car overheating

Keeping It Cool: What to Do & Not Do When Your Car Overheats

When your engine overheats, it’s typically a sign that something is wrong with the coolant system. Low coolant, dirty coolant, and improper mixing are the most common causes. Overheating can sometimes be caused by faulty parts, clogged hoses, or insufficient airflow. When you know how to deal with an overheating car, you can identify the causes and even fix them. Regardless of why your vehicle is overheating, it’s critical to figure out the problem before continuing to drive.

Why Is My Car Overheating?

When you understand why your car is overheating and what to do about it, you can potentially prevent disaster. A look at some of the most common overheating issues and preventive maintenance is a good start. 

1. Engine Needs Coolant

Old and dirty coolant can restrict coolant flow throughout the engine and cause it to overheat. Replacing old coolant with fresh coolant often fixes the issue. Similarly, too little coolant, caused by a leak or another issue, can cause overheating. In such cases, adding coolant to the reservoir can remedy the problem.

2. Airflow is Restricted

Vehicle grills may appear to be merely cosmetic, but they are essential for proper airflow. When there isn’t enough airflow from the front, an engine can overheat. The most likely reason this happens is that there is debris stuck in the grill. Removing the debris and occasionally spraying the grill and radiator front will keep the air flowing. 

3. Cooling Fan is Broken

A cooling fan sits between the radiator and the engine and pulls cool air through the car’s radiator. Cooling fans are vital for keeping an engine cool when a vehicle stops or travels too slowly to force air through the grill. When the cooling fan motor fails, it can cause the engine to overheat and usually produce a warning light on the dash.

4. Thermostat Has Failed

The cooling system in your car relies on a thermostat to release coolant and water when the engine reaches a specific temperature. If the thermostat isn’t working, the coolant buildup can cause overheating. Leaking coolant, a high-temperature gauge reading, and sudden air temperature changes in the cabin are typical signs of a bad thermostat. 

To keep your cooling system running smoothly, check your coolant levels regularly. Use an antifreeze/coolant tester to ensure you have the right mix. Visually inspect the grill, hoses, and clamps every couple of months. It’s also wise to have the radiator flushed per the manufacturer’s guidelines. Now, let’s learn how to deal with an overheating car.

Car Overheating? What to Do

Combustion engines rely on contained explosions to send power to the drivetrain. These explosions generate a lot of heat, and the coolant system is the safeguard against overheating. When the coolant system isn’t working correctly, the engine can get hot enough to blow gaskets and warp cylinder heads and pistons. When you know what to do when your car overheats, you can keep that from happening.

Here are some steps you can take:

  1. When your engine overheats while driving, pull over at the next safe location. 
  2. Exit your car and look for steam from the engine and coolant leaks below the car.
  3. Leaking coolant is a problem best handled by a mechanic, so a tow is your best bet.
  4. If you don’t spot leaks, wait for the engine to cool for about 15 minutes with the hood up. 
  5. Once the engine cools down, you can check the coolant levels.
  6. If your car has a radiator cap, it must be cool to the touch before removing it.
  7. If the coolant is low, top it off if you have some with you.
  8. If you add coolant and don’t see a leak, you should drive to your mechanic. 

What should you not do when the engine is overheating? Urban legend has it that you can simply add water to the system and deal with it later. That’s not a good idea. Adding cold water to an overheated engine can cause damage because of the sudden temperature change. Water also can’t cool the engine like coolant can, so driving it with water added won’t be of much help. 

Count on Car Time Supercenter to Keep the Wheels Rolling

If you live in Tucson, heat is part of the experience! We hope you and your vehicle never face this issue, but now you know how to deal with an overheating car if it arises. Car Time Supercenter is a local family-owned used car dealership on a mission to keep drivers moving. Check out our car blog for more helpful guides, and check out our late-model used vehicles when it’s time for your next car or truck.

Shane Vossough

There are good reasons people will buy their next used car in Tucson from Car Time Supercenter. But I think we are one of the most trusted used car dealerships mainly because we treat everyone like family. My family has provided quality, dependable local used cars to Tucson customers since 1984, and I'm proud to be a part of our continued success. Like many family-owned businesses, I grew up going to work with my dad. Falling in love with cars was natural because of my father's passion, and eventually, I came to love the car business just like him. I officially joined the Car Time Supercenter team in 2012, starting in the finance department. Over the past decade, I've learned the used car business and how to treat customers from my family and industry resources. Today, I oversee marketing, social media, inventory, and reconditioning, so I play an essential role in delivering local Tucson used car buyers the best experience possible. I also help our family business keep up with the times while providing old-fashioned customer service. From attending NADA classes to becoming Allstate certified for back-end products, I continue to learn and add skills to serve our customers better.