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engine overheating

Your Engine is Overheating – Is There Anything You Can Do?

Here’s a closer look at what to do when your vehicle’s engine gets hot and is 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.

6 Signs Your Car’s Heater Core Needs Replacing

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

engine coolant reservoir

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 keeping 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.

Coolant Reservoir

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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What to Do When Your Car Engine Overheats

Is your car engine overheating? Well, most cars are designed to operate at 190 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal performance, but the exhaust gases produced by an engine can reach 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit. These scorching-hot temperatures can warp cylinder heads, damage engine blocks, blow gaskets and cause other potentially catastrophic damage. Thankfully, all modern cars have a cooling system to regulate the engine’s temperature and protect it from overheating. There are times, however, when a car’s cooling system may fail, thereby causing the engine to overheat.

As a driver, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with the appropriate steps to take when your engine overheats. Continuing to drive — even for just 10 miles — may cause catastrophic engine damage while increasing the risk of an accident. For your own safety as well as the safety of other motorists, follow these steps the next time your engine overheats.

Car Engine Overheating Symptoms and What to Do

One of the first things you’ll notice with car engine overheating is a rising temperature gauge. Found on the dashboard, this gauge shows the relative temperature of your car’s coolant. In most cars, it should read slightly under the halfway mark once the engine has warmed up. If it climbs higher and enters the red zone, it means your engine is overheating.

You may also lose horsepower and other functionality with car engine overheating. Most modern cars have a safeguard to protect the engine from damage if it overheats. Known as “limp mode,” it’s part of the car’s Engine Control Unit (ECU) computer. When a car overheats, the ECU triggers the check engine light and automatically limits the engine’s power, meaning it might be able to drive no faster than 20 mph. The power restriction reduces the amount of heat produced by the engine, thus reducing the risk of serious damage.

6 Signs Your Car’s Heater Core Needs Replacing

Turn on the Heater

If you see the temperature gauge on your dashboard rising, turn on the heater to the hottest, highest speed setting. This may sound counterproductive given that your engine is overheating, but it can actually lower your engine’s temperature. This is because your car’s heater is essentially a mini radiator. Turning on the heater opens a valve, allowing hot coolant to flow from the engine through the heater core. As coolant travels through the metallic fins of the heater core, a fan blows over it to release heat.

Pull Over and Turn Off Engine

Find a safe place to pull over and turn off your engine immediately. Even with the heater running, your engine’s temperature may continue to climb. The best way to protect against serious heat-related damage liked a cracked engine block or warped cylinder head is to turn it off.

This doesn’t mean that you should stop driving in the middle of a busy highway. Rather, activate your turning signal and begin making your way to the shoulder or a nearby parking lot. Once you’ve reached a safe area, turn off your engine.

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Pop the Hood

After turning off your engine, pop the hood from inside your car so that fresh air can circulate more freely through the engine bay. Do not, however, attempt to lift open the hood or touch any surface around the engine bay. If your engine is overheating, coolant in the radiator and hoses will be incredibly hot — reaching temperatures up to 260 degrees Fahrenheit. If your car’s cooling system blows, this scalding-hot, pressurized coolant could spray on your skin or eyes.

Wait for Engine to Cool

With your engine turned off and the hood popped, there’s not much else you can do other than wait. The longer you wait, the cooler the engine will become. After waiting at least 45 minutes, carefully open the hood from the front of your car to inspect the cooling system. Engines aren’t supposed to overheat, so you need to find out why yours did.

Check Coolant Level

Car engine overheating is often attributed to insufficient coolant, so you should check your car’s coolant level first. Typically made of equal parts distilled water and antifreeze, coolant is responsible for moving heat from the engine to the radiator, where it’s released by the radiator fans. If your car’s low on coolant, the engine will overheat.

To check your car’s coolant level, wrap a towel over the top of the radiator cap and slowly turn while allowing the pressurize to release. Remember, coolant is under pressure, and even after allowing your engine to sit for 45 minutes, it can still shoot upwards. So, use a towel to slowly remove the radiator cap.

After removing the cap, look inside your radiator to see if coolant is present. You should see coolant covering the fins at the very top. If you see dry fins with no coolant, your car is low or empty. If you have an emergency bottle of coolant in your car’s trunk, pour it into the radiator. Otherwise, walk to a nearby store or call someone for assistance. Do not continue driving your car if it’s low on coolant.

Getting Back on The Road After Car Engine Overheating

Assuming your car has sufficient coolant and you’ve waited at least 45 minutes for the engine to cool down after it started overheating, you should be able to get back on the road. Drive carefully while keeping a close eye on the temperature gauge. If it begins to rise again, pull back over and call for a tow.

Get Your Car Tested

If your engine overheated, it will probably happen again unless you find and fix the problem that caused it. Refilling an empty radiator with coolant isn’t a long-term solution. Coolant isn’t supposed to escape from the radiator, so low coolant levels indicates a leak, either internal or external.

You can check your car’s cooling system for a leak by pressure testing it. This involves pumping air into the radiator to simulate the pressure created by the engine when it reaches normal operating temperature. As you pressurize your car’s cooling system, you can safely look around the radiator, hoses, water pump and engine to see if it coolant is leaking.

A coolant leak is just one possible cause of car engine overheating. Others include a stuck thermostat, faulty radiator fans, faulty water pump and blockage in the radiator.

Final Thoughts

Seeing a car’s temperature gauge climb into the red zone can cause any driver to panic. Whether it’s an aluminum or iron engine, hot temperatures can cause catastrophic damage. So, if car engine overheating happens while you’re driving, follow the steps listed here to minimize the risk of damage and get back on the road.