The Steps to Take When Your Car Overheats

If you actively drive your car on the road for prolonged periods of time, it can cause your car to overheat. For example, if you are taking a road trip across the country and travel hundreds of kilometres within a few days, then overheating can occur. You will notice when this happens because smoke will emit from the hood of your car while you’re left stranded on the side of the road.

Executive Towing Services has a few recommendations for what you can do when your car overheats like this. For starters, you should periodically check your coolant temperature gauge to see if your vehicle is on the verge of overheating or not. Most drivers never look at this gauge because they always take it for granted that the vehicle will not overheat. But if you miss this early warning sign and then your car does overheat, it could result in hundreds or even thousands of dollars in repair expenses.



Pre-Overheating Stage

If you happen to check your coolant temperature gauge and see its needle getting too close to the red zone, this means your vehicle is going to overheat anytime now. What you should do is find a safe place to pull over as soon as possible and then park your vehicle there. In situations where you have driven your vehicle for a long time, your engine may just need some time to cool off by remaining idle. The only exception to this would be if you happen to notice coolant leaking out of the vehicle. Then you would need to repair the leak and add new coolant, which would more than likely require a tow to the nearest auto mechanic.

Make sure you keep your engine running when your vehicle is pulled over. If you turn the engine off while it is overheated, this could cause a temperature spike called “head soak.” This occurs when you suddenly shut off the power to the engine and it no longer has coolant to keep it at least somewhat cool. The water pump will also no longer be able to transfer engine heat to the radiator. As a result, your engine could boil over which could cause permanent damage to it.



When you leave your engine idle while parked, you should occasionally press the accelerator pedal down slightly so that the water pump works faster and allows the coolant to flow at an accelerated rate. At the same time, the mechanical fans will keep the airflow moving fast through the radiator and help the engine stay cool.

Another tip is to turn on the heater of your vehicle while remaining idle. This might sound strange when you have an overheated engine, but the core of the heater can actually serve as another radiator and will absorb the additional heat which exists in the coolant. However, there may be times when there is a problem with the flow of your coolant. Aside from merely noticing leaky coolant, you can check to see if it’s flowing smoothly by taking notice of a few things.

First, if there is no hot air coming from your air ducts while the heater is on, then you have a problem with the coolant flow. Second, if the coolant temperature gauge continues to go toward the red and does not drop, this is a coolant flow problem too. In either case, you will want to turn off the engine because you may be low on coolant or have a faulty water pump. If you were to keep your engine running during one of these circumstances, it would generate more heat than if you were to cut it off suddenly.


How to Find Out What the Problem Is

If your engine continues to overheat after keeping it idle, then you will have no choice but to shut it off because the coolant is obviously not doing anything to cool it down. At this point, you will need to find out the exact reason why your engine overheated like this. Executive Towing Services is always available for you to book a tow truck and take your vehicle to a professional auto mechanic who can diagnose the problem for you.

There are also videos on the internet which go into great detail about how the cooling system of a vehicle works and which major components of this system may be malfunctioning to cause your particular problem. Anyone looking to self-diagnose their engine overheating problem will need to understand how the cooling system works first. After you have educated yourself on the system, now is the time to examine the possible causes of your overheated engine. The most common causes include faulty fan, leaky coolant, faulty water pump, worn radiator cap seal, idle thermostat, fluid contamination, coolant bubbles, or leaky head gasket.



Does Your Engine Overheat While Driving Slowly?

If you are driving on the roads around your town or neighbourhood and notice an overheating issue with your engine, then it is likely caused by an airflow problem. Since fans are responsible for producing airflow, you will need to visually inspect these fans and ensure they are working properly. If there is a mechanical fan used in your vehicle, it has a clutch which must be operating fine too. Check to see if it is because the clutch allows the mechanical fan to work. There are videos you can look up to see how this process is done.


What If the Fans Are Functional?

If the fans are working and you have airflow in the ducts but are still dealing with an overheating engine, then you may be low on coolant. While your engine is idle, press down on the gas pedal a little bit and see what the needle does on the coolant temperature gauge. If the needle drops down, then you are definitely dealing with a coolant issue.

Wait for the engine to be totally cooled down first. Inspect the vehicle’s overflow bottle and the radiator to see if there is an adequate amount of antifreeze. If you see there is a low level of antifreeze, then there may be a leak somewhere in the cooling system. The first place you should inspect for leaks is the water pump. This component has a seal which is known for failing and causing leaks.



Also, the radiator has end tanks made of plastic which connect with its core made of aluminum. This is comprised of the radiator cap and radiator hose clamps. These are components which are very prone to leaks, so be sure to check them out too. If you notice that you have a leak and it is a small one, you could put additional coolant into the system for the time being. That way, you can temporarily cool down your engine and safely drive your vehicle to an auto mechanic so that they can replace the leaky component. If adding more coolant does not work, then call Executive Towing Services and we will transport your vehicle to a mechanic for you.

If the components of your cooling system look fine, then your coolant may be leaking from inside the engine itself. Perhaps there is a cracked cylinder head or worn out head gasket. To see if either of these are the case, here are some things you can do to check:

  • Does the exhaust emit white smoke from the exhaust pipe? Does the engine idle rough? If either of these is the case, then the combustion chamber is likely having coolant leak into it.
  • Do you have a high oil level? Does it look milky? Does your coolant have a brown colour or stay to the left inside the radiator or bottle? If yes to any of these, then coolant is likely mixing with the oil and vice versa.
  • Rent a gauge to conduct a compression test on the cylinders. If there is low compression in two cylinders next to each other, then there is likely a blown head gasket in the middle of them.
  • In addition, inspect the spark plugs and see if it appears as if they have just gotten a steam cleaning. This could indicate the cylinder has coolant in it.
  • Go to a local auto parts store and see if they have a radiator pressure tester for rent. That way, the cooling system can have air pumped into it. If all this air pressure cannot be held by the cooling system, there could be leaks on the outside. If none are noticeable, check to see the condition of your head gasket.
  • Take the cap off the radiator and press down on the gas pedal while the engine is idle. Does the cylinders’ pressure cause cooling system leaks? You will notice this if the radiator has bubbles in there. This means the head gasket is possibly damaged.

Let’s say the coolant temperature still drops when running the engine, despite having working fans and lots of coolant in your cooling system. In this case, a coolant leak is likely not the problem. The real problem could be with the quality of the coolant or how well it flows in the system. Perhaps you have a water pump impeller which is broken or worn out. If so, your antifreeze is not flowing fast enough. That is why the overheating is happening in your engine.

If dirt has contaminated your coolant, its capacity for absorbing heat will be reduced. Plus, the coolant passages will get clogged up with dirt too. So, you will need to take the radiator cap off while the engine is cooled off. Inspect the coolant to see how clean it is. Another thing you should do is crank the engine to see if there is any slipping or squealing coming from the water pump’s serpentine belt pulley. If there is, the water pump is not being spun quickly enough by the engine, which means the antifreeze cannot circulate properly.



If you have plenty of clean coolant, a functional heater, and don’t notice any weird water pump sounds, then perhaps your radiator hoses have air that cannot get out of them. After taking off the radiator cap, squeeze the radiator hoses to force the bubbles out from them. If a mechanic has serviced your vehicle recently, they may not have removed all the air from your cooling system. If so, take it back and have them do this properly.


Do You Still Have an Overheating Issue?

There is no part more important in the cooling system than the water pump. This gives motion to the coolant and allows ethylene glycol-based liquid to circulate in the engine. It also goes through the housing of the thermostat, core of the heater, the radiator, hoses, tubes, and passages within the cooling system.

If the coolant temperature gauge is still showing a drop after all these other areas check out fine, then you likely have a non-functional water pump or a thermostat that is stuck. Like stated before, the heater can be cranked to check the functionality of the water pump. You will know if the water pump is bad if the air coming out has the same temperature as your environment.

If you have a functional heater, warm the engine so that it is at its standard temperature and then squeeze the inlet hose of the radiator. If the circumference of the hose does not feel completely hot and you don’t feel the coolant flow or pressure in the hose, then you likely have a bad thermostat. What this means is that heat is circulating repeatedly throughout the engine, causing it to overheat.


Engine Overheating is Serious

Don’t think an overheated engine is nothing serious or important. It can easily cause a variety of issues, such as gasket problems or a cracked cylinder head. This will result in coolant mixing with the oil and then damaging the bearings. Soon after this, your engine will be completely ruined beyond repair.

It is so easy to prevent an engine overheating situation from occurring. You just need to treat your cooling system with a couple of affordable and simple ingredients. Mainly you need antifreeze that is bubble-free and completely clean. As long as it flows properly through the radiator and engine, most of your worries will be over. The only other thing is ensuring that you have plenty of airflow so that the heat can be drawn from the antifreeze.