All car engines get hotter as they operate, but the coolant in the engine keeps them at an optimum operating temperature and prevents them from overheating. However, when your car overheats, it’s time to take notice because this can be very serious for the engine.
Is Your Engine Overheating?
Whilst the warning signs are clear to most drivers, it’s worth knowing the warning signs of an overheating engine:
The car bonnet is too hot to touch as you normally would when it’s running
The temperature gauge inside your car on the dashboard is lighting up red, or the needle is in the red zone, indicating that the engine is too hot
There are ticking noises coming from the engine because the overheated oil is not lubricating the engine parts properly and they are rubbing against each other
You can smell burning oil and rubber as the engine is getting too hot,
Coolant is regularly leaking on the ground because there’s a leak somewhere or because the engine is too hot and has caused it to bubble up and leak from under the radiator cap
You notice that steam is coming out from under the bonnet because the coolant is too hot and is vaporising
There is a thumping noise coming from the engine
The engine is under-performing, making noises, and seems to be struggling significantly as you are driving
What Should You Do?
If your car is overheating, the first thing to do is to pull over as safely as possible and as soon as you can and turn off the engine. This will reduce the chances of further damage to your engine and will allow it to cool down naturally.
At this point you can raise the bonnet up to let out all of the steam and built up heat, but you need to be very careful. The engine will be very hot, and the steam can cause serious burns if you lift up the bonnet without caution.
If you’ve caught the overheating in time, you may be able to wait until the engine cools off enough so that you can check the coolant level. If it’s low, you can refill it with any coolant you may have. Of course, the overheating may already have caused a problem, and the coolant may be leaking for a reason. After this, you’ll need to get it to a mechanic as soon as possible to have them check it out.
What Causes It?
There are a number of reasons that cars overheat. In fact, some people don't even realise that their car is regularly getting too hot until the engine eventually shudders to a stop and the damage has been done.
Here are the most common reasons that car engines overheat:
1. Leaking Coolant
All of the hoses and pumps that make up your car’s cooling system can break down and spring a leak. If this happens, the coolant will leak out. This can happen over time until it gets to a point that the coolant isn’t effective at cooling the car engine down anymore, and then you’ll have serious heating problems.
If you happen to see coolant leaking underneath your car or pooling in the driveway, it’s time to take it to be assessed by a mechanic as this is usually a sign that there’s a leak somewhere in the system.
2. The Thermostat Isn’t Working
The thermostat regulates the coolant flow, and when it’s stuck in the closed position, the coolant won’t be able to circulate and do its job.
3. Coolant Problems
Sometimes, people mix distilled water and coolant together or use the wrong coolant in their system. Over time, this can damage the radiator and cause blockages and corrosion. The best way to ensure that this doesn’t happen is to have the system flushed by a mechanic and refill it with the right coolant for your vehicle.
4. Water Pump and Belts
A loose belt and bad water pump will definitely cause overheating problems if they are not fixed. Your car’s cooling system is composed of a number of parts, and they all need to be working effectively.
How to Fix It
If you notice that the temperature gauge is rising quickly and you’re stuck in traffic, there are a number of things you can do to minimise the damage and potentially turn the situation around.
If you have the air conditioner on, you should turn it off first of all. The AC unit places stress on the engine and causes heat build up. Turning it off will cool things down a little.
It might seem counter-intuitive, and you probably would prefer not to do it on a hot day, but if you turn off the AC and turn the heater on instead it will actually blow hot air from inside the engine into the cabin. This will reduce the amount of heat under the bonnet.
The other thing you can do if it hasn’t quite hit the red zone yet is to pull over, place the transmission in neutral or park, and then rev the engine. Once again, this might seem to be putting more stress on an already hot engine, but what it actually does is pump more coolant through the system. Of course, if the water pump or the coolant is the problem, this is not going to work.
Finally, you need to pull the car over as soon as you can and switch the engine off completely. Depending on the severity of the heating problem, you may be able to let it cool off enough so that you can refill the radiator with more coolant. Once again, this may not make any difference if there is a coolant leak.
When a car engine overheats, the signs are usually quite noticeable. The first thing to look at is the temperature gauge, of course. There are a number of steps you can take to minimise the damage to the engine and cool it down, but ultimately, you’ll need to have it assessed by a local mechanic.
Last Updated On: November 22, 2019.