Your car is overheating. Now what?
Most cars are equipped with warning lights and a pressure relief valve, so if your engine starts to overheat, you’ll probably get advance warning before it damages the engine. But don’t keep driving. Important steps to follow when the warning light flashes are on:
1. Pull over.
2. Turn off your engine.
3. Call for help.
That’s it — stop there. “Don’t even think about touching the radiator cap while you’re waiting for a tow truck.
The cooling system is highly pressurized. Just loosening the cap a little can set off a geyser of hot coolant.
Also, there’s nothing you can do from the side of the road.
Your car needs to be towed to a professional.”
If towing to a car garage is not an option and you have no choice but to take matters into your own hands, consider following these steps:
4. Wait until the engine completely cools — at least 30 minutes.
You might be able to speed up the cooling process if you can pop the hood with a latch located inside the car cabin. But, do not touch or attempt to open the hood until the engine is completely cool.
5. Check the coolant/antifreeze reservoir.
Typically, this reservoir is a translucent plastic tank near the radiator. If it’s empty or low on fluid, and you’ve allowed time for the engine to cool, refill the tank with new antifreeze.
6. Check hoses for leaks or blockage.
Chances are, if the coolant tank is completely empty or you spot a drip or puddle on the ground, you’ve got a leak.
Heat from your engine is absorbed by coolant (think: antifreeze), which the engine’s water pump pushes to the radiator, where it cools and is recirculated back to the engine.
The simple answer? “Think of the water pump as a human heart sending blood throughout the body — it keeps pumping coolant through the engine, then back again.
Although engines no longer use water for cooling, the term water pump is still used to describe the system that moves coolant through an engine.
The fluid that flows through the cooling system — flows from the engine to the radiator, where heat gets released into the atmosphere. That’s why the technical name for the radiator is the heat exchanger. It takes the heat out of the coolant.
The coolant then flows back to the engine to grab more heat. It’s a continuous loop. This is what happens when it doesn’t work. When something goes wrong in the cooling system, all components in the engine run at a temperature that’s too high.
The engine and coolant heat up, and metal keeps expanding the hotter it gets. Parts of the engine can warp or melt, resulting in costly repair. Depending on the damage, you may even need a new engine. Hot weather and blasting the AC isn’t making your car overheat.
Chances are, one of three things is happening when a car overheats:
1) Thermostat failure
The cooling system’s thermostat works like a heat-sensitive valve. When you start a car, coolant circulates in the engine until it reaches a certain temperature, then the thermostat opens the flow of coolant to the radiator, where heat is released. If the thermostat fails to open, the coolant keeps circulating in the engine and getting hotter, which leads to overheating.
2) Blocked airflow
As you drive, air is constantly forced through the radiator. This airflow is what removes heat from the coolant and sends it into the atmosphere. Any buildup of material on the front or back side of the radiator (think: leaves, bugs, road debris, snow) can obstruct the flow of air.
3) Leaking water pump
Over time, coolant gets dirty and deteriorates, and rust and scale can build up in the fluid. This buildup degrades the seals in the pump and can be a common source of coolant leaks.
Pro tips to help prevent your car from overheating
Coolant picks up dirt and particles that decrease its effectiveness. Coolant that looks cloudy or rusty needs to be replaced. Check the appearance of coolant at every oil change.
Regardless of how coolant looks, it should be replaced as often as recommended by the manufacturer of your car, typically every two to five years. (See your owner’s manual.)
Use the type of coolant specified by the manufacturer — as in chemical type, not merely brand. Each type contains a different blend of corrosion inhibitors, and using the wrong one can damage your cooling system.
When in doubt, take your car to Big Boyz Garage. We have access to the latest manufacturer recommendations and have all types of coolant on hand.