There can be few things more disconcerting for a motorist than if you are driving along and your car suddenly starts to spew steam or smoke from under the hood, especially if you are unfamiliar with what can cause this.
An overheating engine is one of the most serious problems your car can have, and if it happens, you need to know what to do – so here’s all the necessary information about what to look for and what action to take as we answer the question, why is my car overheating?
If you want a preview of some of the stuff we’re going to be talking about as well a few extra tips on what to do if your engine overheats, you can check out this video before reading on.
What causes a car to overheat?
Let’s begin by looking at some of the main reasons why cars overheat. After that, we can also talk a bit about the dos and don’ts if this should ever occur.
A running car engine natural produces a great deal of heat, and for this reason, systems are built into them to keep them cool enough to function properly. This means, in general terms, that if your car is overheating, there is probably a problem with the cooling system.
Here are some of the main possibilities:
1. Blocked or damaged hose
The coolant in your engine flows through hoses, and if one becomes blocked, damaged or just detached, the coolant will cease to flow, and your engine will overheat.
2. Radiator blockage
If the coolant can’t flow through the radiator, it won’t be able to keep your engine at a safe temperature, and it will overheat.
3. Water pump failure
The water pump circulates the coolant that helps keep your engine at the correct temperature. If the pump fails, the coolant will not circulate properly, and your engine may begin to overheat.
4. Blown head gasket
This can cause an engine to overheat and can also happen as a result of an overheating engine. Coolant will get out, air will get in and the cooling system will stop functioning.
5. Coolant level low
If your engine doesn’t have enough coolant fluid, it won’t be enough to keep it at a safe temperature. This may happen due to a leak or simply through evaporation.
If there is a leak anywhere in the system, coolant will not flow properly to keep your engine cool and you will also begin to lose coolant in your engine.
7. Hot weather
Sometimes hot weather can be responsible for an overheating engine. However, in modern cars, a hot day is unlikely to cause an otherwise healthy engine to overheat, so this will be an indication of an underlying problem.
8. Faulty thermostat
If you are being told by the needle on the dash that your car is overheating but you can’t find a cause or any other symptoms, it could be that the thermostat itself is faulty and needs fixing.
What should you do if your engine starts overheating?
If your car shows any signs of overheating, you should take action immediately. If you ignore the problem and carry on driving, there is a good chance you will do serious damage to your car.
This kind of damage can be extremely expensive to repair – sometimes running into the thousands of dollars – and you could even find that it’s not worth having the car repaired at all.
If your car starts overheating, you need to pull over as soon as possible and turn off the engine but this isn’t always possible right away.
If you can’t pull over immediately, turn the air conditioning off – since a/c places extra demands on the engine. You should also turn the car’s heating up to full. This might not be comfortable for you, but it will help draw some of the heat away from the engine.
When you can, pull over – but don’t open the hood as soon as you get out. You need to let the engine cool for at least 15 minutes or there is a danger of you being injured by hot water of steam. You can check if the engine is cooling down by looking at the temperature gauge.
If you have some at hand, you can add some more coolant to the engine – although depending on the problem, this won’t always help.
Once the engine has cooled down completely, if you can’t be towed, you should start the car up again and drive slowly to the nearest mechanic to get it checked out. It’s is vital to find out which problem caused the engine to overheat and have it fixed.
What are the signs of an overheating engine?
The first sign of overheating could be the dial on your dashboard going into the red or one of the dashboard warning lights coming on.
You may also see steam or smoke coming from under the hood. If this happens, the problem is critical, and you need to stop driving as soon as you can.
Another sign to look out for is coolant leaking from the engine and running out onto the ground. This will be hard to see while you are driving, but once you stop the car, you will be able to see if any liquid is leaking out onto the road underneath your vehicle.
You may also notice a burning smell, which could indicate an overheating engine.
If you’re lucky, this could be something else – like a plastic bag that’s got into the engine and melted or some splashed oil.
However, even if this is the case, you will want to know as soon as possible, so even if you just notice a strange smell with no other symptoms, you should check it out at the earliest opportunity.
Spot it early and take action
As we have mentioned, if your car begins to overheat, ignoring the problem is not an option unless you want to pay a hefty repair bill or even end up writing your car off.
With the information above, you should now know why cars overheat, how to spot the problem and what to do when it happens. Hopefully, this information might help save you a lot of money if it ever happens to you.