It’s dangerous to drive a car that’s prone to overheating. Let’s figure out the problem.
Carmakers torture test their creations to make sure they won’t overheat in almost every situation imaginable—from Death Valley to the northernmost reaches of Norway. But parts break over time, and one day you may find yourself roadside with a smoldering engine.
So what happened and what should you do about it?
The most common culprit involves your coolant. This liquid is responsible for cooling your car as it circulates throughout the engine. If there’s a leak somewhere in the cooling system, then all of it or a significant amount could leak out. As soon as the coolant is gone, all you’re left with is the outside air to keep that engine cool.
How quickly you experience overheating is dependent on the outside temperature and whether or not you’re moving with air running through the engine. Regardless, the engine is bound to overheat at some point. Never drive without coolant.
If there isn’t a visible coolant leak anywhere, and the problem is still coolant related, there may be a blockage somewhere. Dirt and other particles can make it into the hoses, causing a restriction or complete blockage. This creates a similar problem to all the coolant leaking out, but you’ll have to do a full coolant flush and find the blockage to fix it.
But it might not be your coolant at all. An extremely low oil level can also cause temperature issues. An engine uses oil for lubrication, and without it, friction from moving parts can create generate excess heat.
This problem is easily remedied by checking your oil frequently, especially on engines with a lot of miles on them because they tend to burn oil faster than newer engines.
A Spanner in the Works
In another scenario, it’s possible there’s broken part in the cooling system. For example, a broken water pump would cause the flow of coolant throughout the engine to stop or bad thermostat is stopping all flow of coolant throughout the cooling system.
The radiator is another key component of the engine’s cooling system. While leaks and clogs could be contributing to your problems, a broken fan is a more common ailment. Fans often switch on while sitting in traffic to simulate rushing air. If that fan fails, then you’ll see the temperature begin to rise while sitting in traffic or driving in extremely hot environments.
Those extreme temperatures could cause the car to overheat on its own as well. Even though most cars were designed to last in those locations, age can cause the cooling system to work at less than ideal strength.
When the Temperature Rises
When you see that red gauge rising, immediately switch off the air conditioning (if you’re running it) and turn on full heat to help lower the temperature in the engine bay. Although it won’t help your comfort level, this step could possibly save the engine.
Once you’ve adjust these controls, your best bet is to get off the road safely, turn the car off, and open the hood.
It’ll be tempting, but DO NOT check the coolant level directly after popping the hood. The radiator cap will be scalding hot and the coolant will be under extreme pressure. You’ll risk dangerous burns if you even manage to get the cap off.
Don’t ever think that the engine will be okay if your temperature gauge spikes. In the long run, you car—and your wallet—will thank you for getting off the road as soon as possible.