Hot weather is the biggest culprit that causes your car to overheat. Stop-and-go traffic is a close second. When your car’s temperature gauge starts climbing into the danger zone and you see steam coming from under your hood, here’s what to do:
- Turn off your air conditioner and open the windows.
- Turn on your heater to circulate heat from the engine.
- Shift into neutral whenever possible and rev the engine to circulate antifreeze.
- Don’t ride your brakes.
- Pull over when it’s safe to do so, stop, turn off the engine and open the hood, but do NOT remove the radiator cap.
- Stay there until everything cools down.
While this will resolve your immediate emergency, an engine that consistently runs hot is a symptom of a problem that needs to be solved before it escalates into major car repairs.
Why a Car Overheats
A car’s cooling system has four major components: radiator, water pump, thermostat, and heater core. Hoses connect these parts and circulate coolant through the system and the engine itself. When the cooling system doesn’t efficiently circulate the coolant, your engine heats up. A consistently hot-running engine needs to be taken seriously because it may be the beginning of a downward spiral that ultimately can necessitate a complete engine replacement or overhaul.
Causes of Overheating
Many things can cause your car to overheat:
- Insufficient antifreeze/coolant
- Insufficient oil
- Stuck thermostat
- Failed cooling fan
- Broken fan belt
- Failed water pump
- Clogged or blocked radiator
- Stuck temperature gauge or sensor
- Leaking hoses or cooling system leaking coolant
Adding antifreeze or oil is quick, easy, and inexpensive. Fixing any of these other possible problems can be quite expensive if neglected for too long. If your engine consistently runs hot, you should have your entire cooling system inspected by a professional to determine exactly what is causing the problem.
Overheating Repairs and Prevention
Preventing an overheating problem is always less expensive than paying for the parts and labor necessary to repair or replace faulty or worn-out components. Regular car maintenance is relatively inexpensive, especially oil changes and hose and fluid checks. Replacing worn belts, getting your radiator flushed, replacing your thermostat, replacing your hoses costs a little more, but are still affordable. Replacing your radiator or water pump is more expensive. However, these parts still cost less than paying for the damage a hot-running engine can cause.
Possible Hot Engine Damage
A consistently hot-running engine needs to be taken seriously because it can cause a lot of damage, such as a cracked head gasket or warped cylinders. Your car’s head gasket seals coolant passages in the head. When it’s cracked, the antifreeze may go everywhere and wreak havoc on the engine. While a head gasket itself is relatively inexpensive, the labor costs to replace it aren’t. The same is true for warped cylinders, the metal tubes in which your pistons move. Cylinders are the central working parts of the engine. If one of them “dies,” especially in an older car, it can almost be cheaper to replace the whole engine, but either of these options may cost more than the car itself is worth.
The bottom line with an overheating engine is that it’s better—and considerably less expensive—to be safe than sorry. Don’t ignore it; fixing the problem now can save you money in the long run.