Sometimes you rely on gut instinct to direct you to take action.
Imagine your family is heading to the mountains for a fun-filled weekend. You start climbing the hill, feeling a tug at the engine. The temperature gauge starts to climb. You might even see a little smoke escaping from around the hood.
This is what happens as your car overheats.
Some things might be a gut reaction. Your instinct kicks in and guides you to what you should do. But is it the right thing? Will you cause your vehicle more harm than good?
Why will a car overheat?
Your car may overheat for many reasons. In general, it’s because there’s a problem somewhere within the cooling systems, and heat isn’t able to escape from the engine compartment. It might be:
A bad radiator – a radiator can go bad in many ways. Maybe you kicked up debris from the road, puncturing the radiator which allows coolant to leak from inside. Debris in the coolant that circulates through the radiator may cause problems from the inside. Whatever the case, if the radiator isn’t working properly, it won’t keep your car cool, especially as you add strain to the engine climbing up a hill.
A bad radiator hose – hoses are created from plastic and rubber. A radiator hose feeds the engine coolant directly to the radiator, ensuring a constant flow for protection. With age, holes can form, causing leaks. Debris can cause blockages from the inside. And anything that prohibits fluid from moving as designed will impact the way your car operates.
A bad thermostat – the thermostat controls the flow of coolant from the radiator to the engine. If this sticks open or closed, it won’t properly regulate the amount of flow, which can either flood the engine or allow it to overheat.
A bad radiator fan – all cars use a radiator fan to help with the cooling process. If this doesn’t work, it affects how well your engine operates.
A bad head gasket – this is often referred to as a “blown head gasket.” This happens when the seal between the cylinder head and the engine block fails. This is what properly seals coolant and oil passages, ensuring the right flow of fluids into the engine.
What a car overheating looks like
You can’t miss the signs of an overheating engine. If you take action immediately, you may be able to stop engine damage and prevent expensive repair bills. Signs include:
- The engine temperature gauge on your dashboard starts to climb towards the H or red zone.
- Steam, which can look like smoke, comes up from underneath the hood of the car.
- A strange smell coming from the engine area.
If you notice any of these signs, time is of the essence. The longer you drive, the more damage may occur.
3 things to do when your car overheats
As soon as you notice an engine problem, having a mechanic look at it and make the necessary repairs will prevent further damage.
1. Turn off the air conditioner. Car’s often experience overheating in the summer as they are under even more pressure to perform. If you’re climbing into the mountains with your air conditioner full blast, it stresses the engine. If you notice it overheating, turn off the air conditioner immediately. Then crank to maximum heat. This helps pull heat away from the engine and allows the compartment to cool down while you find a safe place to pull over and stop the car. It may be a few minutes of being uncomfortable, but it might save your engine from extensive damage.
2. Pull over and shut off the car. Give your vehicle a chance to cool down without operating for fifteen minutes or more. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge to see if it moves back towards the normal range. You can use this time to plan your next moves. Use roadside assistance if you have it. Phone a friend or call a tow truck to help get your car into a mechanic for inspection and repair.
3. Restart the engine. If you won’t be towing the car, you can restart the car, carefully watching for any additional changes in the way it operates. Before you start it, you can check coolant levels and add antifreeze if it’s low. You should also watch the temperature gauge as you move your car in for servicing. If the temperature starts to rise again, pull over and shut it off. Tow it to avoid further damage.
3 things you shouldn’t do when your car overheats
Now that you have a better idea of what you should do if you notice your vehicle overheating, let’s cover a few things that you should avoid.
1. Don’t panic. When you’re in the heart of traffic and your car suddenly acts up, it can be especially worrisome. Your safety is what matters most. Take a deep breath and find the best way to steer to safety. Avoid swerving through traffic or putting others in harm’s way as you pull off the road.
2. Stop driving. If your car is overheating, the only way to fix it is through repair. It’s telling you something is wrong underneath the hood. The more you drive it, the more extensive those repairs will be. If you’re a short distance from the service station and your car cools down, you might be okay to drive it. When unsure, it’s better to have it towed.
3. Don’t open the hood. When you see steam seeping from underneath the hood, it’s only natural to want to open it and release it. Opening the hood at this point can put you at risk of burns or other injuries from this hot steam and smoke. Your best bet is to allow the engine compartment to cool before you open the hood to check coolant levels or look for other signs of damage.
Prevention is key
Taking care of your car with regular maintenance is one of the best ways to ensure your vehicle doesn’t overheat. If it has regular oil changes and regular coolant fluids, staying up to date with all engine and radiator maintenance, you’re less likely to experience overheating.
Before heading out on your next road trip, why not ensure your vehicle is well cared for. Schedule your maintenance visit now.