What To Do When Your Car Overheats

4 Things to Do When Your Car Overheats

A warm engine means your car is working.
A hot engine means trouble.

Here are some ways to tell if your car is overheating, how to handle the situation, and a trick to help you get back on the road.

Identify the Issue

Your engine is likely overheating if:

  • You see steam or smoke-like vapor coming from under the hood
  • The temperature gauge spikesto H or into the red
  • Strange smells are coming from the front of your car.
Turn on the Heater

Try to reduce the amount of heat trapped in the engine by:

  • Turning on the heater. This will help cool the engine and might be enough to counter the overheating.
  • Not cranking the AC. The cooling system is already under pressure.
Cut the Engine

If your engine is still too hot after running the heater:

  • Get to the side of the road and park.
  • If you have roadside assistance, call now.
  • Once you've turned off the car, do not open the hood. The coolant is likely superheated and dangerous.
Get to Help

After the hood is cool to the touch (or at least 15 minutes) you can work on the engine:

  • Carefully open the hood and radiator cap.
  • Use a towel to cover the hole while opening.
  • Pour in coolant.

This fix is temporary. Consult a mechanic ASAP.

What To Do When Car Overheats

Engines are supposed to be hot. But what happens when your car gets too hot? Here are some ways to spot if your engine is overheating, how to handle this particular form of engine trouble, and how to prevent it from happening again.

Signs of Engine Overheating

Although it varies by vehicle, there are some unmistakable indicators your car is reaching dangerous temperatures:

  • Steam or smoke. If you see steam or smoke-like vapor coming from the hood of your car, your engine is overheating. Pull over and turn off the car immediately.
  • Temperature gauge spikes. Most dashboards feature an engine temperature gauge, which measures the temperature of the coolant. If you see the needle move into the red or towards the ‘H’, your car is overheating.
  • Strange smells. If the smell is coming from the front of your car, its likely related to the engine. A sweet smell means the coolant is leaking, and a burnt smell usually mean the oil is leaking.  

What Causes a Car to Overheat?

Overheating occurs when there is a problem with the cooling system and heat can’t escape the engine. Leaking water pumps, blocked hoses, low coolant, and other mechanical issues can all cause cooling problems.  

What to Do When Car Overheats?

Experts recommend four steps to take if your car starts to overheat:

  1. Turn on the heater. This draws heat away from the engine and can help the cooling system. This might be enough to cool down the engine – keep an eye on your temperature gauge to see if it returns to neutral.
  2. Cut the engine. If the heater trick doesn’t work after a few minutes, its time to pull over. Get somewhere safe to stop and turn off the engine. If you have roadside assistance, now would be a good time to call.
  3. Wait 15 minutes. Although it can be tempting to open the hood to expedite the cooling process, don’t. You risk spraying yourself with superheated coolant, which can reach over 230 degrees.
  4. Get Help. Once the hood is cool to the touch, you can add coolant and make your way cautiously to a repair station. Cover the radiator cap with a towel before slowly pushing down and loosen it a quarter of a turn. Once the pressure has released, slowly add coolant until the liquid reaches the “full” line. Keep in mind that this is a temporary fix until you reach a professional mechanic.

How to Prevent a Car from Overheating

While nothing is foolproof, there are some steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of your engine overheating:

  • Reduce heat in the car. Parking in the shade, cracking the windows, and tinting your windows can all help minimize heat buildup.
  • Top off coolant. Overheating can be caused by low coolant levels. Especially during the summer months, refill it yourself with coolant from stores like Walmart, CVS, and auto shops. For your safety, never add coolant to a hot engine.
  • Maintenance. Mechanics can check for leaks, tears, or vulnerabilities in your cooling system that could cause overheating. Make sure to ask your local mechanic about flushing your radiator during your next tune-up.

Contact Us Today

At United Auto Insurance, we know car problems. Our members benefit from emergency road services, emergency towing services, emergency roadside assistance, and more. To get set up with high quality insurance at the lowest possible price, contact us today.