Why Your Car is Overheating and What to Do
Fort Collin, Colorado can be very HOT and this heat can play havoc on your car's performance. Car engines generate heat, which is then diverted away to the radiator by a cooling system. Therefore, when your engine overheats, it is likely because one or more components of this system are malfunctioning. Here are some reasons why your vehicle might overheat and what to do when it does.
How to Tell Your Engine is Overheating
Your engine may be overheating if the temperature gauge in your car slides to "H", into the red zone, or displays a symbol with similar meaning. This warning is often accompanied by what looks like smoke from under the hood of the car, although this is actually steam and not smoke.
Other signs include unfamiliar odors from the engine. The odor varies but in most cases, it is sweet. And if there is a leakage, you may notice a puddle or wet spot just under the front area of the car.
Causes of Engine Overheating
While it is likely that the overheating is caused by failures in the cooling system, keep in mind that it is possible the problem has other sources.
Not Enough Coolant
Car manufacturers always recommend that the coolant be at a certain level. If it is lower, the temperature can rise to a point where the engine malfunctions. This is a common cause of overheating and can be remedied by filling up the reservoir tank with an antifreeze solution.
As mentioned earlier, when a car overheats, it is possible that you will discover wet spots or puddles on the ground. If this is the case, it can indicate a leak in the cooling system. Leaking coolant almost always smells sweet and is typically orange, blue, or green, depending on the type.
If a thermostat is broken, it becomes difficult or even impossible for a cooling system to regulate temperature properly. And if the temperature cannot be regulated, engine problems are inevitable.
The radiator and fans are responsible for pulling heat away from the engine to maintain an ideal temperature. If the radiator cannot perform this effectively, overheating is the result.
Defective Water Pump
The water pump keeps the coolant circulating in your engine to manage its temperature. If the coolant has too much debris, dirt, or buildup and is unable to pass through the pump, the engine will eventually overheat.
Your car's cooling system also includes hoses and belts which are responsible for circulating coolant and air in and out of the engine. Any clogging or leaking can seriously damage the engine. Another key component that can cause problems when clogged is the heat exchanger.
One of the reasons why it is important to check and change your oil regularly is that not doing so can lead to overheating. Oil lubricates engine parts. Without it, processes cause friction and raise temperatures to abnormal levels.
What to do When Your Engine Overheats
The best first step to take when your car overheats is to stop completely. Pull over on the side of the road away from traffic and switch the vehicle off. If you can afford a towing service and it's available in the area, use it. However, if you find yourself stranded, you can follow these simple steps.
If You Can't Stop, Only Move Slowly
It may happen that the engine overheats on an unsafe road, and you cannot stop. In this case, proceed to the nearest gas station or auto shop slowly. Warning: driving an overheating car might cause extensive damage. Do not idle. Keeping the car running while in a stationary position is not helpful.
Turn off the Cold, Turn on the Heat
If the A/C is on, giving out cool air, turn it off. Instead, turn it to maximum heat. The A/C adds stress to the engine which can worsen overheating. Turning on the heat, on the other hand, can help drive temperatures down by directing heat away from the engine.
Let More Heat Out
Whether you are parked safely on the side of the road or you are slowly driving towards help, open all your windows. The point is to help your car let out as much heat as possible.
Wait For the Hood to Cool
When a car overheats, it is natural to want to open the hood immediately. Don't - not yet. Rather, let heat out through the windows and doors. Wait for the heat to dissipate, preferably for up to 30 minutes.
Check the Tank
This step may or may not be effective depending on the cause of overheating. If you know where the reservoir tank is (use your car's manual), check coolant levels first. If it is completely empty, mix half of the coolant with an equal measure of water and fill it up. Otherwise, just top up with the antifreeze.
If the overheating does not improve, it may indicate a problem with other system parts like the radiator, water pump, hose, and so on. You will require professional assistance.
If the overheating does not resolve by restoring coolant levels, it would be wise to get help from a professional mechanic. The same applies if your engine heats up repeatedly in the future. You may find the cause to be different than expected.
You should also consider taking preventative measures. Regular coolant flushes and radiator maintenance checks at an auto repair shop can keep your engine healthy and prevent future episodes.
Although somewhat common, overheating is still a major inconvenience. Protect your engine from further damage by switching off the car and A/C immediately, letting heat out through doors and windows, checking coolant levels, and getting help as soon as you can. Follow up with routine maintenance inspections to keep your engine in peak condition.
Weston Auto Service is an auto repair specialist located in Fort Collins, Colorado. We are ASE-certified mechanics specializing in foreign and domestic auto repair. For any car maintenance issue, we always recommend using a certified mechanic. For a free diagnostic and full analysis of your car problem please contact us or call us at 970-377-3333.