An overheating vehicle is often a scary experience when you’re behind the wheel. You might see a cloud of white smoke coming from your engine. The needle on the temperature gauge suddenly flies into the red warning zone.
While the experience might be frightening, an overheating car isn’t always a sign of major mechanical issues or a broken vehicle. Find out what to do if your car overheats and how to assess the problem if you’re ever facing an overheated vehicle.
Why Do Cars Overheat?
Knowing what causes a car to overheat in the first place can help you prevent overheating and reduce damage from an overheated engine. There are a lot of different reasons your car might overheat. Some of the more common reasons include:
- Too Little Coolant: Your overheating problem may be as simple as not having enough coolant or antifreeze in the cooling system. Be sure to make checking your car’s fluid levels, including coolant, as a part of your regular maintenance.
- Leaks in the Cooling System: A leak anywhere in the cooling system can make it impossible for the system to work properly. A car overheating may be a sign of a leak in the system, such as hoses, the radiator, or the water pump.
- Broken or Faulty Thermostat: The thermostat is a key part of your cooling system. It regulates when to let coolant flow through the system to cool the engine. If it’s not working properly, it could be limiting how much coolant your engine receives.
- Broken Radiator or Fan: Your radiator helps keep the coolant’s temperature low so it can effectively cool the engine. A crack or clog in your radiator or a broken radiator fan could stop it from working properly and cause an overheated engine.
- Water Pump Issues: The water pump moves coolant through the cooling system. Dirty coolant can cause buildup and clog the water pump, making it difficult to pump coolant to the system.
How to Tell if Your Car is Overheating
Overheating vehicles don’t always have a cloud of thick smoke. Other signs your vehicle may be overheating include:
- White steam coming from under your hood, which looks like smoke.
- The needle on your engine temperature gauge going into the red zone or pointing at “H.”
- The temperature warning light showing on the dashboard.
- A burnt smell coming from your engine, which could be hot oil.
- A sweet-smelling odor, which could be leaking coolant.
What to Do if Your Car Overheats
When you notice the signs of a car overheating, knowing what to do can make the situation less frightening and less dangerous. Once you believe your car is overheating, follow these steps:
- Stay Calm: Don’t panic if your car starts overheating. Try to focus on staying calm so you’re ready to safely handle the situation. Do not keep driving, speed up or turn up your air conditioning. Continuing to drive with an overheated car could be dangerous and cause additional damage to your vehicle.
- Turn Off the Air Conditioning: If you need to keep driving until you find a safe spot to pull over, turn off the air conditioning. Your A/C puts extra strain on the engine, making it work harder. The harder it works, the more heat it produces.
- Crank Up the Heat: Switch on your heater and turn it up. Your car will use the heater to pull warm air from the engine into the cabin. Be sure to roll down the windows so you don’t get too warm.
- Pull Over: As soon as it’s safe, pull over to the side of the road. Try to give yourself as much space as possible to avoid road traffic, since you’ll probably be walking around your car. Shut off your car completely to give the engine a chance to cool off.
- Wait: Your engine could take about 15 minutes to cool off after overheating. Don’t open the hood right away. The hood could be extremely hot, and an overheated coolant could spray hot steam toward the newly opened space. Wait at least 15 minutes for the engine to cool on its own before popping the hood. You may want to call roadside assistance while you wait.
- Inspect Your Engine: When the engine is cool enough to safely open the hood, open it and take a look underneath. Even if you’re not a mechanic, you might be able to troubleshoot why your car overheated. Check the coolant to see if it’s low and add more if you have it. If the coolant appears to be full, you may want to look for hoses, metal, or plastic pieces that look to be out of place or broken.
- Restart Your Engine: Carefully restart your engine. If the temperature gauge stays in the normal area and the temperature warning light is off, you should be able to drive to the nearest service station or mechanic. If your car continues to overheat, you will probably need a tow truck.
Be Prepared on the Road
Your car overheating isn’t the only problem you might face on the road. Every time you pull out of your driveway, you should be prepared for potential issues. The right car insurance can help protect you from the costs of unexpected incidents. For example, if you accidentally run into another vehicle because your car is overheating, your car insurance could help cover the costs to repair the other car. Talk to your Wawanesa agent today to make sure you have the right coverage for your vehicle.