FOR MONTHS NOW, Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams has been taking about the need to "reinvent" the automobile.His idea (though not his terminology) was blessed the other day by President Carter and senior executives of the big automobile companies when they agreed to support a research program aimed at making cars more energy-efficient. It is an interesting, perhaps even useful, idea. But somehwere along the line there are some other hings that also need to be "reinvented."

Take, for instance, highways. Does it make sense to continue to build roads designed fro Detroit behemoths in urban areas, like I-66 or the New York Westway, if we are to become a nation of small cars for in-town travel, big cars' being reserved for long trips? Does it make sense to open up for development suburban areas, like the Dulles Corridor, without having in hand plan for mass transit? Someone needs to rediscover what a highway should be in a world where oil is dear.

Or take the inside of the automobile. Maybe someone needs to "de-invent" the mobile air-conditioner, power window, cigarette lighter, clock and even radio. All of them are pleasant to have around, but each makes the automobile less energy-efficient.

Or take home furnishings. Maybe someone should reinvent the motorless toohbrush and the mechanical can opener, the sharp knife and the whetsone. We could go on, but you get the idea.

Automobiles and Americans were a match made in heaven; it was love at first sight, an the affection continues undiminished by time. The freedom to move that was so essential to the settlers of America was given a new dimension by the car. So it is not strange that motor vehicles are sometimes prized more highly than houses and that their interiors are often more luxurious than the drivers' living rooms.

If all tha is to change, if automobiles are to become solely utilitarian, transportation vehicles-and that's what the phrase "reinventing the automobile" really means-more is involved than a better engine and lightweight materials. A change will be required in a style of life made possible by cheap energy. That's why a decision to reinvent the automobile carries with it the need to reinvent a host of other things from buses and highways to toothbrushes an can openers. It is not so much the automobile that needs reinventing as the people who get into them.