Motorists have been warned to steer clear of autumn leaves - because they could be turning your car into a deadly fire hazard.
Trees in the UK lose their leaves with increasing frequency late October and early November. While they create an annual pre-winter spectactle, shed leaves also create a dangerous hazard for Britain's motorists.
Because Mark Tongue, company director of leading UK leasing company Select Car Leasing, says nuisance leaves can strip paintwork, clog vents, send electrical systems haywire, and even create a fire risk.
He says: “Most motorists know the dangers posed by leaves on the road in Autumn. They create a skid hazard, they camouflage potholes and other road irregularities, and they're a particular nemesis of motorcyclists. But what you might not realise is that leaves can create carnage for vehicles in other ways, too.
“Our advice is to think twice about parking your car under trees for a prolonged period of time, and you need to de-leaf your car as regularly as you can during autumn. It's also important motorists are aware of the risks in the first place.”
Here Mark and the Select Car Leasing team outline the hazards:
Mark says: “Leaves are one of the big autumn risks for motorists. And it's all about a reduction in traction. The roads might already be covered in a layer of frost, making it harder for your tyres to grip. And things get even slippier when you introduce wet leaves into the mix. It's one of the main reasons why you should never, ever get too close to the car in front. If you have to brake sharply, leaves on the road might make it impossible for you to stop in time. Tyres also lose their grip in cold weather, making it important your tyres are nice and warm before you indulge in any ‘spirited’ driving…"
Mark says: “Leaves do a brilliant job of masking irregularities in the road. And that means suspension-rattling potholes can also hide behind all the things shed from autumn trees. Bear in mind that potholes cause £915m of damage to cars each year – which represents a 34 per cent rise in the last two years. If a pothole is disguised, you can limit the damage by making sure your tyres are at the correct pressure – not to soft to damage tyre walls, and not too hard that your suspension takes a battering. And the other thing you need to be aware of is that leaves can also sometimes mask painted lines on the road. Give the leaves a quick kick with your foot when you park to make sure you're not accidentally sitting on a double yellow line!”
Mark says: “If leaves fall on your car and they're not removed for a few days, then they begin to decompose. And this decomposition process releases lots of different chemicals – including tannic acid and sap – onto your paintwork. This acid can leech into the paint and in many cases the stain it leaves behind is virtually impossible to remove by yourself without professional help. You could even be left with a leaf-shaped 'silhouette' on your car – which probably isn't the look you were going for! Our advice is to be vigilant about removing leaves from paintwork, particularly if you regularly leave your car parked under trees for several days at a time. Washing and waxing your car regularly should repel the worst of what leaves can throw at paintwork. And if you do end up with minor staining, there are commercial products available to shift it, or some experts even recommend rubbing denatured alcohol or distilled vinegar on small spots.”
Mark says: “It's not just paintwork that takes a battering from leaves – your car's electrical components can be compromised, too. Leaves and foliage from trees tends to fall on cars then gather in the gully where the bottom of the windscreen meets the bonnet. Get enough debris in there, and it can cause blockages. And it means that drain holes in the bottom of this 'plenim chamber' get so clogged up that rainwater can't escape, then eventually seeping into the car's interior.
At the least worrying end of the spectrum, you might end up with soggy carpets accompanied by a rancid, mouldy smell. But at the other more worrying end of the spectrum, you might get water ingress on electrical components. As you're no doubt aware, water and electricity are not good bedfellows. And you could even be running the risk of an electrical fire breaking out in under your bonnet. Take the time to remove all leaves from exterior areas and stay safe.”
Mark says: “As winter approaches, we'll all be relying heavily on our car's heater to de-fog cold windscreens in the morning. But if you car's systems are clogged up with leaves, even small amounts of windscreen mist will take an age to clear. That's because they congregate and block air intakes, reducing the flow through interior vents. You might also get annoying noises, where small bits of leaves break off, get sucked into the heater box and then produce an irritating rattle.”