The internal combustion engine responsible for powering your car generates a lot of heat. Through a combination of friction and the burning of gasoline, temperatures in the combustion chamber can reach over 2,000˚F. Without proper cooling, a car’s engine can overheat very quickly, leading to much more significant problems and damage. This situation demands a prompt and appropriate response if you want to avoid additional costly repairs.
Why do cars overheat?
The coolant system in your car works hard to keep the high temperatures generated by the engine from getting out of control. Thus, problems with this system can cause the temperature under the hood to climb rapidly. Some of the top causes of overheating include the following:
- Low Engine Oil – The oil in your car lubricates all the moving parts in the engine, reducing friction and contributing to lower operating temperatures. If the oil level is low or the oil is dirty, it may not circulate or lubricate as well as it should. Friction levels rise, generating heat just as you do when you rub your hands together.
- Coolant Leak – Usually a 1:1 mixture of antifreeze and water, coolant circulates around the engine, absorbing heat and carrying it away from the engine. If coolant levels are low due to a leak, your car may not have enough to cool the engine adequately. A leak of this type typically leaves puddles under your vehicle that may appear green, orange, or blue in color, depending on the type of coolant used.
- Broken Water Pump – The pump is the force behind the circulating coolant. If it fails, the coolant will not circulate as expected.
- Radiator Failure – Your car’s radiator contains fans that help bring down the temperature of coolant fluid returning from the engine. If the fans are not working, the coolant cannot properly disperse its heat. Instead, the hot coolant returns to the engine again and again.
What do I do if my car is overheating?
It is hard to miss the signs of an overheating engine. You may see the temperature gauge on your dashboard climb and warning lights turn on. You may notice a strange smell or smoke emerging from under your hood or out the tailpipe. These observations are all indications that your car is overheating, and you need to react immediately.
1. Stop Driving
Find a safe place to pull over and turn your vehicle off. Continuing to drive a car that is overheating compounds the problem by generating more heat, damaging other car components. If it is not safe to pull over where you are, slow down so that you tax the engine less and look for a spot to stop.
2. Adjust the Climate Controls
Cars are more likely to overheat during the summer months when the weather is warm. Cold winter weather can actually help keep the engine cooler. If you have the air conditioning on, you will need to turn it off. Switch the climate controls to blow heat instead. It may be uncomfortable, but asking your car to blow hot air will provide another way to disperse the extra heat generated by the engine. Opening the windows can also be helpful. The more ventilation you can provide, the faster you will be able to get the engine cooled down to normal operating levels.
3. Be Patient
Once you are safely pulled over and have turned off the vehicle, resist the urge to lift the car’s hood. The extreme temperatures under your hood can heat up belts, hoses, and other nearby parts. Additionally, hot coolant flowing through the hoses under your hood can be very dangerous if the hoses burst.
The safest course of action is to sit back and allow the engine to cool naturally for a time. It may take 30 minutes or more. You can keep an eye on the engine temperature by checking the gauge on your dashboard. This gauge may not turn on unless you insert the key into the ignition and turn it to “on” or “accessories.” Briefly checking on the engine in this manner is ok, but do not start the engine.
If you are waiting for your car to cool in the desert of southern Utah, you could be waiting a long time. With temperatures well above 100˚F, waiting for your car to cool may not be an option. If you are not prepared for the heat, you should take this opportunity to call for help.
Getting your car examined at a Utah auto repair shop to address the problem so that your engine doesn’t overheat is essential. A car that is overheating is a serious problem. Driving with the engine running hot can boil your antifreeze, melt engine components, damage your exhaust, warp cylinder heads, or even blow a head gasket. It is much better to pull over and address the original problem than to try to push through it and cause more damage to your vehicle.