When we think of overheating, we often associate it with summer when temperatures are rising, and even your car’s cooling system is feeling the burn.
But did you know that your engine can heat up during any season?
That includes the middle of winter— imagine a car overheating in winter!
So if it can overheat at any time, then is it really a problem?
Absolutely! Whenever your car overheats, you risk damaging the engine and the cooling system.
That, then raises the question:
How do you know your car is overheating? And what should you do?
This Article Contains
- 7 Most Common Reasons for Engine Overheating
- 4 Signs of an Overheating Engine
- What to Do if Your Car Begins to Overheat
- 5 Tips to Prevent Your Car From Overheating
7 Most Common Reasons for Engine Overheating
Engine overheating can happen for many reasons, ranging from a faulty radiator cap to a leaking coolant hose.
Some other causes of overheating include:
1. Faulty Thermostat
Much like the thermostat in your home, an engine thermostat helps regulate engine temperature.
When the engine is cold, the thermostat remains closed, preventing coolant from moving to the radiator. Once the engine warms up, the thermostat opens to allow coolant to flow into the radiator.
The radiator acts like a heat exchanger, transferring warmth from the coolant to the outside air. This process helps keep the engine operating temperature within the optimum range— which is around 195°F – 220°F (75°C – 105°C).
Now problems start when the faulty thermostat sticks in the closed position. That’s because this position restricts the coolant’s flow to the radiator, which, in turn, overheats the engine.
2. Faulty Water Pump
Your car’s water pump is powered by the engine — either through an accessory belt, timing belt, or timing chain. The water pump housing also contains a rotating component called an impeller, which has fan-like blades.
Anytime the engine runs, the impeller spins and pushes the coolant through the cooling system.
If the water pump fails, coolant will no longer circulate properly, causing the temperature gauge to spike and the engine to overheat.
3. A Restricted Radiator
The radiator must be free from internal and external obstructions to dissipate engine heat.
That’s because an internal blockage can obstruct coolant flow through the radiator, while an external obstruction can prevent airflow across the device. Both issues can lead to overheating.
4. Coolant Leaks
Coolant leaks can happen anywhere in your cooling system— like in the water pump, radiator, and coolant tank. A large leak can cause you to lose precious radiator fluid.
Coolant leaks can also develop inside the engine block. This is usually caused by a damaged head gasket or a crack inside the engine block. It leads to cross-contamination between the fuel and radiator fluid, followed by low coolant levels.
It’s worth noting that, in many cases, internal coolant leaks stem from an overheating problem that began elsewhere.
For example, a leaking radiator hose can lead to a low coolant level, resulting in a blown head gasket and an overheated engine.
5. Faulty Cooling Fan
When your car travels down the road, air flowing through the radiator cools the coolant down and lowers the engine temperature. But at idle or under other conditions, like when the engine reaches 220°F, a radiator fan is necessary to keep things cool.
And that’s why your engine overheats when the cooling fan fails.
6. Failed Engine Coolant Temperature Sensor
In modern cars, an onboard computer controls the radiator fan operation. The computer relies primarily on the engine coolant temperature sensor data to determine when to turn on the fan.
If the sensor fails, the computer might not operate the fan properly, and your car may overheat.
7. Low Engine Oil
Sometimes, extremely low engine oil levels can cause overheating. That’s because engine oil reduces the friction between the moving parts of the engine by lubricating them. This brings down the amount of excess heat released by the engine.
So if your car overheats and your oil light and check engine light turns on, you may have low engine oil.
So what are the signs of overheating?
Let’s find out.
4 Signs of an Overheating Engine
To prevent severe engine damage caused by overheating, here are some signs you can look out for:
- Steam or smoke coming from the engine compartment
- High temperature gauge reading (the needle spikes to the red or “H” end)
- Strange smells from the engine compartment (sweet if there’s a coolant leak and burnt if it’s an oil leak)
- Illuminated temperature and check engine lights.
Next, let’s find out what you can do if you notice these signs.
What to Do if Your Car Begins to Overheat
If your car overheats, the first thing you should do is slow down and find a safe parking spot.
However, if you have no choice but to keep driving, here’s what you can do:
- Turn off the air conditioning and other accessories. This helps reduce stress on the engine.
- Crank up the heater. It helps pull excess heat out of the engine.
- Open all windows and drive at a steady speed. Natural airflow can help reduce engine heat.
Once you’ve stopped at a safe place, immediately turn off the engine and call for assistance.
While waiting for your mechanic or tow truck to arrive, here are a few things you can do:
- Open the engine compartment. Only do this after you let the engine cool down— opening the hood immediately could cause the steam to burn your skin.
- Check the coolant level. If it’s low, refill until the full line.
- Inspect the radiator for any blockages. For example, a huge piece of plastic can get stuck and cause overheating.
- Check the engine oil level. Refill the reservoir if you have fresh engine oil.
If your car overheats and you don’t get it inspected immediately, you may potentially end up with costly engine repair jobs.
Now that you know what to do with an overheating car, let’s see how we can prevent overheating.
5 Tips to Prevent Your Car From Overheating
Here are some steps you can take to prevent overheating:
- Always check your engine oil condition and coolant level before leaving the house.
- Keep a fresh bottle of coolant and a gallon of water in your car.
- Never skip maintenance and routine inspection appointments, like an oil change, coolant flush, etc.
- Don’t overuse the air conditioning, especially on extremely hot days.
- When driving long distances, always take a break to let the engine cool down.
As long as you care for your car’s overall health, the chances of experiencing a road emergency are fairly low.
Car overheating is caused by several reasons, like a blocked radiator or a leaking radiator hose. If you ignore these issues, you may end up with costly engine repair. So, if you notice the temperature gauge rising, immediately pull over and shut the car engine off.
For help with resolving your overheating problem, get a hold of a professional, like RepairSmith.
RepairSmith is a mobile auto repair and maintenance service. Our mechanics are equipped with the necessary tools needed to get your car back on the road in no time.
Contact us today to get your overheated engine inspected and repaired!