One of the few things I hate about summer, is having an older car and being stuck in traffic. It seems like it would never fail, we would have to turn off the AC (sometimes turn on the heat – yuck!). But it’s important to know what other steps to take in case your engine starts overheating not only to protect your car, but to keep you safe as well. Here’s what you need to do if your vehicle starts overheating:
What to Do.
Pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so – most of the time when this happens, we don’t have any tools or anything on hand to be useful in keeping the car from overheating. Depending on how bad it is, how hot it is running, and how long you’ve been driving, it may be best to just turn off the car and call a tow truck. Even once problem with an overheating engine -if bad enough – can cause permanent engine damage. As I mentioned above, you can buy a little bit of time by turning the heat on full blast which will provide some additional cooling through the heater core; but the best way to cool down an engine – is to shut it down.
If there is any steam coming out of your hood DO NOT OPEN THE HOOD! It can take 30 minutes for a hot engine to cool down, and the heat can be hot enough to burn you. Also make sure you NEVER open the radiator cap while the engine is hot – hot coolant can cause severe burns.
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You don’t have to wait until the steam is coming out of the hood to realize your car is having problems – my biggest tip would be to keep your eye on the temperature gauge. You can see an overheating problem starting if the temp gauge is running hotter than normal.
IF the temperature warning light comes on though – the problem is probably pretty serious. Or if you have a sudden burst of steam which usually means the radiator hose has blown. Do NOT continue driving if that happens; pull over right away, and call for assistance.
The most common culprit of an overheated engine is low coolant in the engine. So making sure you do a regular vehicle maintenance check is a good idea. You can do a quick check by looking at the plastic tank under the hood, and making sure the coolant is at least at the minimum level mark. Make it a habit to check, and regularly top it off.
Some cars overheat for no reason however – so make sure that you follow a maintenance schedule from your vehicles manufacturer. The older the vehicle the more likely is it to need maintenance , from replacing old coolant or worn belts, or hoses that can leak or cause a water pump to not operate properly.
Most engine coolant will last about 100,000 miles but older and higher mileage vehicles should have the radiator coolant checked and belts and hoses swapped out.
It is hard to predict when a car is going to overheat, but keeping up preventative measures and knowing what to do if it was to happen to your car – and may help you avoid some expensive repairs down the road.