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posted: 10/7/2012 3:43 AM

Autumn safety checks for your auto

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The leaves are changing, the weather is cooling and the kids are back at school.

Car safety might feel like a no-brainer all year round, but as another class of student drivers gets behind the wheel, maybe we all could benefit from a quick refresher course.

First and foremost, whether you're dropping your kindergartner off in the morning or begrudgingly handing the keys over to your high schooler, it's best to make sure your vehicle is in good working order and to remind yourself of safe driving habits.

Buckle Up -- Since the first of this year, state law says all passengers are required to be secured in a seat belt or child-restraint system. For those of us with younger children, the first thing to remember is that seat belts were designed for adults. A crash or sudden stop can do serious damage if the shoulder strap goes across your child's neck. Booster seats or car seats designed for your child's age or weight are required by law and they will also give them a comfortable and safe seat in the car.

No texting -- What's more important, the safety of those in your car, as well as those on the road around you, or reading that text you just got? No matter how you hold your phone, how short the text is, or if you can type without looking, texting takes your attention away from the road, not to mention it is against the law! Let it wait. Sit down and have a talk with all the drivers in your family about the dangers of texting while driving.

Don't speed -- It is important to be on time, but if you end up leaving the house a few minutes late, try to keep things in perspective. Make sure to follow posted speed limits to ensure the safety of those in your vehicle.

Now that you're ready to go, make sure your car is, too. Take the following precautions to ensure your car is ready to safely make the journey to school, soccer practice, ballet, yoga, work and everywhere in between.

Tires -- Air pressure should be checked at least once a month and before long trips. This will help avoid uneven wear or excessive stress on your tires that can cause cracks, flats, braking issues and poor gas mileage. Check your tire's tread, too. Throw away that penny and use a quarter to test the tread depth of your tires. In the latest safety tests, tires with the tread depth reaching the top of Lincoln's head on a penny (2/32nds of an inch) were proven unsafe. So, if you can't reach the top of Washington's head on the quarter (4/32nds of an inch), you're overdue for new tires. Finally, always make sure your car has a usable spare tire and jack.

Brakes -- Is the brake pedal firm? Does the car stop straight and smooth? Do you hear any squeaking or grinding? It is a good time to get your brakes checked, especially if your car is used around town for a lot of short, start-and-stop drives.

Lights -- Check all the lights in and on the car: headlights, taillight, turn signals, hazard lights, brake lights and interior lights. Replace any burned out bulbs to keep your car safe a pricey ticket.

Glove compartment -- All right, your glove compartment is probably functioning fine. What's important is what's inside. Make sure you have your owner's manual, maintenance records, current registration and insurance, emergency phone numbers, a flashlight, and a map or portable GPS stowed there to be ready for anything the road could throw at you.

• Douglas Automotive is at 312 S. Hager Ave., Barrington, (847) 381-0454, and 123 Virginia Road, Crystal Lake, (815) 356-0440. For information, visit douglasautomotive.com. Send questions to underthehood@dailyherald.com.

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