Why Is My Car Overheating?

car overheating on the side of the road

Overheated engines can and do happen, sometimes leading to irreparable and costly damages. 

While it can be frightening to see smoke coming out of your car’s hood, you must act quickly to prevent further issues.

Modern cars have sophisticated cooling systems. Powered by computer-controlled electric fans and multiple heat sensors, these mechanisms are usually durable in all weather conditions. However, an overheated engine is still a possibility.

In this post, we will help you understand why your car is overheating, followed by the steps you should take to rectify the problem.

signs of an overheating engine

Engine overheating can occur for a number of reasons. While every vehicle and situation is unique, you should look out for these signs:

  • The temperature gauge on the dashboard moves to the red area or points to “H.”
  • The car slows down because of a loss of engine power.
  • Steam appears at the front of the vehicle from beneath the hood.
  • You notice a burning smell, particularly from the hood. 

These red flags indicate your engine is going beyond its maximum temperature and must be checked. 

what causes an overheated vehicle engine?

Your car’s engine can overheat for various reasons. Let’s look at six potential causes below:

Cooling System Failure

The primary purpose of coolant is to lower the temperature in the engine. The coolant absorbs heat from the engine and then moves to the radiator, where it gets cooled down. 

An insufficient coolant level or a leak may allow the engine temperature to spike, causing the car to overheat. Experts recommend checking coolant levels regularly. It is easy to do so as you can take a glance while checking the motor oil or refilling the wiper fluid.

Broken Thermostat

Just like other parts of the car, the thermostat can also malfunction. Its job is to control the coolant flow. 

Initially, when the engine starts, the thermostat valve remains closed. Once the engine hits the operating temperature, the valve opens and coolant flows through. But if the thermostat stays closed, the coolant flow will be blocked, causing the engine to overheat.

Failing Water Pump

A water pump is a part of your car’s radiator system that pumps the coolant through the engine once it has warmed up. The coolant travels through hoses toward the radiator. Once the radiator removes heat, it pushes coolant back toward the engine.

A malfunctioning water pump may reduce or stop the flow of the coolant, which can ultimately cause the engine to overheat.

Damaged Radiator Fan

The radiator fan consists of three components that work in unison to provide ample cooling. If the fan isn’t working because of a broken blade or an unstable connection, it can prevent the radiator from removing heat. 

Particle or dust build-up is another factor that could damage the radiator fan, resulting in overheating.

Low Engine Oil

Checking the motor oil is an essential step for car maintenance. The oil lubricates internal engine components and allows them to move smoothly.

Lack of lubrication results in friction, which produces excessive heat and may lead to engine problems. If your car doesn’t have enough oil, perhaps because of a leakage, you should get a refill and have the problem fixed.

Faulty Belts or Hoses

Proper belt function is closely related to the water pump operation. 

The belt turns the water pump, which moves the coolant through the engine. A broken or loose belt will stop the coolant from flowing properly, causing the engine to overheat.

what you should do when the engine overheats

If your car overheats, it is a bad idea to keep pushing the pedal. Instead, you should take the following steps:

  • Pull Over. Continuing to drive on an overheated engine can result in serious engine problems. You should look for a safe place to park your car. Turn off the engine; if your windows are closed, roll them down. This will allow heat to flow out of your car.
  • Turn on the Heater. It may sound illogical, but turning on the heater draws heat from the engine compartment into the cabin. It will allow the heat to dissipate into the air from the open windows.
  • Wait and Open the Hood. Opening the hood allows heat to escape the engine. But you should be careful as you don’t want to burn yourself. Wait for at least 15 to 20 minutes and ensure the temperature gauge is stable before you pop the hood. Then make sure it’s securely held up.
  • Add Coolant. It’s a good idea to carry a coolant or water container in the car trunk. Locate the radiator cap, use a towel to cover it, and push it down. Then, loosen it for about a quarter turn to release the pressure. Now, fully uncover the lid and add coolant until it hits the “full” mark. You should also add it to the clear plastic can mounted beside the radiator. Then, put the cap in place and turn on the engine.
  • Drive to a Local Auto Repair Shop. Adding coolant is not a permanent fix. You need to find out what caused the engine to flip out in the first place. Drive to an auto repair workshop to let experts find the root cause of the problem.

how an auto repair shop can help

Whether you’re on a long road trip or just cruising around the neighborhood, your wheels deserve top-notch care. Regular vehicle maintenance lowers the chances of overheating or sudden breakdowns.

If your car suddenly overheats and you have no idea what caused it, a professional team can detect the issue by:

  • Checking the car’s belts and hoses to ensure they are intact and functional.
  • Diagnosing thermostat problems and fixing them if needed.
  • Inspecting the water pump during cooling system inspection.
  • Changing or adding more coolant fluid if necessary.
  • Detecting and resolving engine oil issues through refill or oil change.

A team of savvy technicians knows all the nooks and crannies of the car’s cooling system. Being experts in car repair and maintenance, they will pinpoint the cause of overheating, explain it to you, and devise a plan to resolve the issue.

car maintenance is worth the investment

Every penny you spend on maintaining your car helps keep it functional for longer.

Although it is tempting to delay it until your engine light turns on, the wait will cost you more money in the long run.

Adhering to a regular maintenance schedule prevents your car from overheating. The experts at a well-regarded local auto repair shop will also help you understand why your car is overheating and how they can resolve the problem.

Once you have covered all the bases, you can flaunt your wheels the way you want!

Up Next: How To Inspect Your Oil

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