Here’s a closer look at what to do when your vehicle’s engine gets hot and overheating. Have you ever been driving along and watched in horror as that little arrow on your instrument cluster started to tip a little too far to the right? What’s happening to your vehicle? Were you starting to panic?
You shouldn’t be too worried. Your vehicle probably isn’t about to burst into flames, but you do need to take action. Ignoring the problem will only make it worse. It’s not the sort of problem that fixes itself.
You might be thinking – Hey, I’m not a mechanic. What can I do to fix this problem?
The important thing is not to panic. You also don’t want to make the problem worse. Auto mechanics have years of training and expertise in this area. So, it’s best to seek professional help when there’s a problem with your vehicle overheating. However, there are some tips and tricks that can save you money and time when you first start to notice that your temperature gauge is in the red.
First, you need to identify the reason why your temperature gauge is reading hot.
Potential Reasons Why Your Engine is Overheating
First: It’s entirely possible that your vehicle’s thermostat isn’t working properly. You could be getting a false reading if the temperature switch has malfunctioned. It’s important to look for other indicators to get a clear picture of what’s going on.
Second: The problem could be related to your vehicle’s water pump. If a gasket has worn down or if the pump itself is broken, then your engine won’t be able to cool itself properly. Check to see if your water pump is making a whining noise or if there’s coolant leaking from it.
Third: Your engine could be overheating if the coolant isn’t reaching the engine. This is a very real problem that most motorists will face at some point in their vehicle’s life span. You could have a faulty gasket or hose. It will need to be replaced immediately.
Troubleshooting Tips for an Overheating Engine
If you’re riding in your vehicle and you start to notice that your temperature gauge is climbing to the right, then the easiest thing to do is pull over safely to the side of the road. If you’re already a member of a roadside assistance service like AAA, then put in the call and have your vehicle towed to the nearest mechanic.
Turn off AC
If you don’t have the means to get roadside assistance, then the first thing you want to do is turn off your air conditioning and open all of your windows. This makes it a bit easier for your vehicle to keep itself cool if it doesn’t have to work so hard to keep you cool. Yeah, you might break a sweat, but more air will circulate to your engine.
Hopefully, the temperature gauge will have at least slowed its progress to the dreaded red zone. Then again, it might not have done the trick. You need to start thinking about getting off the road and finding a safe spot to pull over.
Turn off Engine
Once you pull over, take a few deep breaths, and turn off your vehicle. Pop the hood open and give it some time to cool down with the engine off before you do anything else. This is where patience will benefit you the most because you’ll need about fifteen to twenty minutes to let the engine cool back down.
Now, open the hood and locate the radiator. If you’re standing in front of your vehicle’s grille, the radiator is that flat piece of equipment directly beneath your belt buckle. You’ll notice there’s a big twist cap on the top. The radiator is responsible for housing the coolant fluid for your vehicle. It circulates the coolant fluid around your engine so that all the mechanical actions of the pistons don’t tax your engine too heavily. Without coolant or water, the engine will simply get too hot and seize up.
So, double-check that your engine is off and that your vehicle has been cooling down for about twenty minutes. You never want to open the radiator cap of a hot vehicle while the engine is running. You don’t even need to open the radiator cap even if your engine has been running hot, so avoid accessing the radiator directly.
Just take a look around and locate the coolant reservoir. There are usually two plastic containers near the radiator. One keeps windshield wiper fluid and the other keeps coolant for your engine. That’s the one you want. Hopefully, you have an emergency supply of coolant fluid or water in your vehicle. You can find it at nearly any auto supply store. So, pick up a jug or two at your earliest convenience.
Now, open the coolant recovery tank and pour some additional fluid inside. You can use water. There’s a maximum fill line on the side. So, make sure you don’t exceed that level. Once you’ve filled the reservoir, screw the cap back on tightly.
Next, you want to take a look underneath your vehicle. What you’re looking for is any obvious signs of a leak. The leak could be coming from a tube, or it could be leaking from the radiator itself. What you want to check for is whether you have a large leak or a small one. With a large leak, you won’t be able to prevent your engine from overheating for very long, but if the leak is small enough, you’ll be able to limp to the nearest service center or possibly make it back to your own driveway.
What if That Didn’t Work?
If you get back into your vehicle and drive away, then prepare for a tense ride. You’ll be watching that temperature gauge like a hawk. You should never drive too far when the gauge is in the red zone. So, pull over and repeat the steps from before if needed.
Now, it’s entirely possible that the gauge will go back to cold and then rapidly rise again. If the gauge reading is all over the place, then you might have a faulty thermostat. It’s a common mechanical problem. You might be able to replace it yourself, but it’s a pretty straightforward procedure for an auto mechanic.
The other potential cause of an overheating engine is a faulty water pump. If your thermostat is still running hot after you fill the coolant and you notice that the gauge is gradually heading toward the red zone, then you need to pull over and listen to your vehicle.
Pop the hood and listen to the sound of your engine. Do you hear any whining noises or unusual hissing sounds. It might even sound like your engine is squealing. That could be related to the water pump. This is a serious malfunction, and you’d better get off the road immediately. No amount of fluid top-ups will help you when the water pump isn’t working properly. Get your vehicle to a repair shop because you’ll need to have that water pump replaced ASAP.
Wrapping it Up
If you’ve never sweated out a good shirt because your engine ran hot, then you haven’t been driving long enough. It’s a common problem, especially with older model vehicles. Yet, it’s not the end of the world and your car isn’t going to explode if you know how to properly handle the situation.
The best thing to do is stop driving and call for roadside assistance. Get your vehicle to a repair shop and let a professional auto mechanic accurately assess the problem. If you have to make it a few extra miles, then be sure to keep some coolant fluid in your vehicle for emergency purposes.
You can pull over and cool off your engine for a while. You can also replace some lost fluids, but not every problem has to do with a loss of coolant. You could have a faulty thermostat or water pump. You can determine which one it is by listening to your engine, looking on the pavement for a leak, and watching your temperature gauge closely.
Hopefully, these tips will help you stay calm in a troubling situation. Getting to know your vehicle is the best way to assess any mechanical problem, so spend some time under the hood and get well-acquainted with your owner’s manual. It might not be a thrilling read, but it’s got lots of vital information.
Stay safe and enjoy the ride.
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