A carefree family gets into the car, excited for a weekend at the beach. after a few hours on the road, disaster strikes. the engine begins to smoke and the family has to stop. what will happen next?!
It seems like no summer horror movie is complete without this iconic scene, but it’s certainly not something you want to recreate on your next road trip! Make sure you’re prepared if disaster strikes and learn what to do (and what not to do!) when your car’s engine overheats.
why do motors overheat?
Motors can overheat for many reasons. Usually it’s because something is wrong with the cooling system and heat can’t escape from the engine compartment. The source of the problem could include a leak in the cooling system, a faulty radiator fan, a broken water pump, or a clogged coolant hose.
Regardless of the source of the problem, an overheating engine is not something you want to put off. Your engine could be seriously, if not permanently, damaged.
signs your engine is overheating
If you can take steps to cool the engine before it overheats to the point of failure, you can reduce the risk of irreversible engine damage. but first, you should notice the symptoms of overheating, which may include:
- steam (which may look like smoke) coming from under the hood of the car.
- an engine temperature gauge on the dash that shows an “h” or is red. (Engine temperature gauge symbols vary, so check your owner’s manual.)
- A strange odor coming from the engine area. for example, leaking refrigerant may smell sweet while leaking oil may smell more burnt.
As soon as you notice the engine overheating, follow the steps below and contact your nearest repair shop.
what to do when your engine overheats
1. turn off the air conditioning and turn on the heating.
Immediately turn off the air conditioning to reduce stress on the motor. then turn the dial to maximum heat. this can help draw heat away from the engine to prevent it from overheating until it can be safely stopped. you may get a little hot yourself, but a few minutes of discomfort is a small price to pay compared to major engine repairs.
2. find a safe place to stop.
stop and turn off the car. let the engine cool down for at least 15 minutes. keep an eye on the temperature gauge as it should return to a normal range as the engine cools down.
While you wait (and watch the gauge), make a plan to check your overheated engine. call a friend, a tow truck or your local firestone roadside assistance for help. We’ll send a trained representative to tow your vehicle to the nearest Firestone Complete Auto Care store or help you with step three.
3. check and add coolant (if any).
If your coolant level is low, a quick top-up could help protect your engine from overheating until you can get things fixed. however, this step won’t do much good if a coolant hose is clogged or if the source of your problems is a broken radiator fan or water pump. Check your owner’s manual to find the location of your coolant reserve tank and to learn how to add coolant to your vehicle.
4. restart the engine.
If your car isn’t getting towed, now is the time to carefully restart the engine and drive to the nearest auto repair shop. keep an eye on the temperature gauge while driving. if it goes back up, stop and let the system cool down.
what not to do when your engine overheats
1. don’t panic.
Your engine won’t stay cool, but you can! avoid swerving into traffic or hitting the brakes when leaving the road.
2. don’t keep driving.
If your engine is overheating but still running, you’re not doing yourself a favor by staying on the road. Sure, you might be able to reach your destination before it shuts down completely, but you can do significant (and expensive) damage if you push your engine too far.
3. don’t open the hood right away.
Once you’ve stopped, wait for the engine to cool down before opening the hood to check things out. opening the hood immediately can put you at risk of burns or injuries from escaping steam or smoke. patience is key. wait until the engine temperature gauge stabilizes before opening the hood.
4. don’t let the problem drag on.
An overheated engine won’t fix itself, even if it seems to fix itself after adding a little coolant. it will only get worse if not addressed. Get to the root of the problem to help save your engine. Bring your car to firestone complete auto care for a full vehicle inspection so we can diagnose the problem and make recommendations for a fix.
how to prevent an overheated car engine
Take care of your car and it will take care of you. The best way to prevent a car engine from overheating is to perform regular coolant flushes and exchanges on your car, and keep up with radiator maintenance as recommended by your vehicle manufacturer. Routine inspections can also help you fix any potential radiator or engine problems before they get worse.
This summer, feel the heat on the beach, not on the road. rest easy and head to your nearest firestone complete auto care for the nationally trusted auto repair advice and service you need.