compulsory in some EU countries – to carry some spare bulbs.

Antifreeze is not just for winter

Antifreeze is important all year round as it contains additives to prevent corrosion and improve summer cooling, too. It should be checked as part of the regular service schedule.

Tyres

Tyres should be checked regularly for condition, pressure and tread depth. They should conform to some basic legal requirements, as follows:

  • Tyres must be compatible with others on the car and generally in good physical condition
  • Tyres must be correctly inflated to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended pressure
  • Tread depth must be above the legal minimum which for passenger cars is 1.6mm throughout a continuous band in the centre 3/4 of the tread and around the entire circumference
  • You don’t have to carry a spare and it doesn’t have to meet the legal requirements while it’s stowed away. It may, however, affect breakdown cover if you don’t carry a serviceable spare

Spare tyres in new cars

Many new cars don’t have a full-size spare tyre in the boot.  It is increasingly common for car manufacturers to provide a space-saver spare or an emergency tyre sealant and compressor/inflator pack.

If carrying a full-size spare is important, then raise it with the dealer; some offer a standard spare wheel as a cost option if the design of the boot floor can accommodate one.

Legal consequences

If you are caught driving a vehicle fitted with an illegal or defective tyre, you could receive a Fixed Penalty Notice or, in Scotland, a Conditional Offer Notice.

The police also have discretion not to issue a fixed penalty but to report the case for prosecution. In law, the driver and the owner (if different) are liable and one or both may be summonsed.

The maximum fine which a court can impose for using a vehicle with a defective tyre is £2,500 and three penalty points. This increases to £5,000 in the case of a goods vehicle or a vehicle constructed or adapted to carry more than eight passengers.

If a vehicle is fitted with more than one defective tyre, you can be summonsed for each illegal tyre as a separate offence, which can really add up. Two faulty tyres equals £5,000 and six points on your license and so on. Disqualification is also possible in certain circumstances.